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Food & Drink

Kitchen confidential: Himanshu Saini

Debonair grills the corporate chef at Passion F&B and the man behind modernist Indian fine-dining restaurant Trèsind and Carnival by Trèsind

I don’t cook often at home — to get a break from the range and to enjoy my wife’s cooking.

What’s your earliest food memory?

Growing up, we used to live in a joint family where, I saw my aunts and mother cook three meals a day for almost 25 people every day, without a day off. And each time not only did they manage to make delicious food, what amazed me most was that every time the flavours of the dishes were consistent. This was a unique experience, as the entire family used to sit together simply enjoying the vast spread prepared by the ladies of the house over personal and professional conversations.

How did you enter the industry?

Interestingly it wasn’t by choice but out of necessity. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t an A-grade student, so the usual professions popular and most sought-after in India back then (medicine, engineering or IT) were not something I aspired to. Hospitality in those days wasn’t a priority for anyone who wanted to build a serious career. With no choice at hand and not wanting to do a simple graduation course, I decided to apply for a bachelors in culinary studies. As luck would have it, and to my utter surprise, I got through! With little interest in kitchens, I discovered my passion for cooking over the period of the culinary course. After college, I did an 18-month training programme at Indian Accent in Delhi under the mentorship of chef Manish Mehrotra. Thus began my journey in the field of hospitality.

I don’t cook often at home — to get a break from the range and to enjoy my wife’s cooking.

Professional kitchens are renowned as stressful environments. How do you handle the pressure?

Music is the key! During non-operational hours we play music in the kitchen, which relieves a lot of tension. With music, the kitchen runs in perfect harmony.

How often do you cook outside the workplace?

Chefs are known to be fairly finicky about the kitchen space and, most importantly, the cookware and knives. But I don’t cook often at home — to get a break from the range and to enjoy my wife’s cooking.

What’s the best restaurant you’ve eaten at and what made it memorable?

This was at the very beginning of my culinary journey. The restaurant was Smoke House Room in New Delhi — it was my first spectacular modernist experience. I had to save for months to be able to dine there.

Conversely, what would you never eat again?

Duck tongue; I tried it in China, and it’s not something I’d like to experience or experiment with again.

Does a man who cooks win brownie points at home?

At home I like to enjoy my wife’s cooking. That and I get lazy more often than not.

What’s your top life hack for the layman in the kitchen?

Don’t make food by reading recipes. Recipes are just for reference and should not be followed like robotic instruction.

What’s your one indispensable kitchen implement?

A combi oven.

What new trends are you seeing?

We’ve had a number of requests for vegan menus, so we’ll be launching a 15-course vegan menu in one of our restaurants very soon.

Who’d you invite to your ideal dinner table?

Manchester United Class of ’92 (Sir Alex Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville, and Nicky Butt), joined by my mentor, chef Manish Mehrotra.

If you could choose your final meal, what would it be?

Spicy chicken wings and a pint of beer.

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