Michelin-starred and critically acclaimed, with a host of best-selling restaurants, books, consultants and brands to his name, Britain’s culinary ambassador has given Indian cuisine the recognition it deserves . He was hailed as the father of modern India and still leads the way in new twists in taste and plating today.
When her latest food creation post hit Instagram, it garnered over 1,80,000 likes and over 500 comments in just a few days. A striking-looking pink jalebi on a base of tres leches, the decadent dessert created quite a stir. More than anything, the thought struck me – why hasn’t anyone thought of a rose-scented jalebi in different colors before this! And that, to me, is what sets Chef Vineet Bhatia apart from all other culinary masters. The fact that he keeps creating new and surprising elements and putting them together in what seems like a couple waiting to happen.
A bit like his famous chocolate samosas, which earned him so much praise from customers that every time he opened a new restaurant, customers pressed him to put them on the menu. He has gone way beyond them now, his initial idea having been recreated (read copied!) by several chefs, but people still remember him for that first light bulb moment. Chef Bhatia certainly got more than his fair share.
When I first tasted his gourmet tasting menu at Ziya at the Oberoi Mumbai in 2015, I was impressed by the way he presented the first course inside a smashed coconut. balanced on a pile of snow-white pebbles. Each of its seven dishes had that visual vibe as well as a really interesting juxtaposition of flavors, textures and various regional Indian cuisines. While one referenced Maharashtrian tomato sauce, another had curried prawns and a third had a lamb chop wearing a halo of a delicate makhni sauce embellished with saunf. As he says, “People say my food looks very Western. But I always say: ‘If you eat with your eyes closed, it’s India in your palate!’ »
Chef Bhatia has been making waves since moving to the UK in the early 1990s and starting working in Indian restaurants there. He was first surprised when he saw what was happening to Indian food overseas. That’s why he was determined to change the narrative. By opening his own restaurants, he was able to do this effectively. He tells us how. “Everyone loves classic Indian food, and so do I. But what makes people come to your restaurant? What is your USP? And that’s what I learned early on…that you have something cutting edge, that’s different from the peloton.
He explains: “Mom cooks at home, there are not so many masalas, spices and oils. Unfortunately, when you go to a restaurant, the food is quite high in fat and masalas, and everything tastes almost the same. When I went to the UK I started doing classics but very lightly. Many people at that time were so used to eating at curry houses that they never understood Indian cuisine. I was told it was five star food, it would never work in Europe or London.
Despite being branded a likely fiasco, Bhatia stuck to his guns. Getting rave reviews from the nation’s top newspapers gave him the boost and confidence he needed. It not only re-educated the western world on the classics, but also found people enjoying and enjoying the flavors. “Afterwards, what happened was that instead of putting the food in a bowl or making it look like a brown stew or a red stew, I started putting it in various types of tableware and making it interesting. It was the precursor to what you call progressive modern cooking, because nobody was doing that back then, in 1992-93,” he says.
In fact, he was one of the first chefs to start thinking about how to make food look good. “It snowballed into putting Indian food in various types of tasting menus or dishes, which had never been done before.” He remembers his first menu which had five dishes. “Everyone said, ‘How can you have a five-course Indian meal?’ But I said, if you structure it right, there’s enough protein, enough starch, enough carbs, and enough veggies to complete the whole meal and still feel light. The food was very refined. And that’s now kind of sparked ‘progressive evolved Indian cuisine’ and everybody’s on the bandwagon and now trying to make sure they can do it too,” he laughs.
The formidable food critic Vir Sanghvi once called him the father of modern, progressive Indian cuisine in some ways. “If you look back and see. we were probably one of the very first people to do it. I don’t know if I was the first person or not, but one of the first guys in the world to watch Indian food in a new avatar,” Bhatia agrees.
It has changed the dynamics of Indian cuisine globally. Bhatia says, “Now you can go to any megacity and you’ll have restaurants cooking up food that looks great. I find that very satisfying. It’s also very flattering, because often you find your own staff, chefs who have been through your kitchens, and they take that philosophy with them. It’s true. When I stayed at One&Only Le Saint Géran in Mauritius, a meal at Vineet Bhatia’s restaurant was labeled as one of the absolute musts. Over the years, his restaurant Rasoi in London, UK, and Geneva, Switzerland, has been awarded Michelin stars. It has also broadened its horizons with a large presence in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Currently, he owns 11 restaurants, including his signature “KAMA by Vineet” at Harrods, London. In India, you can take the measure of his vision when you eat at Ziya at The Oberoi Mumbai as I often do.
After succeeding in kitchens, books, TV, OTT, Instagram, what next? His adventurous spirit drives him to prepare for a storm at Everest Base Camp, the Arctic and even Antarctica! He has created a range of dehydrated spice blends that will bring his flavors to any kitchen and has taught an online course with the BBC that will arm aspiring cooks with all the techniques. But this Vineet Bhatia verve that ignites the imagination and drives smart innovation? We think it’s a special spark that just has to come from within.
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