We met Chef Ranveer Brar during the launch of his food application ‘Chef Ranveer Brar,’ and spoke about his life, journey, favourite food and so much more. By Kumar Shree
1. Take us through your journey in the hospitality and food industry so far.
Food to me has always been this institution where learning never ceases. From cooking at the langar at a young age, to exploring food on the streets of Lucknow, food has touched me in different ways. After IHM Lucknow, I started off as Hotel Operations Management trainee with the Taj group. I moved on to Taj Goa, opened three restaurants in one hotel in Goa. Then, I joined The Oberoi group, the Radisson, became an executive chef at the age of 25 with Radisson Noida, and opened an entire hotel. After that I moved to the Claridges, and renovated the hotel. I had a serendipitous opportunity to try something new in the US, opened quite a few restaurants there. I came back to India after a couple years and joined the Accor group and started working on restaurants for myself, eventually. Additionally, I was also showcasing and documenting food on television and continue doing the same even now. From hotel restaurants to a heritage hotel, and to cruise kitchens, my career path in the hospitality industry thus far has been very happily memorable.
2. What is your signature dish, and how is it prepared?
I wouldn’t call it my signature dish, but it is always on my personal favourite list, the Dorra. It’s a delicate kebab from Rampur with nearly a 200-year old recipe. Its flavours stand out from the use of smoked meat, rare and exquisite spices and being cooked on a silken thread dabbed with sandalwood oil. The trick here is to cook without burning the silk and gently pull it off with a single tug before serving.
3. Who are your favorite Indian and international chefs?
Ah, tough one, because there are many I look up to. Padma Shri Imitiaz Qureshi for being the torchbearer for Lucknow, Chef Manjit Gill for bringing Indian food to the fore right back in the 90s, Sanjeev Kapoor for his simplicity, Vikas for his persistence, Kunal for his understanding of Indian food… I could keep adding to the list.
In the international arena, the late Charlie Trotter, a rare combination of creativity and entrepreneurship, and Heston Blumenthal is another great inspiration, too. Ben Shewry is yet another — his creations are a great example of science-meeting-art meeting philosophy.
4. Your favorite food destination in the world?
5. Ingredients that you cannot cook without?
My favourite ingredient, that I commonly prefer and use in most of my Indian dishes is coriander. Coriander is an amazing balance of a nutty and floral flavours that makes it very interesting. Then there’s the heart-warming ghee, be it savoury dishes or desserts.
6. You have been doing so many things simultaneously — an executive chef, a TV personality, a blogger & writer… how do you find time for all of it? And how do you not crack under pressure?
It really doesn’t hurt doing so many things because eventually they all revolve around food and food is what fuels me. All I try to do is express my relationship with food in different ways, forms and mediums. That’s essentially who I am. So, it’s like being yourself, doing what you do, but a bit loudly!
7. What is the motivation behind launching your own food application ‘Chef Ranveer Brar’?
I’ve always shared my experiences and the knowledge I gain about food with my fans and the world at large, through publications, blogs, articles, and my social media channels. Digital space is the best way to reach out to a mass. So many aspects of our lives have been condensed into apps and we make things happen with a touch. So, with the world revolving more and more in the digital space, an application for sharing my love for food was imminent.
8. What all would be there in the application?
The plan has been to make it not just a recipe app but a holistic food app. There are as many as 1100 recipes and 300 recipe videos. Along with that, what I really feel is the USP here, is the RB Diet Plan©. It’s a pretty simple plan that shares guidelines on food portions, putting together a balanced meal, sources of healthy nutrition and above all, eating local and seasonal. There’s something for everyone here.
9. What has been your greatest milestone in the food industry?
The greatest milestone I’d say are people..the chefs who’ve worked with me in hotels, for instance. When I see them having followed their individual paths and doing well, handling hotels across India, it makes me feel proud. It’s the kind of legacy I want to leave.
10. When did you know that being a chef was your true calling?
It was at the age of fifteen when I decided that food was my true calling and I wanted to pursue it professionally. Up until then, I spent my initial years exploring food in my hometown Lucknow, be it cooking at the langar, enjoying different cuisines at my neighbours’ homes, exploring the street foods of Lucknow or having conversations with the local grocer. What started as culinary explorations, gradually grew into a passion. But it was when I made Rajma for my mother the first time that earned praise from my father too — everything fell into perspective. At that moment, I knew that this is what I wanted to do.
11. What is your favorite Indian food? What is your favorite international cuisine and why?
My favourite Indian food is from the cuisine of Bengal. It’s more of a sociological connect for me, as the state has seen so much evolution and turmoil and the food reflects that journey. Also, the whole difference in nuances between Bangal and Ghoti food, plus the various small sub-regions that all have a distinct cuisine, is very fascinating. Kerala comes a close second, though Bengali cuisine would definitely remain a favourite.
On the international spectrum, it would be Turkish. I have a great fascination for studying the Silk route and my trip to Turkey opened the door to a lot of answers on how the cuisine evolved around that route, the dishes and ingredients that sailed between civilisations– simply priceless.
12. What is your comfort food?
Khichdi! It’s one dish I can have at any point of time. It’s a wholesome, one-pot meal, that’s also traditionally rooted. You just can’t go wrong with Khichdi.
13. Define your cooking style to our readers.
For me food is feelings transferred on to a plate. I would call my cooking style experiential and progressive. All that I sample during my travels, see, hear, read about — I visualise that in the dishes I cook. Basically, my dishes should be conversation starters and tell a story.
14. What was the last meal you had?
Sheera, mom-made. It’s another comfort food for me ????
15. Care to share a few effective tips for home cooks?
Plan ahead, prepare ahead. Keep it simple, use recipes as guidelines and try to infuse your own touch to a dish. As you keep cooking and experimenting you start discovering your own style.
16. Has traveling influenced your cooking style? Please share an anecdote with us.
I strongly believe that travel is a great way to experience new cultures and cuisines. And I try to convert those experiences into my dishes along with my interpretation of the same. There are many snippets that I could quote. One was visiting a Syrian Catholic family in Kerala, where I had (and also cooked along) an amazing Kappa Meen Curry. It made me look at Kappa or Tapioca with a lot more respect.
Another time, I visited this village called Khejarli in Rajasthan, inhabited by the nature-loving Bishnoi tribe. I met a lady called Shanti Devi who had discovered her life sustenance and raison d’etre through food. The dishes she served used barely three to four ingredients and she laid out a feast! Yet another re-countable memory is of Chef Benz in Koh Kood, Thailand. She’s been cooking for 30+ years now. She’s called Mama Benz by many and not without reason, because she serves food at the restaurant, just the way you’d serve it to guests at home. Conversations and the lunch we shared were life-changing for me. There are many many more that have inspired me in their own ways and I could go on forever.