Cooking with senses

Cooking with senses

Palate Delight

Cooking with senses

He still remembers the aroma of his mother’s mutton masala wafting through the kitchen and the sweet smell of meethi lassi being churned. Sitting at the dining table with his family, a young Vineet Bhatia relished every bite with hot parathas.

“It was a Sunday ritual,” he reminisces. Born and brought up in Mumbai, Vineet’s passion in life was aeroplanes followed by his mother’s first love, cooking. He always wanted to fly jets and also appeared for the national defence exam with hopes of joining the Air Force; he failed and later enrolled in a school for hotel management.

He joined the Oberoi hotel group in 1988 as a trainee and soon, headed the kitchen when he was in his early 20s. But he realised that his progressive ideas weren’t appreciated and he was asked to stick to tried and tested recipes. Frustrated, he left for England, unaware that runny curries and overspiced tikkas were gorged down and regarded as a true representation of Indian cuisine.

In London, he started working at Star of India and was appalled at the food quality and menu. He gradually introduced changes to the food and menu, which helped the restaurant earn popular and critical acclaim. He later partnered and opened Zaika, which won a Michelin Star. In 2004, he finally started his own restaurant, Rasoi in London and had to use his home as a collateral. He did make a lot of sacrifices, but it all paid off. Within two years of its inception, Rasoi won a Michelin Star in 2006, followed by another one for his restaurant in Geneva in 2009.

Today, 43-year-old Vineet Bhatia is the only Indian chef to win two Michelin Stars. Enthusiastic and passionate about food, Vineet Bhatia has travelled the world, has restaurants in cities like London, Dubai, Geneva and Mumbai and now, he has stepped out of the kitchen onto the streets of India, visiting iconic local restaurants, tasting their delicacies and giving them his own twist in Twist of Taste on Fox History & Traveller. With his wife Rashima, he travels to Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore, Amritsar, Jodhpur, Goa, Guwahati, Mcleodganj, Hyderabad and Manali to celebrate Indian cuisine.

There are already many food-based travel shows on various television networks where you watch Indian or international chefs drooling over butter chicken or flipping over a modest tandoor. Vineet Bhatia’s show goes beyond those moments, which is why he chose to be a part of this show.

“We, cooks, are like artists. We need to have an open mind; we need to question things. I did this show only to showcase and prove that street food, although full of flavour, can be made a lot more healthier and of course, beautiful. I recreate dishes with a different technique, making them a lot more subtler in terms of flavour without robbing them of their soul and character.”

And while Vineet cooks, Rashima sets out to explore the city, soaking in the local culture by visiting local landmarks and indulging in shopping.  What makes Twist of Taste so appealing is that Vineet makes the food he cooks look so easy to prepare.

It’s gimmick-free and a feast for the eyes. Also, you would love the little tips he gives during his cooking demonstrations (I particularly remember him suggesting to add spices to warm, and not hot, oil as they infuse with other ingredients better or the fact that ginger is a great tenderiser for meat). Vineet believes in letting every ingredient of the dish speak for itself; that’s his twist, apart from plating it up in his inimitable style.

“If I make gobi ki subzi, I need not camouflage it with heavy doses of garam masala or dollops of oil. Subtlety is the mantra. Overpowering flavours never work,” he says. However simple the dishes featured on the show are, Vineet’s signature dishes tell a different story.

He is known for creating dishes like tandoori smoked salmon, lobster biryani, broccoli khichdi, wasabi and roasted almond ice-cream and the star of it all, the chocolate samosa, Vineet’s recipes are written off, by many, as fusion and non-Indian food, but he disagrees.

“I am not mixing different cuisines; all I am doing is modernising Indian food and making it presentable. Introducing new elements like corn in sarson ka saag, pairing up chicken tikka with gud chutney or using lobster in a biryani instead of chicken or mutton does not make it ‘fusion’. My flavours and food are still very Indian,” he explains.

Vineet has been cooking for more than a decade now, but he feels he still hasn’t learnt enough. “The show has taught me so much more when it comes to cooking. In fact, it was an eye-opener. I was shocked when I came across a shop in Jodhpur serving gulab jamun ki subzi, which wasn’t sweet but savoury; tasting egg ka halva and chicken barfi. I also realised the difference between the biryani served in Hyderabad and Lucknow, where it is called pulao,” remarks Vineet.

As for his personal joys, Vineet loves cooking at home with his wife. “I love being in the kitchen, cooking simple dishes, and of course, one of my favourite recipes, the chocolate samosa.”

Vineet has everything going for him, yet, he isn’t content with life. “There is so much to do! My dream is to help portray Indian cuisine as the best in the world. It deserves as much recognition as any other cuisine like French, Italian or Mediterranean,” he says. We couldn’t agree more.

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