Some know him as the director of food and beverage at the JW Marriott Bengaluru and some know him as one of the judges from the ‘Junior Masterchef India’, but everyone calls him chef Jolly although his name is Surjan Singh. The chef recently demonstrated how well canola oil works with Indian cuisine.
At the event , he entertained the guests with witty stories. Later, he sat down with ‘Metrolife’ to share some of his culinary experiences.
Tell us about your favourite food memory.
One of my latest favourites is cooking for Paris Hilton on her trip to India recently. She wanted something healthy, delicious and traditional with classy presentations. It was a lot of hard work and I believe that she loved it as well. We cooked a ‘duck biryani’ in Awadhi style in small individual pots for everyone.
One of my other favourite memories is when I was working for a restaurant in Mumbai. It was after closing time and a couple walked in asking for food. I was the only one left there and felt bad that I had to send them on an empty stomach. So I asked them what they wanted and all they requested for was ‘paratha and daal makani’. They ate to their hearts’ content and I was happy to send them home without asking for any money.
At home, are you the chef or the husband?
Coincidently, my wife is also a chef. So I let her take over — I need to keep her happy as well! She makes this amazing dish called ‘Pish Pash’ which actually originated from the East. It’s a very simple dish that requires some rice, chicken, stock and spices. Wait till it’s mushy and the dish is ready. I can have that at least 10 times a day. But when I do get a chance to take over the kitchen, I love making ‘biryani’, lamb shacks and ‘aloo paratha’ for her. So I guess you can call me the loving husband and a chef at home .
Any bizarre food experience?
I wanted to try street food at Bangkok. I came across a rabbit-shaped dish and thought I’d give it a try. With my encounter with locals later made me realise that I actually had a rat! While it was tasty, I don’t think I will want to try it again. However, I am someone who loves to try exotic dishes. I’ve tried alligator, zebra, ostrich, wildebeest and giraffe.
When did you know that you wanted to be a chef?
Coming from a Punjabi family, I have grown up around food. But I always wanted to be a fighter pilot. I got shortlisted for the Army which I didn’t want to do. My second option was to either become an architect or an aeronautical engineer. I ended up getting a civil engineering post. I just sat at home a few months. Finally I decided to give my hotel management examination and got selected on merit! I thought I was destined to do great things, only to realise that the everyone who get rejected from the other exams got selected to this. But when I started my course, people would tell me that I’m better off being in the front and not in the kitchen since I’m someone who loves to talk. I was rebellious and took it as a challenge. And till date I follow a saying, “there are two formulas in life — either you do what you love or start loving what you do”.
If you could reinvent a dish...
I’ve already reinvented a dish. I was invited for a dine in with the King of Hyderabadi cuisine, Nawab Mehboob Alam Khan. He made a lamb dish with just a few ingredients — garlic, cardamom, maise, ghee and lamb. He slow braised it and it was a lip-smacking dish. I decided to improvise that and make it a dish that one person can enjoy as ‘raan’ is something that at least four to five people can eat. I made it with goat shanks instead, braised and cooked it with saffron and stock. I also took inspirations of ‘potli masala’ and it’s now popular on my menu. I’m proud to know that many chefs around the world have also replicated the dish. I’m happy to be known as a proud inventor.