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King of the kitchen

Master chef Manish Mehrotra has become a name to reckon with amid epicures sitting across the table. The 38-year-old chef, who won the culinary battle in the reality show Foodistan, has carved a niche for himself in the crowd of culinary stalwarts with his distinct style of cooking. Mehrotra has not only bagged a contract to write his own cookery book, but also the licence to travel to any three cities in the world and understand their cuisines. On his list are Australia, America and northern Europe. In a conversation with t2, Manish talks about his journey from classroom to the kitchen as a pro.

Why did you want to become a chef?

Well, it wasn’t my grandmother or mother’s style of cooking and recipes that intrigued me about food and inspired me to enter the kitchen. It was my own decision. After Plus Two, I decided to pursue hotel management and joined the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Mumbai, where cooking interested me. The rest is history, I guess.

You were already an established chef, so what prompted you to participate in Foodistan?

I wanted to participate in Foodistan out of sheer curiosity. It was a contest between chefs from India and Pakistan. It was a wonderful learning experience to know about different styles of cooking. We hardly know about culinary genius of our neighbouring country. Foodistan was quite an eye-opener. For me, winning or losing was not that important. I was taking it light, though there was pressure to perform well and be innovative.

What do think was your USP and helped to win the contest?

I was fortunate enough from rest of the contestants in terms of exposure. I started my career with Thai cuisine, moved on to pan Asian cuisine at Oriental Octopus, New Delhi, and then went on to open Tamarai, Old World Hospitality’s pan-Asian restaurant in London. London helped me in broadening my horizon. I stayed there for almost four years and during my stay, I picked up nuances of making different cuisines. For a man coming from India it was an enriching experience. My work has made me travel far and wide and I have had the opportunity of eating at some of the best restaurants in the world. So I feel this knowledge and expertise helped me reach where I am today.

Who was the toughest competitor and what did you prepare in the finale?

Poppy Agha from Pakistan gave me a tough competition. She had all the qualities of a winner. We could use exotic ingredients to prepare the delicacies; however, the essence had to be Indian. For starters, I prepared Crispy Soft Shell Crab, Flame Roast Coconut Chips, Crispy Curry Leaves and Indian spices, in the main course it was Pan Seared Basa, Haaq Saag (grown in Dal lake), Kashmiri Chilli Butter, Walnut Pulao and for dessert it was Chiraunji Makhane ki Kheer, Banana Caramel, Rose Petal Chikki. I have now added these delicacies in our menu at Indian Accent, New Delhi.

Which country do you feel has an extensive and rich cuisine?

China, without doubt! I’ve been there several times and realised that there is so much more than noodles.

Who is the one you love to cook for?

My daughter, Adah. She is a foodie and loves prawn.

Any celeb you would like to invite for dinner?

Amitabh Bachchan! He’s my favourite actor. I believe he is a vegetarian, so I will prepare as many vegetarian dishes as I know…if ever I get to cook for him.

Cooking apart, what else you love to do?

I love watching movies and cricket matches.

Which are the ingredients you swear by?

My favourite ingredients are garlic, coconut and oyster sauce.

What tip would you give to aspiring chefs?

Working hard is the only key to success. Hotel industry is very demanding so you have to live up to the challenges. However, I feel, full dedication and commitment is required for any profession.