The Telegraph
| Sunday, September 8, 2013 |

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Straight Talk

Published on 7 September 2013

Culinary guru

  • Chef Sabyasachi Gorai's busy these days with his newest venture, Olive Culinary Academy

Chef Sabyasachi Gorai had planned to retire when he turned 40, but it is unlikely that he will hang up his ladle any time soon. He passed the landmark a few months ago and he's still clocking 18-hour days. Right now he's throwing all his efforts into the newly-launched Olive Culinary Academy though over the years he has been the key force at the highly successful Mediterranean-themed restaurants, the Olive Bar & Kitchen in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore as well the Japanese restaurant Ai (which reopened recently as Guppy by Ai).

But Gorai (who is usually known as Saby) is taking a backseat in the day-to-day operations of the restaurants and has now assumed the role of consulting chef for the Olive group's future projects. And he also has more unrelated plans up his sleeve which include books, charity projects and pop-ups.

In the last few months he has been focusing on the Culinary Academy which is at the take-off stage. The first trial batch of 15 students is being trained at the Annexe of Olive Bar & Kitchen in Mehrauli. Olive's planning to step on accelerator and next year the academy is looking at taking 100 people. Saby has been the main force behind setting up, streamlining the recipes and also ensuring that high standards are maintained from the word go at the academy.

Saby has worked under several celebrated chefs like chef Tetsuya Wakuda, chef Neel Perry and chef Charlie Trotter - all in Sydney as well as chef Pierre Gagnaire in Paris. He dabbled in molecular gastronomy but now has moved beyond it.

Interestingly, Saby has overcome huge odds to become a culinary star. He's severely dyslexic and this made any form of academics a tough proposition. But the Bengali boy from Asansol has overcome all the odds, to build his career.

Saby talks to Saimi Sattar about his journey so far.

Q: Why did Olive decide to start a culinary academy?

SG: For the past 12-14 years I've been training chefs who join the Olive kitchen. Some have joined Olive in other cities and some have joined other places. But it was nothing formal. Over the years we realised that we should have something at the end of which we should hand out a diploma. Moreover, we also decided to charge them as people value something when they pay for it.

Before starting, I also went to Alma School in Parma, Italy which is a 100-year-old culinary school in Italy. It's housed in the oldest building in Parma and is not at all like a sanitised culinary academy. At Parma the students do more hands-on training. This is what I take inspiration from and hope that in the coming years ours will become a centre where new dishes are created and young minds get to work.

Q: How is this academy different from others of its kind in India?

SG: The first batch which started in June has 15 people from diverse backgrounds. We had decided to take people between 18 and 24 though we have two who are slightly older as they were immensely talented. None of our students had formal training but they were selected on the basis of their passion for cooking. At the end of one year they will be awarded what we call the Grand Culinary Certificate in Kitchen and Bakery.

Q: When did you realise that you really wanted to be a chef? And what were the difficulties that you encountered?

SG: I wanted to enrol for a five-year-course at Calcutta University to be an artist. But I realised that only one out of scores of artists is really successful. And I didn't have money to pay for such a long course and couldn't risk such an uncertain future.

It was around this time that I came to know that the government had subsidised hotel management courses and decided to enrol at the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering & Nutrition, Calcutta. Initially I wanted to be one of the managers in the lobby who were smartly dressed but I soon realised that they probably had the worst job in the hotel. But when I entered the kitchen, I felt really like an Alice who had entered Wonderland.

I also realised that the work of a cook needed the skill of an artist - it was artwork on a plate. This attracted me hugely and I was enamoured by the idea of creating something beautiful which was also edible at the same time.

On the personal front, I struggled to write letters as my dyslexia meant that I constantly misspelt words. It was heartbreaking for my father, who used to write for The Statesman (italics). All my mistakes in those letters were underlined in red.

Q: What is the best way to master a cuisine?

SG: It is important to understand the background, the origin and the history of a dish when you cook it. You can pick up the recipe from a website and also get a fair idea as to what it should taste and look like. And of course you need to practice it several times to get it right.

Q: What is your favourite dish/cuisine?

SG: It's difficult to decide. I love Japanese, Italian and French food. But I guess it would be the last two.

Q: What do you do in your leisure time?

SG: I travel and eat, and try to get as much exposure to food as possible. My leisure as my wife points out is an extension of my work.