t2 thumbs through Ranveer Brar's second cookbook with the Chef for company
On a midweek afternoon, we get a call from a hot chef, wanting to drop by to tell us about what’s cooking between the pages. What followed is an hour-long chat with celebrity chef and TV personality Ranveer Brar in the t2 office, over green tea and his latest book, the 120-pager A Traditional Twist (Popular Prakashan, Rs 395).
Congratulations on your second book. What is it all about?
The book is essentially about Indian food but we have tried to make it healthier and a little lighter, while staying true to tradition. It has some recipes that are inspired, which probably, for the lack of a better word, you can put in the fusion page. But most of the recipes are as they would be... just cooked with olive oil and made healthier and lighter in some form or manner. That essentially is the idea. Our food made a little lighter.
There’s a “twist” of course as the name suggests…
Well, some recipes do have a twist... like the Daliya Thai Style. There is something Indian in it always… but the idea was to create recipes that you would want to do at home.
When did the idea for a second book come to you?
The idea was conceived in May when I was shooting for the Epic channel show Raja, Rasoi Aur Anya Kahaniyaan. You know, after a long time I cooked a lot of traditional Indian dishes and I ended up using a lot of ghee. There was no other way. For me, it’s very instinctive! You want to cook something Indian and you just add ghee. It fits in. But when I finished the show, I thought we could possibly do it in a lighter and a little more fun way. So that’s when the idea came. The next three months we gave the idea some shape and after two months it got published!
That was quite fast!
It helps to have publishers as your friends! Popular Prakashan did it for me.
So, there’s one dish that has a Bengali connect — Lauki Bharta with Shrimp...
Yes, the inspiration was Lau Chingri, the typical Bengali favourite. So we did a bharta of lauki, mashed it up, and served the shrimp on top of that. There will always be a little bit of Bengal in my recipes. It naturally comes into my food now.
Then there is the Calcutta-style Chicken Stew. It has been inspired by the typical stew you would get in Dacres Lane — the office para staple, with those quarter bread slices! There’s not a lot of travel or lot of food philosophy in this book. It’s more about giving people a ready reckoner of easy-to-cook recipes. If you feel like cooking something, pick it up and try a recipe. It’s different from my first book, Come Into My Kitchen, that has more of theories and philosophy of what I did in my kitchen.
Any favourites from this book?
There’s a Laal Maans recipe, that’s nice. There’s a Spicy Beetroot Soup. That has come out very nice too! There’s a Mithai Pancake… one of my favourites.
Olive oil is the hero of the book. Did you find it difficult to use it in Indian cooking?
The reason the book came out so fast is because I took Bertolli’s help. Most olive oil companies have an ultra refined version these days that takes care of the issue of low smoking point. It can be easily used in Indian cooking.
The best phone for food photography?
The new iPhone X!
There are many regional recipes in the book. How have you gone about picking them?
Most of it has been instinctive.
Is there any particular region that has been represented more?
I think it’s a fair mix. The recipes are inspirations from whatever I have been doing in the past. So there would be inspirations from my travels. You will see lot of Kerala, Calcutta, Rajasthan, a little bit of Lucknow… and then you will see stuff that are from none of the above.
After Afra Tafri on Camac Street, any more plans for the city?
Afra Tafri is a good foot in the door in this part of the country, in a city I am fond of. The idea now is to do a smaller food-oriented space here. The hunt for the location is on. While Afra Tafri is great, now I am looking forward to opening a small restaurant. It’s going to be inspired by the city. I know it’s going to be a big risk feeding Bong food to Bongs, but I want to take that risk this time.
It’s also a great time to get into the Calcutta market because all the national chains are coming in…
It’s great to see so many brands here. There are two things: one is that the country is getting saturated and people need to discover new markets. As a city, Calcutta is getting its due now. Delhi, Bombay and Bangalore have become highly unprofitable and unviable for business. There’s huge competition, and the overheads are also huge and the rents are crazy. Like in the Kamala Mills area in Mumbai, there are more than 100 restaurants... then 60 to 70 restaurants in Bandra Kurla Complex only. Connaught Place in Delhi has 178 restaurants. In Bangalore, the 100 Feet Road area is the densest in Asia in terms of having restaurants... more than 2,700 restaurants in one square mile! And right now it’s a good time to be in Calcutta because it’s still viable here to make business.
GST on non five-star restaurants is five per cent now. Your thoughts?
I think it will balance itself out in the long run. I think a lot of times we are becoming very polarised, either we are becoming anti-establishment or anti-customer. But the world, the industry, doesn’t work like that. As an industry, we will never do something that is unaffordable for the customer, because we will be out of business then. People have to trust the industry more and the industry should be more trusting of people. What I really don’t like is the whole polarisation.
What’s cooking on the TV front?
There’s a show coming up involving food on the Indian Railways. It’s a good hectic 54-day schedule but I am discovering the country through its food on the train. I am excited! And then there’s a show that’s already being aired on Colors, it’s based on the format of My Mom Cooks Better Than Yours; in India it is called Rasoi Ki Jung Mummyon Ke Sang. I was a judge on the show.
Podcast is something I really want to do. I have been greatly inspired by Vikram Doctor (The Real Food Podcast). I have a web series called Ranveer on the Road (ROTR). We have done Australia, Seychelles, we are almost done with Turkey, and then we are doing Paris. Next year we are also doing Israel and Thailand.
Any special plans for new year?
For me, next year will be more about slowing down and doing stuff that I love. I would like to enrol in a film-editing course in New York. I want to take filmmaking seriously. Right now, I am creating content. I want to put some studies behind it. I would try and get more meaning to food content. I have been in the television and food media for so many years, and we keep talking about how soulful it is, how important it is, how meaningful it is but it just doesn’t get represented like that. Somewhere we lose the thread of representation.
You have a script in mind already?
You never know!
(Team t2 sat in on the chat)