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My Kitchen is More of My Home Than the Place Where I Live, says Chef Ashay Dhopatkar | Interview

Chef Ashay Dhopatkar

In an exclusive interview with Foodeez Junction, Chef Ashay Dhopatkar opens up on his culinary journey and the experiences on working with the likes of Chefs Herbert Berger, Mark Hix and Gordon Ramsay.

Even after getting through the top medical schools in India, Chef Ashay followed his passion. He graduated from the Institute of Hotel Management in Goa and then moved to the Isle of Man, where he worked as an apprentice with Manx chefs. Soon after doing Culinary Arts from the Hammersmith and West London College, England, he was selected to work at the kitchen of the No. 1 Lombard Street, under Michelin-Star ‘Old School’ Austrian Chef Herbert Berger.

Before taking up MBA, Chef Ashay had also worked with 3 Michelin-Star Chef Raymond Blanc, 2 Michelin-Star Chef Shane Osborne, 2 Michelin-Star Chef John Campbell and Chef Tom Hampstead, which helped him in refining his culinary skills. After pursuing MBA, Chef Ashay worked at Gordon Ramsay’s Savoy.

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Later, Ashay Dhopatkar joined Michelin-Star Chef Mark Hix. It’s that time when Chef Ashay got to work closely with the local farm owners.

To find new inspirations and work on his own creations, Chef Ashay Dhopatkar returned to India and had joined Passcode Hospitality as an Executive Chef at A Ta Maison (ATM). Read on to know more about Chef Ashay’s experiences as a chef.

Learn Here – A Three Course French Meal to Pamper Your Wife this Karwa Chauth

How did you get started in food? Can you tell us a bit about your culinary journey?
I started off with my hotel management from IHM Goa, after which I did a brief stint in the Isle Of Mann where I studied and apprenticed with a few Manx Chefs.

Who and What influenced you?
Once in London, I discovered the world of Michelin-starred restaurants. The more I researched, the more I wanted to work in one. Like everyone back in those days, I too was influenced by the stories of Harvey’s restaurant. 

One major difference between Indian and international flavours from the chef’s eyes.
I think Indian flavours are more spice & condiment-centric while international flavours are more ingredient-centric. 

You have worked with Michelin Star Chef Herbert Berger and Chef Mark Hix, and have worked at Chef Ramsay’s Savoy Grill. How did it help you in achieving the perfection?
In every possible way! With Chef Herbert I learned the fundamentals of classic gastronomy, with Chef Mark, I learned the importance of provenance, local sourcing & working with producers. With Chef Ramsay, I learned endurance and self motivation! Click to Tweet

What does Kitchen for Chef Ashay means?
‘Home’… Home is where a person feels safe and comfortable, where one can forget all worldly matters and be himself. In some way, my Kitchen is more of my home than the place where I live!!

How would you define your style of cooking?
My style of cooking is Modern European using classic French techniques with British and  Indian influences. 

Signature Dish
Confit Leg of Chicken with Sauce aux Champignons, haricot Verts & Onion Lyonnaise. Simple & Elegant. 

Favourite cuisine/s
I like trying new cuisines and dishes constantly but French, British & Indian are my favourites. 

Ingredients that you couldn’t live without?
Good Quality Mustard & Butter.

A recipe that you would want the entire world to know.
A simple French Omelette. Everyone makes it but few get it right. It is one of the things that I ask young chefs to make on their trials in my kitchen. 

What’s the first ever dish that Chef Ashay made?
The first ever dish I made was a Chocolate Popsicle at the age of 11! It was hard as a rock but my dad was kind enough to risk his teeth anyway!!

How did your family react then? And now?
My dad wanted me to be a doctor and I had even got through some top medical schools in India. But when I told them that my passion lies in cooking, they understood and supported me in every possible way. They are just as supportive today although they don’t approve of my bouillabaisse .. Which I’m so proud of. LOL! 

A cooking experience that you will never forget.
An elaborate meal I had from a French chef in the middle of a game lodge while on a African Safari holiday… That meal was definitely worth a Michelin star! 

What do you prefer to have after a long day at work?
A simple broth or a warm pie is the best thing! Although I’d welcome a good butter chicken with just as much gusto!! 

Who is your favourite chef?
Thomas Keller, Paul Bocuse, Marco Pierre White, Tom Aikens, Shane Osborn. 

What does a regular working day of the Chef’s life look like?
It starts with a cup of strong Coffee at 7am, after which the day starts with the deliveries and the prep. The lunch service starts at 12 and ends at 4pm. After a short break, we start again at 5 for dinner service which kicks off at 6:30 and goes well into the night until 11:30. Then we clean down, do the ordering & prep list for the next day and leave to start again in the morning.

Biggest challenges you have faced throughout your culinary journey?
Every day is a challenge that comes with a gift in its hands… I think all chefs seek this challenge. That is what excites us. Click to Tweet

What keeps you going?
The constant pursuit of something higher.  

A message to the aspiring home chefs/cooks.
Behind the glamour, beautiful dishes and shiny cutlery, there is a lot of hard work and sacrifices. Be prepared and stay dedicated and you’ll get there. Also that no book will give you the skill set and knowledge that you will gain from working in a good kitchen. Click to Tweet

— as told to Sara Khan

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Eat What Makes You Happy, tells Kornelia Santoro in Interview with Foodeez Junction

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In her Cookbook Cooking for Happiness Kornelia Santoro speaks about her journey as well as how she fought off one of the devils, depression, and of course the recipes. In my recent book review on Cooking for Happiness I’d shared why I like this book so much. It’s a guide to eat your food right, even if it’s a comfort food.

This time, I got a chance to interview food writer and author Kornelia Santoro herself. Kornelia loves to experiment in her kitchen. She had already written two cookbooks – Kornelia’s Kitchen: Mediterranean Cooking for India and Kornelia’s Kitchen 2: Cooking for Allergies – before writing Cooking for Happiness. She has won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award TWICE for her cookbooks, and is a food writer for Indian and European media.

Being a food writer and an author of three cookbooks, Kornelia Santoro believes the state of mind affects the cooking and the taste of food depends on it.

Kornelia Santoro wrote her cookbook Cooking for Happiness after suffering depression for years. Read on what she has to say on her affair with food and cooking.

How did you get started in food? What influenced you?

I struggled about ten years on a novel that nobody wanted. Naively I thought I had the idea for a bestseller: the story of a woman coming of age while travelling the world and trying to reach financial independence through the ultimative drug deal. However, I was the only one who liked my story. My husband hated it because he thought the subject is not fit for a housewife and a mother. Honestly, I loved to indulge into crime via writing. But it was not meant to be. Then my husband suggested I should write about cooking, a more suitable subject for a wife. After I had fought so hard with my story line for the novel, writing a cookbook was like a walk in the park. Also: I immediately found a publisher.

What is cooking for Kornelia Santoro?

On a daily basis it is something that I have to do for my family. Before going to sleep I usually think a bit about what I will cook the next day. At the beginning of the week I spend some time mapping out what I could prepare. I do not always want to do the same recipes but I do not want to spend too much time in the kitchen also. So I try to keep it simple and to keep my shopping to two or three times a week.

Occasionally, I feel like experimenting. This might be inspired by something I watch on TV or a blog or a dish in a newspaper or a magazine. Then I mull the idea over in my mind and I try it in the kitchen. When it works the first time, great. When it does not work, I keep tweaking the recipe.

Your Signature dish?

That would be a menu:

Ceviche as a starter, followed by a vegetarian main course, Gigantes, giant Greek beans baked in tomato sauce, with Feta cheese and mixed salad with French vinaigraitte. Vanilla ice cream with hot chocolate sauce as dessert.

Indian Spices that you cannot stay without.

Turmeric, garlic and ginger: turmeric for its healing properties, garlic because I love the taste and ginger because it fights inflammation in a delicious way.

Your favourite chef

Aakritee Bhandari Sinh, owner of A Reverie in Calangute, Goa: We share the same philosophy and approach to food.

What is your comfort food?

That depends on the occasion: Sometimes it is deep-fried squid rings, sometimes it is a chocolate muffin. In my hometown Ansbach it is definitely smoked sausages. However, when I need comfort through food I try to enjoy something homemade. My dark chocolate truffles always work but I only make them for Christmas or other special occasions.

How do you connect cooking with the state of mind?

I believe that my state of mind influences the taste of my foodTweet: I believe that my state of mind influences the taste of my food, says @KorneliaSan Read full interview

When I am happy and I feel like cooking, everything tastes better. When I do not feel like cooking, I try to avoid it. For these occasions I always have a pasta sauce in the freezer so I can produce a dinner without a lot of effort.

A favourite cuisine from Cooking for Happiness

Thai coconut curry: I love this kind of curry because you can prepare it in no time at all and it combines the goodness of coconut with just about everything you have in your fridge.

Cooking for Happiness has mentions for all the happy and healthy food. What foods, according to you, aren’t good for health?

Everything processed with a lot of chemicals and unhealthy fat. I believe, packaged food should be avoided as much as possible, especially chips and inferior chocolate sweets. I also think that blended, refined vegetable oils are bad for the body. And of course everything genetically modified.

How family takes up your cooking at home, especially when it comes to healthy food?

In general, they are quite grateful and easy to manage. Although my son is a picky eater, it is not so difficult to satisfy him by avoiding all the stuff he does not like. Luckily, his palate has changed over the years and he even eats salad now, a big improvement.

Diet and Depression – How do you see the connection?

We are what we eat, simple as that. When you suffer from depression, you should get professional help. There is also nothing wrong with taking happy making pills over a period of time. However, at the same time one should try to improve the mood with food because this is still the healthiest way.

A cooking experience you won’t forget while working on Cooking for Happiness

Trying to do squid jerky: The result looked nice but it tasted so horrible that even our dogs did not like it.

How do you measure “eating right”?

I do not believe in measuring food. I believe in listening to your body and to eat what makes you happy. Of course, if you only appreciate super sweet and deep fried stuff you might want to reconsider and try to reeducate your taste buds. However, I always state from experience that diet makes you fat. If you have problems with weight, only a change in lifestyle will work. Losing weight is a long process and cannot be rushed.

A message to the ones who are/were in depression.

Acknowledge your feeling of desperation! Don’t try to deny it. When you are depressed, you are not happy – even if your family and friends tell, you should be happy. Validate your feelings and then try to get help. Go to a doctor and get some anti-depressants as a first step. When you feel better, change your lifestyle. Take the advice from my book, get plenty of daylight and exercise and love yourself. If you do not love yourself, nobody will.

Tips for the home chefs/cooks.

Don’t stick to recipes. I always take recipes only as guidelines. I do not particularly like measuring ingredients so sometimes I just wing it. Or I change up a recipe just because I am curious how a different ingredient would work.

Experimenting brings fun to cooking and that’s what you are aiming for: Turn the chore of cooking into a joyful, happy experience!Tweet: Turn the chore of cooking into a joyful, happy experience: @KorneliaSan Read full interview

You can get Kornelia’s cookbook from Amazon.in. Here are the links:

— as told to Sara Khan

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From Good to a Baker par Excellence – Patisserie Chef Neha Lakhani tells all in her Interview with Foodeez Junction

Chef Neha Lakhani

In an exclusive interview with Foodeez Junction, Patisserie Chef Neha Lakhani tells about her food experiences and what fascinated her towards culinary journey.

Patisserie Chef Neha Lakhani is an innovator and a baker par excellence. Her bakes and desserts draw the influence from her world travels. Chef Neha, after pursuing degree in finance, decided to take it to the bakery and patisserie world. She pursued Pastry Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa under Chef Herve Chabert and Chef Christian Faure. She honed her skills in planning customized fine desserts in the pastry kitchen of ITC Maurya Sheraton, New Delhi.

Chef Neha Lakhani is awarded by the Indian Federation of Culinary Association for excellence in her career and contribution to the industry. She is a prominent judge at the Asia Food Festival. She is also a member of Penang Chefs Association, Indian Culinary Forum and Indian Federation of Chefs Association (IFCA). She is also an expert panellist for NDTV.

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In 2013, she started her own venture Patisserie Royale. Read on what Chef Neha Lakhani has to say about her journey in the patisserie world.

Can you tell us a bit about your career? Being from a finance background, why and how did you get started in food?

Finance has always been my utmost love. I wanted to be a charted accountant but when my dad thought I may not clear it and also because he wanted me to get married. I thought I was too young (still think so). So there was a huge row at home but we settled on graduation in finance followed by an MBA. But definitely not chartered accountancy. But during my MBA when I was in my internship, I realised this definitely is not me! This job is just for the table.

I was already feeling bored and felt if I take this up as a profession, it will make me stagnate. I was terrified of doing  the same thing over and over again everyday without any innovation.

Yes, I have worked with my father for three years in his shoe business and garments exports. But it never hooked me on. I always thought that it’ll always be an identity that I’m just his daughter.

I love him very much and I’m very proud to be his daughter. But I also wanted to be known for my own self.

That’s when I decided to switch. I was always a good baker ever since I was a kid and always had that knack of doing new things in the kitchen, trying out new recipes and so on. So I decided to be a home baker, for starters. It was actually when I realised I could not ice a proper cake, and was only making tea cakes. That’s when I decided to take professional training at Le Cordon Bleu. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history.

I have my own identity and I am not only my father’s daughter. I feel happy that people know me for my work.

What is your opinion about pastry industry in India?

There have been massive changes in the last decade. People are more well traveled, educated and aware. They know all the new food trends. Artistic cakes have taken the pastry industry by storm and also the amalgamation of new and unusual flavours. People are now going out of their way to innovate and it’s being well accepted.

Your desserts are full of celebration and life. How do you come up with the ideas?

Tweet: While I am at work, I like putting love into the cake as if I'm making it for myself. @foodeezjunction @chefnehalakhaniI like to do new things every time. I don’t like making repetitive cakes. Personally, I like bright cakes. While I am at work, I like putting love into the cake as if I’m making it for my own self.

See a cake is for celebrations.  So I like my cakes being a part of people’s happiness. It is a privilege that I am instrumental in turning their happy times into everlasting memories. And this is what inspires me to think out of the box and innovate.

What’s your Favourite Dessert?

I’m a huge coffee fan and also I like my classics. So coffee eclair and opera are my favourite desserts. More often than not, if I am eating out, for dessert, I primarily order anything with coffee..

What is your Signature Dish?

My signatures are the artisanal  granola – it is a huge hit, and I say it with modest pride. The orange spiced cake glazed with almonds and chocolate is also a speciality.

Ingredients that you couldn’t live without.

Most definitely hazelnut praline paste , pistachios and vanilla pods

A cooking experience that you will never forget.

Tweet: Chef Christian Faure is a true alchemist of pastry, says @chefnehalakhani in her interview with @foodeezjunction @MaisonCFI think that will have to be one of my classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Canada. I was much influenced by Chef Christian Faure, my trainer at Le Cordon Bleu, because he is so hardworking and eager to learn new techniques. For me, he is a true alchemist of pastry, who taught me how churning out sweet delights was a sensory experience – it should look as well as taste heavenly. His attention to the artistic aspect of baking is incomparable. So he taught us this dessert recipe – Palet d’Or – coffee ganache chocolates. I still remember how he appreciated my work after the class when he was judging and how he encouraged me – that kind of appreciation and what it meant to me is incomparable to any cooking experience.

How did you adapt to the changing trends in the culinary world, especially in patisserie?

Yes it’s very important to cope up with the new trends and innovations.  I do follow new techniques and experiment with lot of different ingredients. But my mantra is to innovate with flavours with a respect for what is classic..

Who is your Favourite Chef?

I’m a huge fan of Antonio Bachour. When it comes to patisserie, he’s a trend setter and I truly follow him. I refer to his books his Instagram handle for pastry guidance.

Basic tips for all the home chefs/bakers.

Basic tips for home chefs would be — be real and work efficiently.

Tweet: Even if there's just one cake that you know - make it your best says @chefnehalakhani in her interview with @foodeezjunction Even if there’s just one cake that you know – make it your best.

Nobody should be able to better that! Do it perfect. That is what you will be known for if you do decide to sell. There’s no point of selling a 100 things on your menu if they are all average or below par. That’s what I believe in. Whatever you do – big or small it should be with best efforts and perfection.

If you have ordered a dessert from Patisserie Royale, share your experience. I would be waiting to hear from you through the comment section below. Till then enjoy baking!

— as told to Sara Khan