Since his childhood, Chef Sujan S had a creative mind. He aspired to become a fashion designer but after not making it to NIFT, he decided to show his creativity in the kitchen. Surprisingly, his skills were appreciated when he bagged the first award in the culinary field – Nestle Junior Chef of the Year Award – and since then there has been no looking back.
An urge to learn his own distinctive style of cooking resulted in taking lessons from the best Chefs around the globe. Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen, Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef: Peter Tempelhoff, Freemasons at Wiswell, Viajante, Cipriani are just a few names to flaunt that shaped his career along with defining his own distinctive culinary style.
Chef Sujan’s dedication reflects in his work. With the same passion that he learnt under the masters, he set up his restaurant Almada in Berkley Street and that used to be the celebrity hot spot of London with regulars like Madonna, Jude Law, George Clooney, Jay Z, Leonardo di Caprio, Sir Elton John, Cindy Crawford, Mickey Rourke to name some.
Chef de Cuisine at Olive Bar and Kitchen and Ek Bar, Chef Sujan S, who is known for crafting perfect dishes in Modern European, Mediterranean, American, Molecular Gastronomy and Innovative Indian cuisines, shares some insights on the future of the foodservice industry in India in a candid chat with Indiaretailing.com.
Take us through your culinary journey so far. Which have been the major milestones accomplished along the way and how have they shaped and influenced your career?
After working with hotels and restaurants across UK, I was appointed as the Head Chef at Automat in Mayfair, London. Soon after, I opened the adjoining Almada and was running it successfully, which served as the celebrity hotspot in Berkeley Street, London.
After competing at the London Chef of the Year competition, I finished as a finalist consecutively for two years in 2008-09. Later moving to Dubai, I got the opportunity to conceive, create and launch a unique concept focusing on Indian flavours and palate, that is now famously known as TRESIND.
Back in India, I have been experimenting with more locally inspired cuisine here at Olive Qutub as the Chef de Cuisine that got me the Best Chef of the Year by Times Food Award this year. And now I have started my first venture with AD Singh, that is an India inspired cocktail bar called Ek Bar in New Delhi.
How do you envisage the evolving role of chefs in a changing food scenario?
The life of a chef is no more confined to being just a chef. It all begins with working in the kitchen as a chef, but ultimately it evolves to managing the whole show. From the service, customer relations, innovation, and being involved in the business aspect of food – a chef, today is involved in running the whole restaurant.
Chefs these days are also seen working in the R&D and product development departments of big food conglomerates and FMCGs such as Nestlé etc to create essential mass products like: curry powder, chocolates and many more.
Considering the shift to sustainable living and organic eating, Chefs can also be brand ambassadors for sustainable cuisine, promoting organic and indigenous produce from local farms and encourage healthy eating.
Which particular cuisines you focus on and how have you seen it evolve over the years?
My core background is in modern European cuisine. But in the recent past, I have been keen on creating India-inspired F&B concepts, with a strong base of indigenous ingredients and traditional cooking techniques.
After having created Ek Bar: the country’s first India-inspired cocktail bar with AD Singh, my next focus right now is to create my version of an India-inspired dining space. I am, therefore, back in India to understand the space and scope for the same.
What have been your major learnings as a chef?
Well, now I have a newfound respect for the local ingredients, farmers, food and the whole idea of creating a sustainable food ecosystem, which can benefit everyone and will help sustain the planet in a long run.
Another important learning would be discipline. While in the kitchen you have to be absolutely disciplined and professional – there is a lot of pressure in terms of food, time, service, and clients’ expectations.
Which are some of the emerging and interesting foodservice concepts that will likely shape and impact the foodservice industry going forward?
I feel there is a lot of scope in modern and up-scale food delivery services. The consumer today is ready to pay that price for a delivery order. For example, the idea of sushi delivery is phenomenal. We need more such niche food delivery options.
Other trends I would like to throw light on is DIY food delivery services. These services send you the ingredients for a particular dish measured in perfect quantities along with an elaborate recipe for the same dish. It not only reduces wastage (works better than buying extra ingredients and let it rot) but also encourages a healthy eating habits.
We have also seen a crazy boom in terms of a cocktail culture in India. Nightclubs are now being converted into cocktail bars and gastropubs where the consumer can enjoy a good glass of cocktail along with a delicious satiating meal.
Chef and cuisine-driven secret and underground restaurant pop-ups are a great trend too.
Lastly, putting focus on lost recipes and our heritage regional cuisines is a great trend to follow. We all want to go back to the roots and do things the traditional way. Most parts of this country are still underrated and undiscovered.
Can you share examples of some innovative F&B ideas that you have implemented in the past year.
In 2012, I curated my first Indian-inspired seven course dinner at Hyatt Andaz, London and it was extremely well received.
Last year, I opened the first ever India inspired cocktail bar along with AD Singh, focusing on handpicked indigenous ingredients from the different regions and roots of the country, creating an eclectic and modern cocktail Indian experience.
We are also the first ever air purified and pollution-free bar with installed air purifiers in our restaurant to enable clean air and easy breathing.
My endeavour with each of the properties I am associated with is to create an international standard product.
What are the challenges of working as a top chef and how do you keep ahead of the curve?
I feel as a chef and also as a part of the ever-evolving food sector, we need to constantly keep reinventing and innovating. A chef must travel both across the home country and the world to evolve as a person and gain more experiences – this is also crucial for any kind of menu R&D.
Besides the cook books, I like to keep a track on all the food trends and stories published on world food magazines to have an edge and be ahead of the curve.
Are the trends in food industry being driven by consumers or chefs?
As seen in the past, the consumers decide most food trends in India. It’s totally about what they like eating, and what they don’t.
But I can see chefs are taking a step forward to create unique and passion driven properties. For eg: TIAN – the Asian Cuisine Studio by Chef Vikramjit and of course, the latest property by Chef Manu – Toast and Tonic in Bangalore.
What are your observations about the evolution and developments in fine dining, smart/casual dining and QSRs in India?
Casual dinning in India is always at a boom. International QSR format work wonders here, with adaptation of Indian flavours of course (for eg: McDonalds doing a simple and homegrown Aloo Tikki burger). I’m not quite sure of the fate of Indian QSRs and how the public receives them.
I would say India is a place for ‘casual fine dine’. People here are not yet ready for a serious ‘fine dine’ place with strict and controlled course-wise meal.
From being a chef you have turned chef-cum-restroprenuer. What more can we expect from you in the future?
In the coming future, you will see me concentrating on innovating more in my kitchen and push boundaries while creating unique modern dishes. My next project and endeavour is to create the best India-inspired dining space.
I also want to build a symposium of chefs, F&B professionals, artist, farmers, and environment activists to document and carry forward our cuisine and culture. This symposium will be a collaborative space to brainstorm on innovative and path breaking food ideas, and ultimately exhibiting them.
Mentoring young chefs and F&B professionals is also an on-going endeavor.
What are the challenges that you foresee for chefs in times to come?
Times have changed, and courtesy the internet, consumers today are very aware of what you are serving them. You can’t be mundane and boring – one has to always keep their best dish forward and constantly reinvent.