Chef Ranveer Brar has found success at a very young age. At 25 years, he became an Executive Chef, and one of the youngest to reach that coveted position. He has gone on to work with some of the most well-known hospitality brands in the country, besides being involved in establishing several landmark F&B outlets. He speaks to FoodService India about the most fascinating changes he has come across in food and cuisine and the culinary concepts that will shape the future of the industry
Tell us briefly about your culinary journey so far.
I began my culinary journey with a catering management college in Lucknow. Thereafter, I worked at several places in India – Hotel Taj Mahal in Delhi and Radisson Blu MBD Hotel Noida to name a few. Over the years, I have also been involved in opening several restaurants. At 25, I became one of the youngest Executive Chefs and then I opened a Pastry Shop called Chocolate Box – a unique pastry shop with live chocolate making and customised chocolate designs. Later, I moved to Boston where I opened the restaurant Banq, which won numerous awards. After I returned to India, I have been very lucky to work with many food shows on TV and get associated with some very exciting brands. A personal highlight for me was MasterChef India and I hope to keep learning and growing along the way.
In the course of your career as a chef, you must have seen many changes in this vocation. Which has been the most fascinating ones?
The emergence of regional Indian food has been the most fascinating change that I have come across. The striking thing about it is that it never before had the space and attention that it is getting now. It’s amazing to see how simple food can be modernised and made so delicious.
Which regional cuisines do you think have a great future ahead and why?
The food of Coorg, Surat, Kathiyawad, Mysore , Uttaranchal , Malwan and Nagpur is the food of the future. These regions have seen a lot of ups and downs, conquerors and conquests and that’s what has made their food interesting and varied.
What is your cooking style and what have been the changes you have made to it over the years?
My cooking style is expressive and experiential. I try and put my travels and experiences onto a plate. As my travels increase and my relationship with food matures, my menus evolve.
Which are some of the emerging and interesting foodservice concepts that will likley shape and impact our foodservice industry going forward?
Concepts based on culinary evolution of societies, ‘do it yourself’ (with critical minimum intervention) concepts and local and regional culinary concepts will shape the future of our industry. Intimidating and fancy aspirational concepts are a thing of the past as the consumer today is looking for connect and ‘relatability’.
Which are your favourite cuisines and what has been your method of giving these cuisines your personalised touch?
My favourite cuisine is Lucknowi and Italian and my interactions with them makes me more passionate about what I do. I try and make Awadhi food current and exciting for the new generation.
How do you envisage the evolving role of chefs in a changing food scenario?
Chefs today drive the food and beverage business way more than yesterday. It’s becoming a very product-oriented business and chefs are becoming
important as they are the product torchbearers. Also, chefs are now becoming better businessmen, making it conducive for chef-owned restaurants.
As a chef, how do you see the scope for a sharper positioning of dining and restaurant formats, especially in the categories of concept, fine and casual dining?
In my mind, in the times to come, farm to fork, seasonal and regional will become the underlying needs of all formats; hence positioning a restaurant purely for this will not really create waves. This will be a basic requirement and the consumer expectation of a more secure and aware society.
The focus of chefs is moving more to the role of marketing than making good food? What do you think of this trend?
I think it is great that chefs are getting more involved in the business. Since they are the ones who create the meals, they understand the food in the best way possible. They also know the audience and can have great insights when it comes to changing preferences. That being said, the food has to always be the focal point. If the food doesn’t taste good, no matter how much you market, it simply will not be a sustainable business.
In your opinion, what is that one thing that is going to change the way food will be promoted in the future?
Technology is the one thing that will change the way we promote food. The way technology is moving towards the F&B world, it’s making food more hi-tech and accessible. Social media is flooded with food already and I can’t wait to see all the new apps, podcasts, etc., that will further lend impetus to this trend. Technology will definitely be the gamechanger for food.
Should the trends in food be driven by consumers or chefs?
The trends in food should always be driven by consumers as the real measure of success is always the consumer. However, I believe in chefs driving subtle consumer education of new trends and ideas. The key is to keep that communication understated and respectful.
What is your opinion about the future trends in Indian cuisine. Will we go back in time to discover lost recipes or become more experimental with the rapid rise and influence of fast food chains?
I think it will be a mix of both. The good thing here is that the modern Indian feels the need to rediscover the character and variety of Indian cuisine, which makes the future of our food bright. At the same time, both capital and technology are backing food, making it affordable and innovative.
If food is a subjective matter, then how does one go about the task of being a critic? Which are the vital characteristics to identify the overall quality of food?
Food is indeed subjective. But it is based on a lot of common basics that really haven’t changed much. When chefs cook, it is these basic common denominators that they try to stick to for creating a menu that pleases and amuses a certain palate. It’s these basics that the critic look upon to base their judgement.
How do you explain the underlying forces behind the growing movement for using locally grown and fresh produce? What is its over-arching importance in the foodservice scenario currently and going forward? How do you see the chances of this trend emerging as a sustainable movement and what are the lessons to be kept in mind in view of how this movement has panned out elsewhere?
There is a certain sense of security in our society today – we are comfortable with our origins and identity, hence there is a need to study the society and give back. This need manifests itself in embracing local in all aspects of lifestyle including food. It is an important phase in our evolution as a society because it marks a significant change from our need to explore outwards to the need for self discovery.
I clearly see a permanence in this trend. It will be an irreversible step for the industry and society when we embrace and apply it. The biggest lesson that we should learn from the West and Australia – where it is already evolved as a concept – is that we need to create multiple avenues for the concept to manifest – in places like restaurants, farmers markets, farm, to door deliveries, etc.
As a chef, how do you view the growing momentum in favour of ‘organic’ and ‘farm-to-fork’ and their practical applications in the foodservice? Do you think that the Indian foodservice industry is equipped to embrace and advance such new-fangled concepts? Are we attempting an ambitious evolutionary stride without putting in place a proper, broad-based infrastructure to anchor such trends?
I think any concept that brings us close to the ‘source’ is great. It’s not just a question we need to ask the industry. It’s a question that we need to ask the society as well. Are we, as a society, ready to embrace less fashionable, less glamorous Indian farmers and seasonal produce, which means eating 5-6 vegetables only in a quarter? Are we, as a society, ready to accept irregularly shaped fruits and veggies because that’s what we get without chemical intervention. It’s a two-way street where both the society and the consumer need to align to the concept, and we are not there yet. For most of us, ‘farm to table’ still means produce from fancy farms that are run like businesses, producing non Indian fruits and veggies, lettuce and the likes. The next step is to acknowledge and understand the Indian farmer who does this for his livelihood and lives way below in the socio-economic strata than the consumer. Only after sorting out these issues will we become ready as society and industry to embrace these concepts for good.
How does it make sense for chefs today to devote so much time and attention to the “bells and whistles” that have become strong identifiers of the foodservice business – playing to the social media gallery. Are we straying too far from the basics and culinary essence of foodservice in the pursuit of frills and non-essentials. Do you think that far too much of importance is being accorded to the “atmospherics” around food or has it become a de-riguer in today’s evolving context in foodservice operations?
Foodservice industry is a reflection of the society around us. As a society we are becoming more and more social (online) and the need to express ourselves online is taking over other needs. Also, marketing as a business function is driving most businesses today, the success of which is also percolating to the foodservice industry. I personally feel it is a way of life that we have to live with and learn to deal with. Yes, to some extent it is currently a diversion. But the society in general and the industry in particular will learn and evolve to take it in the stride. The advantage is that it will never be a case of style over substance for us. That is because ultimately the product is king in the foodservice space, and the consumer interaction is tangible and the reaction immediate.
Do you think that going forward food will increasingly be marketed along the lines of goodness and wellness?
Food is a great sphere to be in. The food industry is the only industry that will never fade away. Food is such an important part of culture. I truly believe that it is what brings us all together. There is nothing better than sharing a great meal with family and friends. As for wellness and goodness, there is already a trend in the market moving towards this. With more emphasis on health and mental well-being, organic food is also gaining immense popularity.
How would you articulate the role of a chef today?
A chef is a researcher of lost cuisine, a marketer of his hard work, a manager of a profitable business, a leader of a people-run space, a salesman of concept.
What is your plan and vision for the future? Any pet projects that you plan to pursue?
I am looking to loads of fun and new stuff this year. A few cafes across India are on the cards along with a few new shows and culinary brands that I’m very excited about.
What have been your major learnings as a chef?
There is only one – stick to the basics.