Coming from a different geography brings along a lot of challenges and opportunities for a chef. Executive Chef, Shangri-La Hotel, Bengaluru, Antonio Tardi, is not a great believer of importing ingredients and hence always enjoys cooking food using local ingredients that enhance his learning about different cultures and food habits…
Tell us about the latest cooking ingredients and their influence in cuisine preparation today?
The mantra of my cooking is very approachable; I believe in the substance of nature and understanding the local food culture, no matter where I am. The nature has its own cycles. The best part of nature is its seasonality. For a particular product, a particular season proves to be exceptional. As a chef, I prefer the best produce of the season on my plate.
I am not a great believer of importing basic ingredients but, of course, there may be a few exceptions. In all the places that I have travelled to around the world, my first preference is to go for the local produce and many times I get to encounter new ingredients that are not part of my repertoire. This is when new ingredients get introduced in my culinary life. For example, since I am working here in India, I found this flavourful herb called fenugreek, which I rarely used in the past but I have become a die-hard fan of it now.
Any particular ingredient that has caught your attention and now you use it in your creations?
As I mentioned, I like to twiddle the culture through the cuisine, and in the case of fenugreek, I have invented a version of pesto (which is part of my traditional Italian cuisine). I have enhanced it a bit more by adding some sun-dried tomatoes and tossed altogether with freshly-made linguine, parmesan cheese, garlic and olive oil, which is just delicious!
Many imported ingredients are also becoming popular in India. Which are the ones that come to your mind?
Over a period of time, I understood that India’s international food market is growing, and people are opting for other key ingredients to add to their day-to-day food intake. A few that come to mind are cheese, olive oil, pasta, imported wines, etc.
Which have been your recent experiments with food and what did you achieve as results?
Over the last few weeks, I was working closely with my Indian restaurant chefs, and while cooking, we put together a few interesting dishes where the two cultures mixed through food. Dishes like – pan-fried gnocchi with green pea sauce and tandoori bekthi were prepared and we all loved it!
As a chef, how do you assess the use of new ingredients?
The priority, for a chef like me, is to balance both cuisines and ingredients used. The fundamentals are very clear: if you choose the right ingredient to pair with different ingredients, then the outcome on the palate will amaze you.
In your opinion, what are the new trends catching on like molecular gastronomy, etc.?
Molecular cuisine is something, which never excited me much. I tried it a couple of times, and I don’t like how the flavours are coming out using all these powders, etc. It’s just not for me.
Which creative trends are you observing in food preparation, cuisine, presentation, etc.?
I am not a believer of trends, and I am a creative person by birth. My food is healthy, inventive and with modern presentations, which follow the respect of all ingredients and their seasonality.
Give us some examples of new concepts and innovations in food service at Shangri-La?
We strive to become a destination known for great food and beverage. We have scoured the areas in search of great produce, which will play key roles in our menus across our many outlets. We will have innovative and fun outlets, and will be unveiling all of them soon.
Do you think that regional and ethnic foods/cuisines are catching on in a big way?
Yes, of course. People, over time, have forgotten their ethnic food, but now are resorting to the roots. This is happening all around us. People are more enthusiastic to explore the ancient food, especially when it is presented in a new-era style.