Fortune Select's Chef Inder Dev on culinary cultures, innovative cooking

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In a candid conversation with FoodService India, Chef Inder Dev of Fortune Select expresses his views on the various culinary cultures and his most preferred style of innovative cooking…
Why did you decide to venture into the field of foodservice? Was it by accident or design?
My family was into the hospitality business. I was 11 when I got fascinated seeing chefs mixing ingredients and playing with pots and pans. So the passion started at an early age, and soon my dream came true.
Who were your career mentors?
Khana Khazana fame chef Sanjeev Kapoor, chef Manjit Singh Gill, chef Satish Arora and chef Sanjay Sharma were my key mentors.
How do you define your cuisine?
Initially I was taken up with cooking tasty food at home, and then preparing healthy food during my stint in the family business of hospital catering. But later I realised that cuisine was a vast subject which calls for excellent and special skills, an innovative brain, lots of dedication, hard work and the ability to understand the art of matching and mixing ingredients scientifically. My cuisine is definitely Indian, which itself has huge varieties.
After graduating in Hotel Management in 1990, I took to some intense travelling in many countries. Now, with 26 years of experience under my belt, I can call the world cuisine as my cuisine.
Which culinary styles have influenced your career?
Though every culinary style has its own importance and the scientific reasons behind it, what impressed me was the ‘Dum’ style of cooking. It was very enthralling to see how perfectly the food gets cooked in a sealed pot and the way it looks and taste after it has been cooked. Also, I liked the pot roasting style of cooking in which food gets infused with herbs and other flavours, which makes it appealing and delicious.
What twists or accents do you love to incorporate into your dishes?
chef-inder-dev-fortune-selectPeople call me a fusion master chef. I have created dishes, which are simply out-of-the box. Some of them are ‘lotus root ki jalebi’, ‘missi roti pizza’, ‘Thai curried dal vada’, ‘dahi kebab ki chaat’, ‘olive chicken tikka’, ‘apple ishtew, ‘biryani ke parathe’, ‘rasogola ki chaat’, and gulab jamun baked with white chocolate fondue, etc. I have also worked with a food scientist to gain a better understanding of mixing ingredients and their health benefits.
What ethnic specialties do you enjoy cooking and presenting?
I have a passion for exploring hidden regional and ancient dishes and I am equally good at giving a twist to turn the dishes into healthy food. I like to use ancient ingredients and try to revive the old cuisine. I have used bajra,(pearl millet) raagi (fi nger millet), makai (corn), fresh jowar (white millet), etc, in my recipes. I love cooking fresh haldi (turmeric) ki subzi, cooking in turmeric leaf, banana leaf, grape leaf and colacasia leaf.
You have traveled a lot and observed other cuisines in other countries. In this context, which are the things that interest you most?
I have done extensive travelling across the country and overseas as part of my passion and profession. Every country has its own uniqueness depending upon the location and weather of the place. I take pride that I can eat any food even if it is not suitable to my palate. For instance, I equally enjoy Japanese cuisine when in Japan, I relish the local food when in the Middle East. The same is true when I am in Europe and it thrills me to tuck into roasted food. To conclude, every local food or cuisine is the best for its own region.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?
I love mentoring young chefs and discuss about healthy food and good health. Apart from that, I train all my employee to consider the customer as God and the food we cook as the ‘bhog for God’. This approach to cooking provides clean, safe and excellent food.
How would you describe the role of a modern chef today?
A chef is an entrepreneur for the organisation, his skills need perfection and his passion needs vision. Besides, he must be innovative, creative and an artist to present his food with perfection.
Do you see yourself more as a chef or a hospitality entrepreneur? Which is closer to your heart – managing food or managing business?
If you are one of this, you are incomplete…fi rst one needs to be an excellent chef to work as a good entrepreneur. What made you return to India? I worked abroad to experience various cuisines and food technology. But the kind of diversity in food and food habits that is available in India is nowhere in the world. There is an age old history to Indian food. I think, if I can master even a little bit of it, then it would be a great achievement for me.
Secondly, I wish to put my expertise to globalise Indian food so that I feel honoured to be a chef in India for India.
How many restaurants are you involved with currently?
My dream project is ‘The World Art Dining’ and the restaurants that are conceptualized by me: World Art Café, The Brewhouse, The Cookhouse, India on My Plate and a few more, which are afoot.
Tell us a bit about your restaurants and their food positioning?
Every restaurant that I am involved in has a defined target clientele and offerings. All my ventures have different offerings. Each brand has its own positioning and the menu is as per the brand. India on My Plate has hidden or lost cuisines of Indian regions, The Cookhouse gives you the feel of world cuisine and The Brewhouse offers you the best of fusion food with a twist of my own style.
In the case of your restaurants, what is your strategy for engaging customers?
In most of my restaurants there are open kitchens. I love the live kitchen concept as it helps the chef to connect with the customer easily and understand the customer’s preference. It is a good way of connecting with the customers and I am going with the concept where the chefs are in front of customers. Moreover, the menu is from across the country so there is a dish for every guest. This really encourages the customer to enjoy the food and revive their passion for cooking.
Do chefs really make good restaurateurs or is it just a myth? What are the chances of a good chef botching up as a restaurant entrepreneur. On the other hand, what could be the positives for a trained chef to turn out into a good restaurateur?
Your own life experience can offer many good insights to this question. Over the past decade, many chefs became entrepreneurs and there are many success stories. I believe that ever since chefs have started becoming entrepreneurs, the cuisines have gone to the next level. While at Montreal in Canada, I remember that along with the traditional Indian food, snack food like samosa, papdi chaat, etc, were also a big hit. Similarly, Mexican taco, quesadilla, pizza and pasta from Italy are also liked in India. So kudos to the chefs fraternity for globalising cuisines and offering delicacies from around the world in one single platter.
Do you think that many customers who post reviews on sites like Zomato do so without having an understanding of the nuances of cuisine? What can restaurateurs do to counter unscrupulous reviews?
I have two different views here: one from my days abroad and second in my own country. Abroad, when a customer expresses his dissatisfaction, the server will say, ‘sorry Mr…, I will just make it in your style, give me 10 minutes.’ The customer will cheer up for his re-prepared dish.
However, in India, the satisfaction comes only after announcing it to more people, by judging the size of the damage to the image of the outlet. I am sorry for expressing my experience so bluntly. I believe, making a customer feel at ease with a strong bonding will make him speak out his dissatisfaction and for taking the necessary service recovery actions.
One of the biggest challenges in the F&B sector today is to try and make every customer happy. How do you look at it and how do you react to adverse publicity?
I don’t really agree to it. In today’s time, the customer is well travelled and he knows what quality of food is being served. I can proudly say that I have learned many things from customers. It’s all about providing delicious and hygenic food.
Today, restaurants have become multidimensional spaces for events and marketing events has become very important for restaurants to attract clientele. Is it because products across restaurants are getting more and more common?
In the last couple of years, dining is being associated with socialising and commercialising. The concept of serious dining is passé now. Even family dining is also losing its charm. Merchandising, added with fun, has turned out to be an unwinding tool for the customers.
Do you believe in organising events like book reading or yoga session, sufi nights, DJ nights and so on so forth in restaurants or do you restrict yourself to only activities on the social media?
Nowadays, life has become more mechanised and noisy. Book reading or yoga sessions are not on same page with sufi and DJ nights but they have to be organised according to the different preferences of customers. With the emerging trend of social media, we too are focussing a lot on it.
How do you decide and act on changing any particular food product on the menu?
In one aspect, menu and changing a dish depends upon the place or society in which you are located. I also believe that if the food quality is good, there will always be people to enjoy it. The process for menu planning is nothing less than a research. It starts with a theme and then through mix and match experiments of the offerings and its requirement for customers.
Which are your favourite dishes?
Being a chef I can not single out any one favorite dish. I enjoy every food from every corner of the world. From south Indian appam, Punjabi butter chicken, Rajasthani dal bati, Bihar’s litti, Bengal’s chicken roll, Japan’s sushi, Chinese roast duck, Indonesian satay, Thai curries, Mexican tortillas, Italian pizza…i find all the dishes delicious and tempting.
What do you cook for yourself and your family?
I love eating egg-white preparations with raw garlic and chilli chutney. And I love cooking kachchi dum biryani for family.
What or who are your current influences?
I love food creativity. I am getting a huge response for my online posts on food creativity. Also, I explore regional hidden and royal preparations.
Do you think that the rise of professional culinary schools and cooking shows on TV is changing the way future chefs see their profession?
Yes, the influence is very much visible and even the results are noticeable. Online media is certainly promoting culinary skills, and to acquire those skills professional culinary schools are in demand.
What new challenges do you have?
The challenge is to increase my knowledge bank and expose it to all food lovers but I am just saying this for fun. In fact, there is never a challenge. For me life is all about cooking, so happy healthy eating with chef Inder Dev.

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