“Food for me is simply two words: love and passion,“ says the Cordon Bleu Certifi ed chef from Tante Marie London who is also a PME Masters in Sugarcraft and has done a Bakery course from Sophia College, Mumbai. Apart from being a celebrity chef and a culinary expert, Rakhee Vaswani is also a food consultant and cookery show host. She runs the Palate Culinary Studio in Mumbai where she trains budding chefs, amateurs and food enthusiasts.
In a chat with FoodService India, Rakhee talks of her culinary style, her favourite recipes and cuisines, her professional mentors and her career – all with a disarming freshness and candour.
How would you describe your approach to cooking and the foodservice business?
I feel cooking is a game of learning and it involves a lot of passion. I am spreading the art by imparting knowledge, creating entrepreneurs and bridging the gap in the culinary traditions between East and West. This is how I want to serve my industry and my country – by teaching and creating more food entrepreneurs like myself. I strongly believe in cultivating young, passionate minds rather than venturing into the restaurant business. I feel that fusion is the best way to use your creative juices as it not only connects various cuisines but also helps you increase and expand food varieties.
Which culinary styles have influenced your career?
The British way of working as well as baking has influenced my style a lot. English desserts are my favourite and so are their preparation standards. I’ve also trained in London, so it reflects in my work. But I always make sure that I give an Indian touch through my fusion dishes. Besides, I believe in sticking to my roots. I play with Indian as well as international ingredients but only after knowing its true benefits before merging them into exotic concoctions.
Tell us about your favourite dishes/ cuisines and the restaurants you best enjoy going to?
My favourite cuisine is undoubtedly Asian. I love the flavours and spices that go with it. Being a foodie it is difficult for me to choose my favourite dish but dumplings and Cheung Fun are the ones I cannot resist. The places I enjoy the most for eating out are Yauatcha (Mumbai) and Ming Yang (Chinese restaurant in Taj Lands End Mumbai).
Who have been your career mentors and which chefs do you admire most?
I have had the opportunity to train under lots of chefs and I hold them in very high regard. My aunt taught me a lot and that is how my training started at a very young age. She has had a strong influence on my cooking methods and that’s when I knew I wanted to become a chef.
Among the chefs I admire most are Nigella Lawson for her aura and style and Gordon Ramsey for his work ethic and intolerance for imperfection. Then there’s Heston Blumenthal who is in a class of his own and among the world’s best.
What is your approach to introducing healthier ingredients in your food preparations?
My approach is to use more local produce and organic ingredients like coconut oil and coconut sugar in baking. I would suggest nut paste flour for gluten intolerant people. I like using local attas such as jowar, bajra, barley, amaranth and all such local grains as I believe health is as important as the taste. I also feel you can substitute sugar with natural sweeteners and use almond milk or soy milk instead of the regular milk.
What are the other examples of healthy food substitutions that you employ?
I believe in using good quality ingredients and if they are not available due to the seasonal factor I use something that relates to it as closely as possible. For example, I’d use local produce like amaranth if there is a supply issue with the regular grains since it is not only cost effective but also local and nutritious. Another superfood and a wonderful substitute is daliya. You can use it instead of quinoa to retain the nutrition and keep your supplies cost effective.
From your experience, which ingredients are rising in popularity and witnessing a growing demand in the HoReCa sector?
In my opinion rice bran oil and quinoa have seen a drastic rise in the demand among consumers as well as in the HoReCa sector.
What is your approach to cutting down on food costs without sacrificing quality?
Two words exemplify my approach to cutting down on food costs – avoid wastage! That helps the most in reducing food costs and helps you innovate while recycling without sacrificing on the quality. Also, give utmost importance to the quality rather than quantity. Quantity is almost irrelevant if quality has to be compromised with. Hence, give more importance to quality and understand its importance. The use of appropriate proportions is important to avoiding wastage.
Which are the new dishes you have introduced successfully so far?
Baked Boondi Gulab Jamun Cheesecake is my signature dish. I have gone knee-deep into fusion recipe creations. To name a few, I’ve made Deconstructed Dabeli Falalel Chaat and even a pull-apart Dabeli bread. Some other fusions include appetizers and desserts of which my signatures are Rabri and Gulab Jamun baked dish with oats crumble, Rose Rasmalai Panna Cotta, Sev Barfi English Tarts, Paan Parfait, Aachari Paneer Taco, etc.
How do you handle challenges when it comes to customization of recipes and dishes?
I love such challenges because they bring out my innovative juices and creativity. You have to use creativity and innovation to cater to the requirements of the client’s taste buds and expectations. Here again, it is essential to specialize in one certain range rather than provide a wide range of mediocre dishes. This helps establish your image and maintain the standards.
What do you feel are the major factors that impact and determine the success or failure of a food outlet?
An outlet needs superior supervision into its day-to-day operations. The quality needs to be maintained. There should be consistency in all actions implemented by the staff. If not, this leads to the downfall of food standards and the overall service. Marketing of the outlet should be done innovatively and utmost care should be taken on the cleanliness and hygiene fronts. Team bonding is very important and, nowadays, so is social media. I think what also matters to a great extent is establishing your target in terms of your forte, your target customers, your level of exclusivity and accordingly establishing the other parameters. What’s also very important is this constant thirst to learn more and to realize that there is always so much more to learn and explore. It is all about your passion, which is the main foundation of an outlet’s success.
What are your observations about the evolution and developments in the food service business in India? Which are the new concepts that will upend the existing conventions?
Organic food-based restaurants are the most trending as of now. Especially those that use only such ingredients that are of local produce and serve exotic versions of dishes, which are unique. For example, Masque in Mumbai (Mahalaxmi). Also, nowadays the concept of fine dining has evolved more than ever. I feel it is for the best as one can see how the focus has turned to plating, which now plays a very important role in the food service business.
In your opinion, which are the key trends to watch out for that will likely shape the future of the foodservice industry?
Local food is the trend to go forward with. People are getting back to their roots and finding lost treasures in their own culinary traditions. Using local produce to make exotic dishes is the new trend. The value of regional foods is gaining popularity by the day as well. A lot more time is being spent in sourcing organic, fresh ingredients and the kind of fancy dishes made from them seems to drive the food service industry’s future. Even International chefs are bringing in their knowledge and techniques into India. You, as a chef, should always make sure that you should adapt with whatever is available and create the best out of it. That is most important.