A Chat With Celebrity Chef Hemant Oberoi

The Corporate Chef & Grand Executive Chef, Hemant Oberoi, at The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, talks about his culinary journey
A Chat With Celebrity Chef Hemant Oberoi

OT What was your first job as a chef
Hemant Oberoi Four days after I finished my final exams in college, I took a train to Mumbai and joined Taj Hotels, and I&rsquove been here ever since. It&rsquos been 39 years since the day One wife, one job that&rsquos my motto (laughs)

OT What challenged you the most when you were young and looking to make your mark in the industry
Hemant Oberoi In the 1960s and 70s, everything was a secret. When I started working as a young chef, none of the old and experienced chefs were willing to part with their recipes. But once I won their confidence, it was easy.

OT What have been the greatest milestones in your culinary journey
Hemant Oberoi I&rsquove never looked back. I have always wanted to do better with every new endeavour. I&rsquom never completely satisfied. I&rsquom proud to say that I&rsquove always been a trendsetter, especially with the Taj and its restaurants. We recently opened St Lorenzo, a rustic Italian restaurant. People seem to have forgotten simple cuisine and always want fancy, contemporary food. My personal belief, however, is that history, food and fashion always repeat themselves

OT Interesting. And what is your take on food trends today
Hemant Oberoi If you look at world cuisine, especially French food, you&rsquoll notice that classics like roasts, grills and pies are back in vogue. I haven&rsquot forgotten to delve into the roots of Indian cuisine. To get something unique, you have to get into the skin of a cuisine. For instance, about three years back, during Navratras, I started serving temple cuisine in Masala (the Taj restaurant chain). I travelled from Shirdi to the Golden Temple to Vaishno Devi to Tirupati and even Puri. I worked closely with the cooks there, watched them. The simplicity of that food never comes out when we cook at home. I also fly down the prasadam from four temples and give every table a portion after every meal If you can&rsquot go to God, then God sometimes comes to you in the form of food

OT What is your favourite ingredient to cook with
Hemant Oberoi Personally, I enjoy cooking with lemon grass, because of its flavours and aroma it&rsquos so refreshing

OT What&rsquos in the offing for Varq (the restaurant at Taj Mahal), now that it&rsquos completed five years
Hemant Oberoi
The idea is to change the menu every seven to eight months. Besides that, I plan to create a degustation menu for Varq. That&rsquos what I&rsquom working on now.

OT I&rsquod like to know about your role in Taj and about your chef studio as well.
Hemant Oberoi I look after 27 luxury hotels&mdashright from Sydney to San Francisco. I travel for at least four-five months in a year. When I finish with that, I focus on big-ticket weddings and functions. I also focus on creating new concepts, upgrading equipment. For instance, in Mumbai we&rsquove introduced tiffin boxes in silver for our single travellers. As for my chef studio, I wanted to create a place where I could experiment. I have always worked in the luxury industry and my take is that if I don&rsquot experience luxury, how will I give luxury My chef studio is luxury unlimited I have a table for eight people it&rsquos an invite-only, exclusive space. I do about 40-45 dinners a year there. Sachin Tendulkar was there recently. I&rsquove also served the likes of Mr (Amitabh) Bachchan, the Ambanis, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

OT I believe you&rsquove cooked for several heads of state. What do you keep in mind while cooking for them
Hemant Oberoi I recently entertained President Obama in my chef studio. I also travel with the PM on all his state visits. It definitely gives me an adrenalin rush to cook for the heads of state and dignitaries. My team and I research their food habits and allergies and make sure we represent Indian cuisine in the best fashion. There are myths in the minds of foreigners that Indian food is spicy they forget that we have flavours. My aim is to shatter that myth

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