HEARTFELT FOOD, HEARTFELT DECISIONS
Watching my mother cooking the most beautiful dishes as a child was like magic to me. How did she do it? The spice combinations and techniques… so tasty… I wanted to learn. However, it wasn’t always easy. I grew up in India in the 1990’s and, in those days, being a chef or hotelier was frowned upon. If you wanted to be one, people said ‘What the hell is he talking about?’ but my father, an engineer, was very open-minded and said ‘Why don’t you try hotel management? I want you to become a doctor but if it makes you happy…’ In honesty, I wasn’t intelligent enough to pass the medical exams but I took the hospitality entry exam and it all went from there.
‘Being a chef is hard work but very interesting and exciting. I love how every day is different with a new array of challenges and discoveries.’
LALIT: A DECISION OF PASSION & FRIENDSHIP
Passion, creativity and friendship led me to become LaLiT’s Head Chef. The GM and I worked together previously and are great friends. One day, he said ‘We have a position for Executive Chef. We want you.’ It was very flattering but I reminded him that I don’t actually cook Indian food. He replied ‘I don’t care. We want you. Hire a Chef de Cuisine and then manage the whole operation.’ He also gave me a freehand on creativity so I couldn’t turn it down.
‘Most people are surprised to discover that I specialised in French cuisine. LaLiT is an Indian restaurant and I am Indian but my real passions lie in in France. That’s why I love the menu here – it allows me to combine the two.’
AN INDIAN IN PARIS
As a student, I studied French Gastronomy; always dreaming of travelling to France and learning from some of the best chefs in the world. When the opportunity arose for me to study there, there was no stopping me. I booked my flight immediately and soon began working at Relais & Chateaux, which has 1 Michelin star. That was definitely the biggest eye opener. They create stunningly beautiful and delicious food and taught me so many classical French techniques. I still use them, even in my Indian food. For example, if one of my chefs cooks a dish, I think ‘Ok, it tastes amazing but how can we make it better taste- and flavour-wise?’ That’s where the French influence comes in. Indian cuisine uses lots of water and spices; whereas French cuisine uses lots of stocks and jus so by combining the two, I’m able to elevate the food in a whole new way. A great example is lamb curry. When making a lamb curry, most people add water but, instead of adding water, I use concentrated lamb stock to intensify the flavours that already exist. Delicious!
CHEF DAUTEILLE & THE CALMEST CHEF IN THE WORLD
Gille Dauteille (my Exec. Chef at the Relais & Chateaux) was a huge inspiration for me. Not only was he a fantastic chef but he also completely transformed my view of the kitchen. I’ve never seen a calmer chef than Chef Dauteille. Chefs are notoriously aggressive, mouthy and use lots of foul language, especially back then, but he was fantastic. As a young chef, I tried to copy chefs like Gordon Ramsay… screaming, shouting, throwing pots and pans… I thought that if you don’t do that, you’re not a chef but having seen Chef Dauteille I realised ‘No, things do work if you are calm.’ So if you ask any of my colleagues they’ll say ‘Arup is the calmest chef I’ve ever seen.’
NATURE INSPIRES ME
My menu is hugely influenced by nature. I love seasonality, which is very unusual in Indian cuisine… fabulously fresh asparagus in the Spring; succulently rich game in the Autumn… it would be foolish not to use that to our advantage. It’s what keeps me going and why I love cooking. Since joining The LaLiT Group, we’ve worked extremely hard to encourage the use of seasonal produce; not just in Europe but also in India. In addition to LaLiT London, we have 11 5 star hotels in India, all of which are now using seasonal produce and we’re constantly growing. I’m very proud of that.
COOKING FOR MAYOR SADIQ KHAN
We recently cooked for the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and his guests. It was a total surprise as we’d very recently opened. After the meal, he shook my hand and said ‘Chef, you’ve made me late by 20 minutes.’ Then he looked at his watch and said ‘To be precise, it was 22 minutes and I’m late for my next meeting.’ He’d been licking his plate *smiles*. The man has a great sense of humour.
IF YOU ONLY EAT 2 DISHES ON THE MENU, THEY HAVE TO BE…
The blackforest gâteau. It’s innovative, flamboyant, looks beautiful and has a mystery about it. Most guests are surprised to see European dishes on our menu, wondering ‘What are these desserts doing in an Indian restaurant?’ but we’ve re-created them with an Indian twist. This dish, for example, has all of the delicious flavours of a traditional blackforest but is loaded with roasted cumin, which tastes incredible with chocolate.
The ‘Textures Of Mango’ dessert is delicious too. The sweet, fragrant aromas and tastes remind me of Indian summers. We use alphonso mangoes because they’re my favourite - such a flavour intensity and sweetness. Mango is such a versatile fruit so the dessert is constructed using five forms of mango: a semi-fredo; a gel; fresh mango; mango crisps and a mango foam. The whole dessert is natural, organic and vegetarian too.
To make the mango crisps: thinly slice the mango, then put them into the dehydrator for 24 hours. Natural, organic, simple, delicious!
THE SECRET TO THE PERFECT GARAM MASALA
Firstly, whether it’s grinding spices to make garam masala, adding them whole to bread or anything else, you should always toast your spices before using them to stimulate the natural oils and seal them, locking in the flavours in preparation for the cooking process. Then grind them and cook them out thoroughly. This is important because, if you don’t, the dish will taste grainy and have an unpleasant raw flavour.
You can use many combinations of spices for garam masala. It’s very personal so, if you ask 10 different chefs, they’ll give you 10 different recipes. There’s no hard and fast rule to say that any one is the right one. I like the normal ingredients (e.g. black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, black and green cardamom, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, chilli and garlic etc.) with the addition of a few rose petals and a special Southern Indian pepper as it adds a different dimension.
THE SECRET TO PERFECTLY FLUFFY RICE
Cooking rice is the simplest and easiest thing to get right but many people still struggle. Instead of soaking the rice in cold water for a long period of time, try soaking it in hot water for a shorter period of time. Perfect!
The Punjab. It’s local takeaway in Bexley Heath and they make some amazing food. It’s a very tacky looking place but their lamb curry… mmmmm… I discovered it accidently. I was waiting outside my son’s nursery and I was hungry. I love the Punjabi goat curry. It’s as simple and as tacky as you can get but delicious.
Arup Dasgupta is the Executive Chef at LaLiT London.