‘I write so that Amer­i­cans cook more In­dian food’



WHO Born to a Pun­jabi fam­ily in Amritsar, this Miche­lin Starred chef learnt cook­ing from his grand­mother. Named one of the Sex­i­est Men Alive by Peo­ple mag­a­zine In­dia, he was the host of Masterchef In­dia Sea­son 2, and runs his res­tau­rant, Junoon, in New York. He has re­cently re­leased his sixth book, Fla­vors First.

What is the In­dian palate? There is a French the­ory that says, the pro­gram­ming of the palate be­gins from the first time you eat some­thing. It also de­vel­ops based on smells. Your palate evolves ac­cord­ing to your home. Amer­i­cans have trou­ble smelling heeng, yet we grew up with it. But there can­not be one In­dian palate. There are 1.2 bil­lion In­di­ans, all with dif­fer­ent tastes. In a fam­ily, do all broth­ers and sis­ters like the same food? I love karela, but my brother will kill some­one if they put karela in his food.

How do you rein­vent a samosa? I wrote my book for Amer­i­cans. I thought, what do I do to make them cook more In­dian food? To rein­vent the samosa I bought puff pas­try, put stuff­ing, put left­overs in­side, wrapped it up and baked it, rather than fry­ing it.

What com­pro­mises do you make for cus­tomers? I don’t serve beef, pork, or any en­dan­gered species in my res­tau­rant, even if the cus­tomers want it. I don’t want my mother to think that I’ve sold out. Who am I to dis­re­spect a whole cul­ture? There are other meats, like cuts of lamb and so many in­ter­est­ing fish. I’d rather work with those.

How much of your grand­mother’s Pun­jabi cook­ing do you go by to­day? I don’t cook a lot of Pun­jabi food. It is very com­mon in Amer­ica. But the ba­sic un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of food comes from my grand­mother. She taught me that food had the power to heal, and that it brought peo­ple to­gether. In­dian grand­moth­ers, grand­par­ents in fact, teach us more about our cul­ture than our par­ents. That is what I bring across for my Amer­i­can cus­tomers ev­ery time I cook.

Strangest dish you’ve ever had? I had a spe­cial car­rot cake in Sin­ga­pore, that tastes noth­ing like car­rot cake. It’s all squishy and jelly like. It was good but def­i­nitely weird.

What goes into the mak­ing of a chef? A great chef is one who un­der­stands the three Ts: tem­per­a­ture, tech­nique and tim­ing.


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