Chef Oberoi is no stranger to cooking for the famous. As the executive chef at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai he has not only cooked for the likes ofMargaret Thatcher and the Crown Prince of Japan, but Angelina Joilie and Brad Pitt as well. He brings a weath of experience to his job and career in the kitchen, accounting for over 30 years of work. The Taj group has been in charge of catering at the most recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
They set up theMake in IndiaLoungeand provided a selection of original breakfasts, authentic Indian lunches and traditional Indian high teas. Uniquely crafted menus comprised delicacies from around the whole of India, including the likes of Rava Idli, Tari Wala Murg, Paneer Achari, Batata Vada and Chenna Payesh and Barfi.
Now that the WEF is concluded for the year, we got the chance to ask Chef Oberoi a few qustions about cooking at Davos, his menu and inspiration in the kitchen.
Cooking for DAVOS must have its own set of unique challenges as opposed to working in a hotel/restaurant kitchen. What are some of those?
A challenge we faced is that several of the Indian ingredients are not available in Davos and hence we needed to plan well in advance and bring some of the main ingredients with us in order to offer authentic Indian flavours in Davos.
Is it difficult to cook for such a large group of people, from so many diverse countries and background all at the same time?
It was really heart-warming to see the overwhelming response we received this year at the Make in India Lounge at the WEF 2015. We were catering to over 300 guests on a daily bases who frequented the lounge and indulged in our specially crafted Indian breakfast, lunch and even enjoyed our Indian high tea. Last year we only catered to about 100 guests daily, so on the first day all the preparations we had made for the next few days meals was all consumed on day one. We were howeverdelighted to received wonderful compliments from the global business leaders praising our menu.
How do you design a menu that you feel is appropriate for the event and the diners?
Cooking is like love. Both come from the heart; need a tender touch and a soulmate to relish it. When I think of a menu, I want to outdo myself…..again and again. What gives me utmost satisfaction is the spontaneous smile on the face of a guest after a satisfactory meal. Trying to better my best is the philosophy which drives me.
How large of a team do you work with at Davos?
We were a total of 8. I led a team of 7 other chefs and 1 PR and marketing associate to represent the Taj at WEF 2015.
When and where did you grow up?
I was born on 4th September 1954 in Faridkot, Punjab, India.
What do you enjoy cooking at home on your day off? Your favourite comfort food?
My home is the The Taj Mahal Palace hotel and my team is my extended family so I eat mostly all my meals at the hotel with them.
Do you have any favourite stories from the kitchen?
1987,was the year when Mr. Kerkar, the then MD of the Taj Group had asked me to look creating a French restaurant. His take was that we should create a restaurant which was a unique blend of opulence and distinct culinary creations. The world was changing and along with it the customers palate. Nouvelle cuisine was emerging and French chefs had started moving out of France in search of greener pastures and exceptional innovations . My search and research took me across the continents to look for an answer. Paris, London, New York, California, Hong Kong were emerging as ultimate gastronomic destinations. In an effort to understand and bring forth these unique trends to the country I had two of my senior chefs trained in London and Hong Kong for a month. My thought process was very clear – I wanted to give Mumbai a unique restaurant with a unique menu and distinct flavours.
We started our menu trials with all the chefs in October 1988 and it was only until November 1989 did we started the restaurant.We were of the opinion that all the chefs should be able to make the dishes blind folded. The ingredients was a big challenge those days. Quality was key when it came to the produce that was used, therefore everything was imported. Right quality of camembert for the the evergreen camembert Dariole, fresh herbs, foie gras, venison , five varieties of caviar from caviar house London for the caviar menu were some of the salient features. To top it all we started the restaurant with a unique concept of ‘pay as you like’. We wanted guests to tell us what our food and service was worth and the response was impeccable.
The Zodiac Grill is all about quality, a luxury indulgence of food and service. Glitterati from practically every part of the world have been dining here for decades. It has stood for quality with innovative menus. The high quality and impeccable service remain unchanged however the menus evolve with every season.
To celebrate our 25th Anniversary we crafted a unique menu which left me with an immense sense of pride for my team and for the Zodiac Grill.A 25 course menu for vegetarians and non-vegetarians, not repeating a single ingredient or flavor. All the courses served in unique crockery and no repletion of the presentations was a daunting task but was executed with such finesse by the team. It’s so easy to open the new restaurants but very difficult to sustain them in today’s world. For me the formula was ‘’once the recipes are finalized and if you make a change you will get a change’’.Probably that’s the mantra of a successful restaurant.
Favourite cheap eat?
I like to sometimes visit local diners in the city of Mumbai as they offer fresh and flavoursome seafood.
What FOUR ingredients are essential for your kitchen?
Passion, Commitment, Patience and Dedication are the four most essential ingredients.