There are all kinds of chefs – the accidental ones who stumble upon a dormant passion to cook, the by the book ones with terrible blinkers on whipping out the same old stuff, and then there are the ‘born to cook’ ones, top of the pyramid, with only ‘good food’ on their minds. Chef Pawan Bisht in all confidence claims to be one. “I was born to cook,” he shoots with an air of self-assurance. You can’t detect a hint of arrogance because here’s a chef who even as a kid would cook with pleasure for everyone and the compliments over his homestyled ‘chapatis, bhurji, maggie, khichidi, regional pahadi dishes’ only strengthened his will to pursue it further.
If his honesty is delightful, his dishes are delectable. But that’s the latter part of this gastronomical journey, one that has its roots in the farmlands of Uttaranchal, Nainital.
Farm to Fork
From a farmer’s family, Pawan’s alignment was always with food. Although he cracked the engineering entrance, his heart was undoubtedly in cooking. After a little resistance, the family gave in and Pawan made his way to IHM, Mumbai. Armed with a degree, he trained under the much sought after Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, fondly known as Chef Saby at Olive. Where he credits the iconic Chef Vernon Coehlo as his mentor and teacher at IHM, he salutes Chef Saby for teaching him the restaurant ropes. “Chef Saby taught me how to develop a concept, how to run and manage a restaurant, source produce, how to socialize, do PR, manage suppliers, marketing…”
In fact, even before he got into IHM, Pawan would read voraciously on food, surf television channels for it, do all the cutting, chopping, and literally fuelled his passion. Under Chef Saby, he threw himself into the ‘ocean’ and added another feather to his cap – research.
The Perfect Pav & More
While working on his latest project, he became a consummate surveyor of food, prowling the Mumbai streets for the best of vada-keema pavs, khandvis, café food, sweating it out at its local bhattis (oven) to learn the perfect pav, sniffing out dishes in the food lanes of Surat and Ahmedabad, chasing dabbawallas and reaching out to the traditional ‘Maharajs’ of good ’ol Indian kitchens.
“I’ve always tried to better myself, and never stopped at one place. Only with exploration and experimentation does one learn, and that curve shouldn’t stop,” shares the chef who always indulges in trial and error before perfecting his dish, like his famous khandvi chaat. The right way, he feels, is to go out and find out for yourself.
“I’ve been to every mandi in Delhi: Azadpur, Ghaziabad, I even know their supply, time table, season, something others don’t know for they prefer sitting in their offices contrasting bills,” says Pawan.
The Regional Upside or Regional Reserve
Now that he is in the middle of all the action, Pawan, whose base is European cuisine, has taken a shine to regional dishes. “I am a Mumbai boy from Delhi in India who for past five years is into regional cuisine because I strongly feel that local cuisine is the next big thing. In fact, modern Indian cuisine is the next global thing,” he says, pointing at the success of Indian Accent and Sodabottleopenerwala. The regional upside, according to Pawan, is that one deals with readily available cheap fresh produce as opposed to the imported ones for European dishes. “In import, you never know how fresh it is – like the date on the Aussie lamb chop. As a result, it affects the cooking as you can’t get the authentic fresh taste.” Maybe that’s why his secret ingredient is also fresh produce – herbs, fruits, veggies, meats, dairy, poultry, because for him, health is a priority as well.
He talks of a sumptuous future – “Take slow food. I would love to explore it, and who knows, five years down the line, in my restaurant where it is all organic,” he talks fondly of his plans ahead, one that has him sourcing everything from his rich farmlands, orchards, poultry and poly houses in Uttaranchal, and setting up one of the first certified restaurant of India which will cook its own product.
“It might just turn out to be a Michelin star too!” he winks and smiles