Taking it Slow 25/10/2016 in Expert House

Why Chef Vaibhav Bhargava loves live cooking stations, guns for slow food & prefers to go back to the roots

WHEN your dad is an atomic energy scientist, and you are a student of biology, and all you get in the name of food is Sanjeev Kapoor’s Khana Khazana on national television, ending up as a Chef is probably the last thing on your mind. In many cases, it hardly even makes it to the top ten career choices. Face it – this was the late Nineties, and being a Chef was equivalent to being a khansama. Still, a young Vaibhav Bhargava took the Hotel Management exams, and as luck would have it, got through the Institute of Hotel Management. Picked by the JP Group right after passing out in 2003, Bhargava, who was eyeing the continental cuisine to pepper his career with, found himself in the kitchen of a Chinese chef, on the ‘orient express’. It’s been 14 years and Bhargava has earned the stars of being one of the better chefs of pan Asian cuisine.

What got us talking was his passion for the slow food movement and the give back that he feels senior chefs fall short of passing on to the next league below them of the budding chefs’ platoon !

Celebrating the snail’s pace

Be it caking at Olive for Lady Gaga, the auto expo, formula one and fashion weeks or whipping up a riot of cocktails ideas – like adding ticker ginger, lemon sorbet, even wasabi sauce! “People love all kinds of stuff, from classic to your dhuandhaar liquid nitrogen tamasha these days. The idea is to go out know your market and see what works,” shoots the humble yet outspoken Chef. These days, it is slow food that is on his top shelf. FYI: Slow Food is a movement started by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists in the 1980s with the initial aim to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slow pace of life. And while the movement has a lot of political and cultural significance, the core is going back to roots. “It is giving farmers’ importance and cutting the middle man.” Bhargava was recently in Italy for the ‘Terra Madre Salone del Gusto’ 2016 in Turin. This was an endeavour of 5 days where exhibitions were held titled under the theme ‘loving the earth’. The chefs who came for this exhibition has sourced their ingredients from artisanal farmers and indigenous food producers who have kept alive the traditional small – scale sustainable production of quality food and are conserving biodiversity in their countries.

Spirited Seasonings

Nudge him about his favourite food and signature dish, and he says the answer can run in multiples. But we are persistent, and he prefers to eat light food, specializes in Japanese and likes European and Indian cuisine. And if he had his way, which he will by the looks of it, he’d love to explore the local regional cuisine of India.

Next up is something we live for – alcohol, with food, and in food. While he usually does wine pairings, Chef Bhargava‘s advise is to burn or deglaze the alcohol and then use as a sauce to bring out its flavours. “So we deglaze it. His favourite combination – lobster on teppanyaki with shisho wine butter. “You deglaze the alcohol part of wine, and make a butter out of it. Shisho is peppermint kind of leaf: chop, mix it in butter and wine: bake it/grill it with lobster,” goes the Chef’s instructions. So does he have a secret ingredient? “Mizo base, garlic, sesame oil (health benefits), wines, sea weed, I like to play with different flavours, like kaffir lime kaffir lime panacota.”

Another thing he likes to play with, rather entertain with are ideas, one of them being affordable gourmet cuisine. Believe it or not, he managed to pull off a six course meal with Delhi Gourmet Club at just Rs 1000 per head!

Pay it Forward

The ever-changing perception and dabbling with multiple possibilities is what keeps Bhargava going. And this is what he passes on to aspiring chefs. Being a chef is a thriving profession, growing leaps and bounds in terms of equipment, experimentation, creative ingredients, etc.

Admiration sweeps his eyes as he talks about chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor, Manjit Gill, Jiggs Kalra, masters who he feels need to pass on their immense, invaluable knowledge to young students.

“Culinary students rarely know about amaranth, ragi, jowar…there is so much to learn and for that, they need teachers like these to guide them,” feels Bhargava who after his Italy trip feels even more driven to disseminate knowledge and learn along the way.

This ‘give back’ to the culinary world will go a long way in the development of a more mature and refined generation of young chefs that we are looking forward to.

Needless to say, Bhargava “eventually wants to go back and contribute to this gastronomical universe.” Now, there’s the rush to this food-rush!