“If culinary schools like Le Cordon Bleu are factories that churn out ‘unimaginative chefs’, reality shows like MasterChef are ‘plastic worlds’ made of cut, copy, paste cooks.” Like his cutting edge food, Chef Noah Barnes has a delectably unmatched talent of making bold statements. With him in the kitchen, better leave the ‘recipe by rote’ out and prep to try, test torch and taste. The man behind The Hungry Monkey, Arriba and TabulaBeach, Chef Barnes whips up a spicy conversation about secret ingredients, alcohol on fire, fusing flavours & plating the flavours from coastal Mumbai and Goa, contemporary Europe, & the oriental Japan
So were you always passionate about cooking, Barnes?
“Not exactly. I never even planned to be a chef.
However back at IHM when you start paying attention to practicals and not bunk the class, you know you are made for it.” So it took that long, but hell ya, third year of college it was.
Nevertheless, before he jumped into the hot zone of the kitchen, Chef Barnes confesses he fell in love with pastry first. “I still make bread by hand, it is so de-stressing.” Pastry demands patience. “Baking bread is creating a baby, and once it goes in the oven, you have to pray it rises else you are screwed,” he laughs. So for nine years now, hot kitchen it is.
At 22, he was the first and youngest Indian chef to qualify and represent India in the Hans Bueschkens Junior Chef Challenge at the Asia semi-finals held in Hong Kong. Chef Barnes holds an enviable medal tally, one that includes three golds picked at culinary challenges and a bronze at Bocuse d’or.
Graduation from IHM Mumbai was followed by hectic work as an intern and Barnes followed the conventions into the kitchen of Taj Mahal Mumbai.
He worked there for a year and a half before leaving for a relatively democratic way of functioning at Olive, which was to open its Delhi property. Straddling between Olive Beach, Olive Mehrauli, Ploof, and back to Olive, revamping menus, trials, understanding palates, trends and occasions, he was now gearing up for yet another move.
After calling quits at Olive, next stop was Hungry Monkey. “It was already a couple of months old serving a set menu, so step one was a change in the menu,” he shares. He then moved to TabulaBeach, and a little while back opened Arriba, a Mexican place from scratch.
Despite his quirky self, he’s filled up with nostalgia, recalling his rich Goan roots and delicious memories of his Anglo Indian Grandma’s ‘propah’ British cooking that somewhere now, influences this maestro’s European style of cooking too.
Ask him his signature dish, it’s the outrageous Pork Belly and Portuguese Chorizo slider, at The Hungry Monkey – a Goan sausage with bread that conjures childhood memories, and was declared top ten burgers of India.
Chit chat about food and spirits, and over the last many months, alcohol has found its way into this Chef’s cooking. In fact, Hungry Monkey had recently introduced an alcohol infused menu.
No, you won’t get drunk on in, but one thing’s for sure: you will be hungover for more. “Addition of alcohol alters the essence of flavours.” On cooking alcohol gets burnt off, however the core flavour remains and that’s the key to the serving. He’s tried it in steaks, salads, soups, desserts et al.
Guess the Chef’s top fav combos are, Sriracha & Tequila – Cooked with Tofu and Sweet Potato. Our mouth waters at the mention of his Bourbon glazed Tenderloin steak.
But here’s a word of caution: know when to use the spirit. Last touches, a flambé is good enough at times, for if you cook it too much, alcohol tends to get bitter.
This one’s for all of you people who’d love to give this a try at home as your maiden combination.
The life of a chef is a tough one – come in early, go late.
So whats the go word for the next line of aspiring chef’s – Be prepared for zero social life, family or festive time. Keep your head down and keep learning. You have to put in the hours, understand the ingredients, reaction of food to heat, get maximum exposure in first five years, for the years of experience are compared to exposure you’ve had, he shoots.
Here’s a Chef who calls a spade a spade.“The younger chefs who come to intern are living in a plastic world where they see Masterchef and other shows that are altered and tailor made. They want to design menus and immediately replicate the work of some great chefs.”
Any Barnes-ism – Learn to chop an onion first.