Sitting down with Michelin Star Chef Vineet Bhatia is like catching up with an old friend. Despite his stellar portfolio of restaurants around the globe, Chef Vineet remains humble, grounded and refreshingly simple in his approach to cooking. The chef accidentally stumbled into the kitchen circa 1985 and has defied cultural odds since the very beginning. Fast forward 30 years, Chef Vineet has a dozen restaurants to his name including his pride and joy, Rasoi, his flagship restaurant in London, which earned him the title of the first Indian Chef to ever be awarded a Michelin Star.
Unable to break into the aviation industry to fulfill his childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, due to his height, Bhatia opted for the hospitality industry instead. But it wasn't until he was rejected from becoming a bartender, again for being too short, that Chef Vineet's fate was sealed as a chef. A trajectory which was taboo in India at the time, Vineet refers to himself as the black sheep of the family adding that he was mocked for working in a hotel and not taking the conventional career path of becoming a doctor or lawyer. Vineet took the criticism in stride refusing to conform, telling me he wanted to be different from day one.
Cultural nuances, a lot of curiosity and a little rebellion led Bhatia to London in 1993 which ironically gave him more liberty to experiment with his native food. The chef explains that when he deviated even slightly from traditional Indian food, he was told off by his superiors. He continues, "Thats why I left India, I wasn't growing, London was my calling. Thats where I think I can express myself as a chef, I can showcase what I felt was Indian cuisine."
His food has evolved immensely ever since, not just catering to the UK palate but to the global palate, as he puts it. "If you look at the food we make now, it has changed upside down, it's a lot more beautiful and a lot lighter. It's still flavorful enough but all the extra grease and fat have been removed and all the harsh spices have been removed, the food is still our (Indian) food but it has become an art form."
The chefs approach in the kitchen is one of simplicity, he refuses to assign one style to his 12 restaurants. "There is not one typical style at all of the restaurants but the base philosophy is the same: fresh produce, quality produce, not overloading the food with spices and masalas and keeping the flavor distinct and clear. It's the way you package it which will vary a lot." Vineet also stressed the importance of sourcing food locally, supporting local farmers and reducing his carbon footprint which often dictates how the menu in each market is customized.
Vineet's success can easily be attributed to his dire need to grow and improve, a constant quest as he tells me. And his restaurants evolve with him as he updates the menus on a regular basis. Bhatia pens ideas with his co-collaborator and wife, tests them out, then travels to each restaurant to give personal demonstrations and oversee implementation of the new recipes. When asked what inspires his new dishes, Bhatia quickly replies, travel.
"Travel really opens up your mind and I travel extensively. When you travel you learn a lot and see a lot and it's up to you how much you want to absorb." Recent travels have given Chef Vineet some inspiration, adding that he would love to incorporate Latin American flavors into his dishes admiring their use of citrus, acidity and seafood. A recent trip to Japan also proved enlightening, Bhatia was in awe of their clean, minimalist approach and focus on technique. All observations he wishes to bring back to his cuisine.
As he cherrypicks upcoming opportunities, his focus is not expansion rather on exciting operations where he can give his undivided attention. Aside from managing 12 restaurants, Chef Vineet merged his love of food and flight by collaborating with both British Airways and Qatar Airways to give in-flight Indian cuisine a much needed facelift. He also reveals plans to open a smart casual Indian restaurant in Dubai and the upcoming release of his second cookbook on contemporary Indian desserts. Chef Vineet's relentless and rebellious nature have certainly paid off, inspiring us both on the plate and off the plate.
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