“It all started with a fascination towards the profession, and after completing my schooling in hotel management in 2007, I chose to enter the kitchens of The Leela Palace, Bangalore, known for its finest restaurants and world-class ingredients. This is where I set foot into the world of great chefs and gained an overwhelming respect towards the profession,” says Chef Akshay. Chef Akshay Pandit is currently the Executive Chef at Crowne Plaza, Jaipur, where he is endeavouring to create new culinary experiences for the city of Jaipur.
Chef Akshay spoke to CSP about his insights into the aromas and appeal of Indian cuisine, his vision for the hospitality industry following the pandemic.
India is emerging as the next BIG trend or rage on the culinary map, and it goes without saying that a deep understanding of our roots, culture and diversified cuisine and spices is imperative to the success of our new age chefs. The unique and appealing properties of Indian spices are incomparable and it gives a great value of diversification to any food prepared. The recipes were never a mix of random ingredients but always a measured blend of specific spices, an amalgamation of flavours and aromas that would tickle the right senses in its most delicate demeanour.
“Only if you are ready and passionate about discovering food not just on the table but the entire process of how and where it comes from and what you could do with it, should you get into the profession. It takes more than just cooking. A chef needs to be well-informed, calculative, multi-tasking, disciplined and highly energetic in order to make justice to the profession. Anyone can have an opinion on food but only a well-educated Chef knows the difference and has a core understanding of cooking, flavours, spices and their aromas,” advised Chef Akshay to the next generation Chefs.
The geography and climate of the country enables Indian cuisine to have the best of ingredients coming from different terrains, regions and varied temperatures. The cuisine uses extremely strong and flavourful saffron being produced in the valleys of Jammu and Kashmir while the pungent black pepper comes from the forests of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Cinnamon, Cloves, Cardamom (green and black), and Cumin have a particular and distinct aroma, and are used with certain discretion in different dishes in different regions based on their accessibility.
Chillies, probably the most famous spice, Indian cuisine is associated with, and come in different shapes and sizes with different Scoville heat units. The pungency of chillies completely depends on the region, terrain and temperature where it is grown. Their use is meticulously planned based on their individual properties and the outcome of the dish desired. Asafoetida| (hing), fresh Turmeric (haldi), Khus ki Jadh, Paan ki Jadh, Sandalwood (Chandan) occupy/enjoy a special place in the haute cuisine of India. According to the usage, spices are treated differently, as in they are cured, smoked, pickled or dried.
Masalas or Blends are usually recipes of certain measures that are meant to be used in specific foods that rather define the dish. These are both – often secretive yet, mostly common blends that are available in abundance but also exclusive and in particular.
Chef Akshay also spoke about the significance of using the right cookware to impart the best flavour. Every material introduces an uncommon change in the aromas of ingredients, whether the ingredients are pounded, roasted, ground, pickled, or stored. The use of ancient Indian materials for treatment of food are both scientific and logical in nature. The use of materials such as clay, stones, and untreated metals not only impart rare and necessary nutrients into the food but also keep the temperature of the ingredients at par with the surrounding nature, thus making sure that the aroma is not denatured. When the spices are being pounded, just enough to release the essential oils, the aroma is enhanced.
Chef Akshay with his vast experience with non-Indians told us about the indigenous aromas that are popular with them. “Non-Indians are more inclined towards delicate aromas, that of coconut, jaggery, cinnamon, saffron and many more. They usually understand simple flavours whereas blends or masalas are difficult to understand as they involve many different spices in it,” commented Chef Akshay.
Furthermore, he gave us insights into the use of Indian spices in global cuisine. “In today’s age, the use of spices is interchangeable and knowing the immense benefits and medicinal properties of Indian spices they are used extensively around the globe,” he said. Spices like Cardamom and Nutmeg are used in desserts, Mace and Peppercorn are used to spice rice dishes while Saffron and Turmeric are used to induce colour to both savoury and sweet dishes.
However, core Indian spices like Patthar ke phool, paan ki jadh, khus ki jadh, kalonji, radhuni, kadampuli, ratanjot, kokum, Marathi Moggu etc. have not been exposed enough in the Indian cuisine, owing to its particular usage and scarcity; hence its usage have been restricted in other culinary traditions as well.
Indian cuisine usually is the first point of attraction to those who want to know India. Many non-Indian chefs travel to India to explore the diverse range of flavours and dishes. Indian aromas are diverse in a way that they have different origins, an Indian is acquainted with most of the variety of spices and aromas which is typically cuisine/region based however there are still plenty of aromas that are yet to be explored. With the pandemic, Indian culinary tourism has fallen behind along with the hospitality industry also hitting a ‘slight’ pause.
“The present scenario has altered the way we carried out our operations and business as a whole. Hotels have always practiced the highest level of hygiene considering the scale at which we operate. As such the new normal isn’t really a new thing when it comes to the hygiene practices in a kitchen. However, some of the new measures would definitely be implicated in future when it comes to group dining. The most important aspect for the team is the awareness of the situation, possible outcomes, precautions and processes to be followed,” said Chef Akshay.
But he is positive about the future. “Fortune favours the brave,” he told us. The current ongoing pandemic has been a complete unseen crisis that has forced the industry individually and collectively to rethink their work and resources. They most definitely have to adapt to a new normal, have faith, and keep moving forward to build momentum for future growth. “It will not be an easy route but the tough roads do lead to amazing destinations,” he added.