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Top 5 master chefs spill their secrets

Last updated on: August 11, 2011 11:45 IST

Top 5 master chefs spill their secrets

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Simki Dutta

Everyone loves a good meal but rarely do they see the people behind it. Top chefs from across the country tell us their favourite dishes, suggest quick and the one kitchen disaster they can never forget.

Forget a man's heart we're sure a way to anybody's heart is through their stomach! The feeling one gets after a delicious, lip-smacking meal is complete bliss! Yes, we love those tasty and delectable dishes but do we know what goes behind them?

We got around asking your favourite chefs from some of India's top restaurants to share their experiences and spill some precious kitchen secrets with us.

Who: Moshe Shek

What: Owner and Executive chef, Moshe's, Mumbai

Most popular recipe: Chargrilled Rawas in Phyllo-pastry with caper lined sauce.

Quick fix monsoon recipe: Take sprouted beans and add to it chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil and limejuice. Toss all these ingredients and there, you have a healthy salad!

Common kitchen mistakes: There are many actually. A lot of times, people tend to overcook food items. Like, risotto or meat or maybe over marinate fish, which just ends up destroying the dish!

Worst kitchen disaster: The first time I made Polenta (a dish made from boiled cornmeal), I had no clue how to cook it. The packet said "instant" and I assumed it would hardly take time. In say ten minutes, I thought it was cooked but it wasn't. When I served it, it came out to be rather green and raw. I later got to know that it takes at least twenty minutes to prepare Polenta.

Would love to play host to: UK based Chef Raymond Blanc and Barack Obama.

Tips to remember: The most important thing in a recipe are the ingredients. Do make sure they're fresh and pure. They should be of the right quality otherwise they tend to mess the recipe up. The smallest of the smallest ingredients matter. If you're buying saffron, buy the good quality ones instead of picking anything up from some local market. After that of course, make sure you cook the recipe in the right process.

Cooking at home vs Cooking professionally: When you cook at home, you have the luxury of time and small quantities. You can cook in bits and pieces. And yes, when your recipe doesn't turn out to be all that great, people at home tend to just smile and gulp it down but that's not the case when you're cooking professionally. Also, you need to be really quick and precise with your cooking that time!

Advice for amateur cooks: Initially, this profession might seem very daunting but don't lose hope. You need to love your job and let it grow on you. If you're sure of taking it up as a profession, I would say get into it, make a few mistakes and with experience you will surely become happier. Enjoy cooking and be dedicated to your job, that's all!

All food pictures used for representational purpose only


Image: Inset: Moshe Shek

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'I made chicken soup for a vegetarian party!'

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Who: Rajesh Dubey

What: Executive chef, Mainland China

Most popular recipe: Steamed fish with ginger and scallion with light soya sauce.

Quick-fix monsoon recipe: Marinate slices of fish with salt. Add egg white, pepper and potato starch. Take a platter; make a bed of lemon grass (3 to 4 inches of stem). Arrange the marinated fish on that and steam for five minutes. After that, add light soya sauce, shredded ginger, coriander and spring onions on it. Serve hot with steamed rice.

Common kitchen mistakes: People tend to boil vegetables in cold water, which is why they get overcooked. Instead, they should put vegetables in boiling water and after that 'shock' them in cold water so that the temperature goes down immediately. Also, when you're adding a lot of seasoning, make sure you add less salt otherwise the dish just gets over seasoned.

Worst kitchen disaster faced: When I started my career 25 years ago, I was to cook for a grand party and I missed out on some important details written on the function prospectus given to us. It was a pure vegetarian party and I ended up adding chicken in the soup. On realising, the guests sent the soup back. It was a serious mistake on my part.

Would love to play host to: Salman Khan, APJ Abdul Kalam, Manmohan Singh and also the President of China, Mr. Hu Jintao as I specialise in Oriental food.

Tips to remember: The recipe, which you follow, needs to be tried and tested. All the individual seasoning ingredients need to be tasted before adding. Like, when adding vinegar, it is important to taste and see if the strength is right irrespective of where you buy it from.

Also, any flavouring ingredient (black/white pepper, garam masala, etc) needs to be crushed and powdered just before cooking and not one day before. As long as the seasoning is right and food is cooked at the right temperature, 80% of your problems are solved then and there.

Cooking at home vs cooking professionally: Cooking at home is much more simpler and you can use the ingredients in the way you want to whereas things are much more organised at the professional level and there are a lot of ingredients you need to play with. A lot of planning is needed which is what makes it more difficult compared to cooking at home.

Advice for amateur cooks: If you're taking this as your profession, you must love food and understand what food actually is. You have to be hard working and honest to your job and to yourself. It might seem tough in the beginning but I would say, hold on to it and don't give up too easily.


Image: Robyn Lee / Creative Commons
Photographs: Inset: Rajesh Dubey
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'I lose my temper while cooking!'

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Who: Gunjan Goela

What: Owner and Chef, Dilli ka Khana, New Delhi

Most popular recipe: Pori Pakodi ki Sabzi -- it's a typical Delhi dish.

Quick fix monsoon recipe: Ghiya Pattor: Take 150-180 g of besan, a few red chillies, 2x2 inch of ginger and strain this mixture through a sieve. Take the juice and mix it with 800 ml of buttermilk on a pan. Cook it on slow fire, till it becomes like thickened custard. Take 300 g of Ghiya, grate it and add it to this besan mixture and cook for another minute. Then, take a greased (greased with oil or ghee) tray and pour this mixture on it and set it like a cake. Steam it on the tray and cut it into small barfis after it cools.

Common kitchen mistakes: I think the most common and basic mistake is when people either forget to add salt or they put too much of it. People should check their dish before serving. This is very important in terms of seasoning.

Worst kitchen disaster: I was cooking for some important event once and my dishes were not well cleaned. Due to that, all my milk products went wrong. I had to redo the whole thing. I tend to lose my temper a lot while cooking!

Would love to play host to: Swami Parthasarathy, Naseeruddin Shah, APJ Abdul Kalam, Asha Bhosle and my favourite actress, Waheeda Rehman.

Tips to remember: Read the recipe 2-3 times and understand it well before cooking. At first, it appears to be very light and easy but in the course of it we realise that's not the case. Give importance to every little detail as small things matter. If you're not confident about the dish, don't try.

Cooking at home vs cooking professionally: Cooking at home is as per your taste. Like, I like having simple food but if I have to cook professionally, I'll have to look into a lot of other factors like the client's profile, their choice of food and their tastes. When you're cooking at home, you're obviously more at ease.

Advice for amateur cooks: Before taking cooking up as your profession, just check and ask yourself if you're the right person to be in the kitchen. You need to be dead sure because cooking professionally is a lot different from cooking at home. So, make sure you aren't forcing yourself to cook professionally because it won't work that way.


Image: Gunjan Goela
Photographs: Anjuli Ayer / Creative Commons
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'We would've blown the entire building!'

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Who: Ajay Chopra

What: Executive chef, Westin Garden, Mumbai and co-judge of MasterChef India

Most popular recipe: Fish with Thod Nam Prik Pla sauce.

Quick fix monsoon recipe: Corn and Paneer kabab: Take corn, sort it with chopped ginger, chillies and cumin. Then cut paneer and mix it with potato. Make a kabab mix out of this and either deep fry or pan fry it.

Common kitchen mistakes: I've noticed that people love taking short cuts in a recipe. There's a way and method to prepare a dish and taking short cuts will not help your dish. Always follow the recipe entirely and look into every minute detail in order to get best results!

Worst kitchen disaster: I was working in London and we were making Tandoors that day. The exhaust system needed cleaning but all of us were so busy, we couldn't do that. So, the Tandoor flames got caught up in the exhaust. We were in a 140 year old building and if the fire would have reached the duct, it could have blown the entire building. Luckily, we were spontaneous enough! We closed the exhaust immediately. It was a close call. Of course, the entire kitchen got messed up and we actually had to shut the restaurant for some time!

Would love to play host to: Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Raymond Blanc, Chef Marco Pierre White, Chef Marcus Warieng and Barack Obama.

Tips to remember: The best way to ensure that one never goes wrong with a recipe is to entirely understand it and follow the flow of the recipe correctly. Once you've done that, you're most likely to get the desired results.

Cooking at home vs cooking professionally: The essence is exactly the same. You need the right skills, love, care and passion when you're cooking anywhere. It's just that at home, we can cook in minimal portions and we're much more at ease whereas when you're cooking professionally, we're trying to impress people and we need to be extra careful.

Advice for amateur cooks: A lot of people are getting inclined towards cooking nowadays and there's surely some good stuff happening in this arena! This profession might sound easy but unless you have your entire mind, body and soul into it, you can never be the best!


Image: Inset: Chef Ajay Chopra
Photographs: Takeaway / Creative Commons
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'Keep experimenting with your dishes'

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Who: Veena Arora

What: Executive Chef, Spice Route at The Imperial, New Delhi

Most popular recipe: Chicken in Thai Green Curry.

Quick fix monsoon recipe: Raw Mango Salad: Cut the mango into small pieces. Add onion, red chilli powder and turmeric and mix it well. Add salt to it and serve. You could also add cucumber.

Common kitchen mistakes: People tend to add too much salt.

Worst kitchen disaster: I was cooking some Thai dish and in order to pour the sauce, I cut too much of the plastic cover in a hurry and a lot of sauce poured out. I had to wash the vegetables and do it again!

Would love to play host to: Jackie Shroff, Chef Amit Chaudhary, Rahul Bhatia (owner of IndiGo group), Sunil Sethi (president of Fashion design Council of India) and Madhu Jain (fashion designer)

Tips to remember: Be confident about what you're cooking and always remember to taste the dish before serving.

Cooking at home vs cooking professionally: You have all the ingredients readymade when you're cooking in a hotel. Also, the cooking range in a hotel is more suited for Thai cooking (which I specialise in) as a high flame is required for it. All these amenities are not available at home.

Advice for amateur cooks: Try to cook as per the guest's palate. Keep experimenting with your dishes and get proper feedback on it.


Image: Inset: Veena Arora
Photographs: Thai Jasmine / Creative Commons
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