Thursday, February 22, 2024

‘Vicky Goes Veg was my interpretation of global vegetarian food in India; wish it comes out again’

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Celebrity chef Vicky Ratnani, who is a foodie at heart and a heady cocktail of flavours, gets candid with The Pioneer, taking us through his culinary art, his comfort food, and more.
Chef Vicky Ratnani’s name rings a bell, loud and clear! Even as a child, his passion for food led him to areas of his house where children rarely go, such as the kitchen! However, it was this ‘wanderful’ mindset that led him to discover his love for food. Having worked most of his life abroad, he has worked on the largest ship in the world once upon a time, the Queen Mary 2, worked with 38 different nationalities, circumnavigated the world seven times, moved back to India 12 years ago, did a lot of television, and ran the coolest restaurants.
Born and bred in Mumbai, his wit and charm have a duality that is reminiscent of natural Indian spice. Well, and so, for him, it has been a journey of learning, teaching, and showcasing the entire flavour profile of the world in India. A great journey, indeed!
Basically, it was his love for eating, drinking, and making people happy that led him to become a connoisseur. Now that the celebrity chef, also the brother of the renowned celebrity photographer Dabboo Ratnani, was recently at the launch event of Longitude 77, we got an opportunity to interact with him, and the Most Stylish Chef of the year 2018 begins. “This new Indian single malt, Longitude 77, is very interesting because it represents India in different flavours and the diversity of India. Just like the phenomenal food culture in India, the category has a lot to offer; it can add to the ‘B’ in F&B experiences. This goes well with this whole brief of different kinds of food, which is being paired with this whisky. It has been great, even doing the menu for the launch, because it gives you a chance to be creative in one go. Literally, we have so many dishes on our menus and on pass-around. It is a great opportunity to showcase how we are reimagining our own culture in terms of processes, in terms of craftsmanship, in terms of art, in terms of cooking.”
Something that he really loves is pairing foods with different kinds of beverages. One of his favourite beverages, he says, is single malt, and “I think besides the belief that single malt only goes with things like cheese and chocolate, I think our Indian food, because of its flavour profile, goes very well with this and fits perfectly.”
Among the numerous feathers in his cap, the one that sticks out the most is his role as Nelson Mandela’s personal chef on his voyage from Durban to Cape Town while Mandela was promoting his charity endeavor. And this experience for him has been an unforgettable one. “I think being a personal chef to Nelson Mandela has been a great thing—certain things, which I will never forget. Cooking for him was fun. It was very challenging, and the best part was that he asked to see his chef. So, I was literally—I got to meet Sir Late Nelson Mandela,” shares the gourmand chef, whose comfort food is  Sindhi kadhi, Aloo tuk and rice, Rajma chawal, and Biryani. So, basically, according to him, when you cook fancy, you eat simple. One of his most intriguing food experiences was in Nagaland, with a lot of different food, larvae from the worms, and a lot more. But “I think my food is very comforting, which I love and will always be my favorite. I have this thing for Amritsar. For me, it’s my ultimate food destination.”
Speaking of the hype around organic food, he says, “Well, you know the thing is that organic food is really good if it’s organic because it’s non-GMO, and it’s grown well. But, sadly, there is no certification for organic food in India. So, it’s very hard to tell if something is organic or not.”
Vicky has been one of the first to introduce molecular gastronomy to Indian diners. And he feels that the challenges were that it was not very economical, there were not too many takers, and it was a fad that came and went.
His show, Vicky Goes Veg, and its book adaptation, both seem to promote yet another side of modern Indian cooking. “I think Vicky Goes Veg and the book were almost nine years ago,” he gushes, adding, “It was way ahead of its time, and I wish this show would come out again and the books were reprinted because a lot of people have turned vegetarian. It was India’s first answer, or it was my interpretation of global vegetarian food, which can be cooked in India.”
We were keen on knowing his signature dish that he is particularly proud of, and now that it’s winter, he says it’s a green garlic and strawberry risotto.
Going ahead, he also highlights, “The real essence of being a chef is that you will never get bored of life, because if you are willing to learn, which I love doing, there is no end to the world of cooking because cooking is contemporary, just like fashion; food changes with seasons, it changes with places, it changes with time, so you can never get bored.”
As we head towards the end of our conversation with him, dear readers who love Indian food and cooking, here’s a handy tip we got for you all from our guest: “I think Indian food is very intriguing. Please be curious enough to try other cuisines, not just mainstream Indian cooking. The micro-communities in India also have some great food. So, I think we should be very proud of what we are doing in our country and always promote Indian food. And in fact, the most common mistake that people make while cooking is that they think it’s too difficult.”
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