With four new expat chefs and a new executive chef, Teynampet’s popular hotel gets an update.
Chef Vikram Ganpule has his hands full. Newly appointed as Hyatt Regency’s executive chef, he also has to help four new expat chefs—at Focaccia, Yakiniku and Stix—find their footing. But he’s not daunted. “It’s exciting because, though all of them have previous experience with Hyatt, they are also bringing their own individual experiences with them. This will see a lot of fresh ideas coming in,” he begins. Stressing that the focus across all three restaurants will be a ‘going back to basics’ with original flavours, he adds that the interpretation will be contemporary. “Millets is very contemporary now, so is marrying of flavours. We will bring technical expertise along with creativity,” says Ganpule. With plans in the pipeline for culinary trails and cooking classes with the new chefs, we speak to them to find out how they are settling in.
It’s been two months since chef Ferrari arrived in Chennai, and he tells me he’s been keeping himself busy—from teaching butchers to carve the perfect beef cheek to making his way through umpteen paperdosas at Saravana Bhavan. The rest of the time, he’s been bent over the stove, perfecting his new menu. “I’ve been cooking for 32 years, across Italy (from Sicily to the highlands and by the sea) and Europe (France, Switzerland),” begins the Milanese chef, who has worked with Michelin-starred chefs like Giancarlo Morelli, besides running his own restaurants, Locanda Arise in Milan and L’incrocio in Tuscany. “The French taught me how to work with meat, while the different regions in Italy helped me perfect regional differences. In my kitchen, you will find a balance of everything I’ve learnt, but in my own style,” adds Ferrari, who comes to the city from Grand Hyatt Muscat. I discover that most of his dishes are pared down to its key four or five ingredients, helping the freshness and flavour of the produce to shine through. The chef, who admits to cooking a mean spaghetti with pesto, also believes in contemporary cooking techniques like sous vide and slow roasting. “You must try my no-flour hot chocolate cake and sweet wine-lemon-cinnamon zabaione,” says Ferrari, adding that he plans to go fishing soon and whip up something with the catch.
The Chinese restaurant is getting an update with a schezwan hawker-style vibe. While the old menu is yet to change (the update is a month away), chefs Zheng and Wenlin are putting together something they promise will be spicy and fresh. “We import all our sauces and spices from China, but source most of our produce locally,” says 29-year-old Zheng, who specialises in Sichuan cuisine. While the steamed barramundi is one of his favourites, I try a juicy stir-fried chicken. For Wenlin, seasonal food is key and he promises menu changes according to the seasons. “You will like my meringue shrimp and braised meat in soy sauce,” he says. I ask if communication is a problem (they struggle with my questions, but punctuate everything with grins). “Interacting with the staff is no problem, as we demonstrate things. For everything else, we use a Chinese to English app,” he smiles. For now, the two are busy—exploring everything from Marina Beach to Pondicherry, where “the seafood is awesome and the dosas are great”.
It’s too hot to step out, but chef Nakajima is putting his free time to good use, learning English. “After that, maybe I’ll give Tamil a shot,” he laughs. Hailing from Saitama, he recalls not being interested in food, until his father, who owns a restaurant, brought home sushi. At 18, he went to Tokyo to learn the art of sushi making and has since worked at several hotels, including the Grand Hyatt Mumbai. “I’ll be showcasing authentic recipes,” says the 26-year-old, who visited his Chennai competition like Fuji and Sora Jima, but believes his skill will set his food apart. I try the tuna roll with shichimi spice, which is comparable to others in the city, but he assures me there will be new additions, including a variety of yakiniku (grilled meats), ramen and teriyaki. Nakajima, who is back from a two-year stint in Tokyo (to widen his areas of expertise) is a fan of biryani and chicken tikka, and can’t wait for the weather to cool down so he can try local eateries.
—Surya Praphulla Kumar