Chefs belong in the kitchen? Not anymore. Today, they are new age celebrities, dreaming up wonderful menus and exciting culinary concepts. Photographed, interviewed and, well, pretty famous. But have you ever wondered what they like to eat at home, away from the fine dining brouhaha?
At a convivial dinner party a while ago at chef Abhijit Saha’s home, I enjoyed the dinner – homely and delicious – all by his entrepreneur-foodie wife, Shruti. At the Saha home, the kitchen is her domain. She told me, “Abhijit loves home food and takes a dabba to work every day.” I was more than mildly surprised. The man, whose maple-wood smoked lamb roulade brings diners from far and wide to his award-winning restaurants, opts for roti and sabzi everyday? It got me thinking.
What started him on his home dabbas? It was the frenzied irregularity of his days, Saha revealed. “It was sometimes a case of ‘food food everywhere, not a morsel to eat’.” His dabbas often include beloved comfort food specials: “Bengali-style fish curry with rice, karela (bitter gourd) with potato, yellow dal tempered with ghee and cumin, homemade fresh yoghurt, kheer cooked with date palm jaggery – all fresh, light and cooked with love and care.”
Taj Hotels’ executive chef Arzooman Irani is known for his innovative menu concepts, but at home things are simple. “On weekends it’s aleti-paleti (spiced chicken liver/gizzards), akouri (masala scrambled eggs) or aloo-keema after a late rising. Lunch is indulgent – Parsi dhansak or Goan fish curry, and dinner is light – daal, roti, sabzi, maybe something non-vegetarian – all tasty, home food.”
With long working days, Irani’s preferred lunches include Cubano sandwiches (Cuban bread, Swiss cheese, lean pulled pork, pickles), or a bowl of simple steamed noodles in chicken or fish broth. “When your day includes six-course food trials, you crave the familiar.” Irani cooks at home twice a month, then he “goes the whole nine yards, buying the ingredients myself.”
Chef Surjan Singh Jolly, executive chef, JW Marriott and star of TV cookery shows loves ghar ka khana. “Nothing beats comfort food, full of flavours and textures,” he says. Some top picks: hot phulkas with bhindi (lady finger) with amchoor and onions, lamb shanks with hand-pounded spices, Chandigarh matthris with his mum’s mango achaar, ginger and lemon zest-spiced crabcakes on toast, his chef-wife’s delicious quiches. Jolly enjoys weekend cooking for guests – his new home has two customized designer kitchens with the latest gadgets.
Jolly’s day starts with espresso shots and a seven-egg white scramble, whole grain toast and fruit-topped porridge. Dinner includes favourites likes the anglicized khichdi called pish pash – a flavourful pot of spices, chicken and rice cooked together, a special by his wife.
“Home is a feast of love and good food,” says Saha, whose kids are mini-gourmands too. For top chefs, this makes life a moveable feast.
Ruma Singh presents a column on observations, insights and what’s buzzing in the city.