Vineet Bhatia wants to highlight Indian fare
It was 1993. Vineet Bhatia found himself in London. Vineet had left his job – cooking Indian food at the Oberoi in Mumbai – to look for work overseas. In London, he met strange forms of Indian food: watery bhelpuri, lamb served with lychees, chicken served with pineapple.
One day, an old Englishman stepped into the restaurant Vineet worked at, and asked for gajjar ka halwa. Vineet served up a bowlful of the warm comfort fare. It was sent back. “It is stale,” the Englishman said. “You don’t know how gajjar ka halwa should be made; it should be served cold, like a cake. Go to any shop for Indian food here, it’ll be served that way.”
Vineet was amazed. “It’s not a burfi!” he told us over phone. There were other misconceptions about Indian fare; for example, he once prepared the signature Kashmiri dish Rogan Josh traditionally, with the meat cooked on the bone. It was sent back; this time, customers objected that they “weren't dogs”, to be served bones.
Soon, Vineet dodged those issues by renaming his dishes: for instance, gajjar ka halwa became “warm carrot fudge with pistachio and cardamom”; this got the food more acceptance.
For Vineet, his project of highlighting true-blue Indian fare – whatever that may be – is now a success: today, he's known for his restaurant Zaika, which won a Michelin star in 2001, one of the few Indian restaurants to do so. He stuck to his love for Indian food right through. When he started out in 1988, he chose not to chase after French food out of a sense of patriotism. Today, he’s serving up modern riffs on, say, butter chicken, but the pride is the same.
Vineet insists that he might use truffle oil in a curry only as a flavour enhancer, while retaining traditional Indian ingredients. “I’ll use onion, tomato, ginger, garlic, but present it my way – one that is visually modern,” he says, referring to his ‘plating.’
It’s this modern take on classic Indian food that Vineet brings to Twist Of Taste, a television series on Fox Traveller that presents dishes such as chocolate samosas and broccoli khichdi. Season Two, which goes on air on Sunday, October 28, will see him visit destinations such as Varanasi, Bikaner and Madurai.
Twist Of Taste premieres on Sunday October 28 at 9 p.m; it will run every Saturday and Sunday at 9 p.m.