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The (not so) new kid on the block

FAMILIAR TURF: Uddipan Chakravarthy spent close to a decade at the Vivanta by Taj - President before moving to Bengaluru in 2011, so he’s familiar both with the hotel and its staff.  

With big shoes to fill, chef Uddipan Chakravarthy seems ready for the challenge.

His predecessor Ananda Solomon, the Executive Chef at the Vivanta by Taj – President, is much beloved: both for his cooking and his prescient introduction of Thai food to the city. With his retirement at the end July, the city lost one of its culinary titans that quietly shaped the food that we ate.

Distinct cuisines

After all, the Vivanta by Taj - President is home to three restaurants, each serving a distinct cuisine: Thai Pavilion, Trattoria (the Italian coffee shop) and Konkan Café in addition to the bar, Wink (which replaced the iconic Library Bar).

Solomon’s replacement is chef Chakravarthy, who’s already done one major stint at the property though his most recent position was as Executive Chef of Vivanta by Taj - Yeshwantpur, the hotel chain’s largest property in Bengaluru.

Chakravarthy has had a peripatetic childhood, since his father worked in government education, and as a result, has lived all over the country. His tenure with the Taj Group of Hotels has mirrored that constant movement, and he’s spent time in hotel kitchens in Delhi and Hyderabad in addition to his stints in Mumbai (where he worked under Solomon).

Smooth handover

The day we caught up with Chakravarthy, he was still living in the hotel while looking for accommodation following the move. With a perpetual toothy smile and the coolness that comes with experience, Chakravarthy elaborated on his past with the hotel group, as well as his plans for the future.

He’d spent between close to a decade at the Vivanta by Taj - President before moving to Bengaluru in 2011, so he’s familiar both with the hotel and its staff. This allowed his handover from chef Solomon to be short, as opposed to the normal month that a change of guard would normally take. He says, “I’m so used to this hotel, so the handover was just four days.”

When asked about his relationship with Chef Solomon, Chakravarthy said with enthusiasm, “I think, the best, you can say. Every second day he used to call me up or I used to call him up. Not because of the operations, ‘but I saw this, this is nice. Why don’t you try it?’ And I used to say, ‘this is very nice, why don’t you try it?’ I had a very good rapport with him.”

Ringing in change

While talking to Chakravarthy, what becomes evident is that he knows the Vivanta by Taj - President intimately, and that he was involved in some way or the other when it came to most of the changes that have been made to refresh the lobby’s three restaurants.

So Trattoria has gone from “a pizzeria and pasta joint, which got converted into a very Italian eatery, where you get a lot of meats. Obviously pizza and pasta is an integral part, [but there’s also] lots of antipasti and good deserts,” he says.

Chakravarthy talks about introducing seafood like sea bass and John Dory to diners when the Italian eatery was re-launched in 2000 with a giant mural along the back wall, pink sofas to add more colour to the newly redesigned space.

It was renovated again in 2013, though most of the menu is still the same.

Similarly, he was a deputy to chef Solomon when Thai Pavillion was redesigned moving from the brightly lit, some might even call it kitschy interiors to the moody and minimal space it is today. The interiors, crockery and food got a facelift, and Chakravarthy remembers getting involved in all aspects of the changes: from adding new sauces to the tables to changing the cutlery.

True to flavour

If Chakravarthy has an overarching vision, it is not to tamper with the philosophy and passion that have built each of the property’s restaurants.

He points out that all three restaurants are “very rustic and they’re fast food,” He clarifies, he doesn’t mean the term in the sense of processed food, but that the food has to reach the table, “fresh and hot,” without skimping on flavour. When it comes to his own cooking viewpoint, he says, “make it simple.”

The hotel’s three restaurants exemplify this maxim, as each restaurant uses traditional techniques to bring a sense of authenticity to the plate. So whereas other coastal eateries use liberal amounts of butter to toss their seafood, at Konkan Café, the dish is cooked as it would be in a Malabar home. Similarly, the sauces at Thai Pavilion are made using recipes that were learned in Thailand, and not in a Thai restaurant, where tradition often loses out to efficiency.

Immediate changes

The changes Chakravarthy plans to make immediately are to the modernise the patisserie and baked goods on offer, both for hotel guests at breakfast and that are sold through Sugar and Spice, the hotel’s patisserie.

Chakravarthy spends time in the kitchen daily, in addition to overseeing the large team of chefs that take care of hotel restaurants and banquet requirements. He makes it a point to prepare food daily whether it’s for service or just the testing of new recipes, ingredients and ideas. He says, “If you stop cooking, your ideas stop.”

The author is a freelance writer


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Printable version | Jun 20, 2021 10:28:12 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/entertainment/The-not-so-new-kid-on-the-block/article14594599.ece

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