Thursday, July 18, 2024

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Chef Interview: Akshay Nayyar

Q.    A chef, TV host, Cook book author and now entrepreneur. How have you been successfully managing such diverse roles?

Akshay: The key is time management and then comes passion. There has to be a driving force, a target that you crave to achieve that will get you to do the work. Not everything in your list may be completed as per your set timelines but one needs to review it daily and ensure pending items don’t get aged and you start losing interest.

Thinking ahead helps in not only a better & planned tomorrow but also gives you an idea about how much more you can fill in your plate. Choosing right team and delegating things wherein accountability still remains with you ensure no mistakes.
I strongly believe one can do endless things only if you have a right organization.

Q.    Tell us more about your new venture – ‘Kopper Kadai’. 

Akshay: At Kopper Kadai, we strive to craft dining into an unforgettable experience. Our team of compassionate chefs promises to serve you not just a meal but also a moment of joy & pleasure that you can cherish. Every morsel that you will eat here will have remembrance & a story to share. Love for food & serving food to you & your loved ones is our passion. Cuisine here portrays the northwest heritage of India with a young & vibrant flair. With few of our recipes even dating back to early 1930’s, these inherited delicacies have been especially recreated for you keeping in mind authentic taste as core & primordial presentation as style. Being it our signature secrets or your favorite grandmotherly recipes, we will treat you with all.

Q.    What is the USP of Kopper Kadai that makes it different from other restaurants in the city?

Akshay: KK is a concept restaurant, which marries ancient with modern. Foods from old days, which has been forgotten have been revived in a playful manner that youth can instantly connect with. Secondly many of our creations are signature recipes which have been developed for the diners of this restaurant thereby adding new treasures in the Indian culinary dictionary.

Q.    Everyone has their idol/inspiration in life. Who is yours?

Akshay: Parents are definitely everyone’s idol in life but in my case they are my strength, motivation and driving force. With both of them working as teachers I was brought up in a much disciplined manner and had full liberty to pursue my dreams. All they wanted is do what I am best at. I can’t remember even one such instance wherein my parents commented on me being interested in becoming a chef. In fact they were always supporting and cheering me up as I was growing in life. There have been instances where I had to buy books and knives even on loan to support my culinary passion but this all made me a stronger chef and a better professional.

Q.    What is your style of cooking? Which is your signature dish?

Akshay: Honestly I believe in free style cooking. I don’t plan or write a recipe before creating it. Kitchen is like my laboratory where I mix and match ingredients using taste and texture techniques. Balancing right ingredients and textures with correct method of cooking is how a recipe is evolved in my kitchens. Ganna Chicken, Aam Admi chicken, Mushroom Gulgule, Hathodi parchey, Picnic, Dodhalawa are few of my recent creations for Kopper Kadai.

Q.    In 2013, you were awarded with Chef De Cuisine of the year by the Hotelier Middle East Awards. How has this impacted your career?

Akshay: Awards and accolades make you feel more confident but at the same time it brings along huge responsibility towards yourself, colleagues and industry. People look up to you and question every minute what is that make him special? To support this one has to excel and always be above the bar. Learning and development is a never-ending process and one must try to scale new heights every day.

Q.    You had the opportunity to work with one of the finest and toughest Masterchef in the world – Chef Marco Pierre White. Please share your experience of working with him. 

Akshay: Woking with Chef Marco Pierre White has been quite an experience when Titanic restaurant was opening. One of my biggest learning for which I lure him is his love and respect for ingredients.

Q.    Please share your experience of cooking for the Hon’ble Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi during his recent trip to the UAE. 

Akshay: It was a moment of pride to serve our very own PM especially in another country. UAE has been my home from last 5 years & I was truly honored to take the task wherein all his meals were supposed to be catered by us. At first when we got a call from Ministry of Foreign affairs, UAE we were quite surprised as this trip of his was not a planned one and even no one in the media was aware about this.

Later in the evening this event was confirmed wherein we had to cater to a top-level delegation comprising of PM of both countries and other cabinet ministers in Abu Dhabi. All protocol had to be followed and all official delegates started to call one after the other. It was a highly secured event and we had to keep sample of each and every batch/ingredient that was used in our dishes.

Being aware that he is a pure vegetarian we wanted to make him feel like home by doing a typical GujratiThali with Undhiyu with Khichadietc and few extraordinary twists like 100 Karat gold pearl biryani. I met PM Shri Narendra Modi later that day and was honored to get applause & pictures with him. Next day we had a brief chat during breakfast in his room and I must appreciate his modesty and knowledge about ingredients. Got to learn few chili facts and traditional remedies from him.

Q.    What goes in the kitchen of Chef Akshay Nayyar when the occasion is as big as hosting dinners for the Prime Minister of India? What planning goes in the preparations, menu selection and other stuff?

Akshay: All such big occasions need a lot of detailing and planning. Right from garnishes all the way to menu tags everything has to be decided and pinned down. Firstly all critical points are identified namely ordering, receiving, processing, cooking, transporting, reshuffling and finishing. Allocation of work, delegating jobs to right people and proper supervision are the next steps. Once menu is rolled out a detailed brief is given to each and every person with time lines.

Every dish is drawn on a paper to understand overall concept. Check lists are created for all processes and then checked against each point. Proper care has to be taken to ensure temperature and hygiene is maintained at all point of time. During the final stages each dish is plated and show to the entire team to ensure all standards are met.

Q.    Chef Sanjeev Kapoor is considered as the legend of Indian Culinary. You have worked very closely with him. Please share your chemistry with Chef Sanjeev Kapoor. How has he helped shape your career?

Akshay: Working with Chef Sanjeev has been always been a learning. He has been a guiding lamp and a true mentor during all walks of my career. His teachings and humbleness is something that I always admire and implement in my daily life. One must learn on how to give ownership from him and make people responsible like owners.

Q.    How did ‘Foodshala’ came across your path? Are you planning to do more TV shows?

Akshay: With 5th Season airing on Zee Tv Middle East Foodshala as a brand is now 5 year old. It’s a brainchild of K Kompany which is now ranked as Middle East’s biggest Asian food reality show.  When I started this show 4 years ago the only message that I wanted to communicate is the real life & experiences of a chef. Putting culinary disciplines in place amateur home chefs are honed into a pro chef who can face the heat of a real kitchen. There are few in pipeline and will be revealed soon.

Q.    What does ‘food’ means to you?

Akshay: Food for me is a thought that is always there even if I am asleep. I have dreams about cooking and a busy kitchen and that I feel is very normal because when you love anything it’s all over your mind and soul. I often compare food with a journey as you enjoy the progressing experience time after time.

Q.    You bring tons of culinary experience and has been associated with a number of reputed brands and personalities across the globe. Any message for budding chefs and amateur cooks?

Akshay: “Create every day and cook up your raw ideas to perfection”. One must have never give up attitude and battle against the challenges of this industry. Wear your whites with pride and work with honesty.

Q.    What are your future plans?

Akshay: With Fede Hospitality expanding its operation in South India, our aim is to make KK a household name, which creates a sense of craving for deliciously crafted Indian food. Due to dynamism of our industry learning and self-development is something, which will always be on my top list.

I am conceptualizing few more theme based concept restaurants, which will be ready in a couple of months from now in and around your neighborhood.

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