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Tete-a-tete with Chef Bhaskar Rao: 40 Years of culinary experience and still counting

Chef Bhaskar Rao hails from the town of Kakinada, which is known for its authentic Andhra Cuisine. His passion for food began at an early age and moved to Chennai (then Madras) and began as an apprentice. Working his way up in positions and his need to develop his passion got him to be a part of several hotels in Chennai, Delhi, Palakkad, before joining The Leela Palace, Bengaluru. With over 40 years of experience, Chef Bhaskar Rao has been Mentor to many well known South Indian Chefs working in India and Abroad.

During his tenure at The Leela Palace, Bengaluru, he has trained and developed many chefs who with great respect call him Anna Chef. His expertise in the South Indian kitchen has been unmatched. To him, authenticity is the key and ensures the flavours are what one can actually expect from the place of origin for a dish. Cuisines of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala are his areas of strength. However, his base has always been authentic Andhra and Telangana cuisine, which has been dear to him since early ages.

Chef Bhaskar Rao in an interview with Suman Prasad spoke in length about his culinary journey that spans over 40 years, story behind his decision to become a chef, his style of cooking, how did he get the name Anna Chef, importance of food presentation and other interesting aspects of culinary world.

Excerpts from the interview:

40 years of culinary experience and still counting

I began my career at the age of 17, hotels fascinated me and wanted to be part of the hotel industry despite of having different ideas. I joined as a waiter in Hotel Ajanta in Rajahmundry and soon realised that kitchen is what I wanted to be in and saw myself being a chef. Thereafter, I moved to Chennai and started off as an apprentice in kitchen. I developed my passion and grew up the ranks to the level where I am today. The expression of smile in my guests face when they taste my dishes is what motivates and inspires me to do what I always wanted to do in my life.

Working at The Leela Palace

I have been part of The Leela Palace Bangalore ever since it opened up in 2003. 14 years and counting should explain my experience at this place. Memories of working with The Leela is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I have worked with some of the best chefs in the Industry here. It has always been a great learning experience and has helped me to train quite a few chefs.

Style of cooking and signature dish

South Indian is my area of specialization, however the roots of my cooking ability are from the traditional Andhra cuisine and that’s the style I adapt to at ease. I consider all my dishes to be signature dishes, though most of my guests mention Venchina Mamsam (Sautéed Lamb with spices) and Gongura Mamsam (Lamb slow cooked with greens) to be their favourites. My personal favourite is Dhondekkaya Nuvullu podi (Sautéed Ivy gourd with coconut and dry spices).

‘Anna Chef’

It all started with some of my colleagues and senior chefs whom I have trained calling me “Anna” (Elder brother) and slowly all the chefs in the kitchen have started addressing me as Anna Chef. This is to an extent that many of the new team members would not know my name and address me as Anna Chef only.

Authenticity in cooking

We all try and adapt ourselves to the latest trends, the challenge however has always been to ensure dishes are authentic yet on par with the trend. I try to keep the cooking style and techniques in the same traditional manner as what I have learnt from my seniors and watching my mom cook. At The Leela Palace Bangalore, I have not had to worry about getting the right ingredients. They are procured the way I want them to be and from the place I want, helping me to maintain the authenticity of the dish. Some of the traditional preparations call for very specific ingredients and would prefer not to use substitutes.

Importance of food presentation

Presentation and plating are very important elements for any successful restaurant. There is a lot of importance given to the same, at Jamavar. However, for me as an individual the flavor and taste of the dish, serving temperature is of utmost importance, which when carefully presented exceeds the expectations of our guests.

Jamavar stands out from other Indian restaurants

Authentic Indian food balanced in all aspects by our Indian and South Indian Master chefs, great Ambience and impeccable personalised service is what makes Jamavar stand out and better than others.

Age is just a number

I must Thank God for blessing me with the ability and feel proud when youngsters ask me, how I manage at this age. Honestly I wouldn’t have been able manage if I was not in the Kitchen. This has become much more than just a work place and I am looking forward for more challenges and hope to continue to as long as I can.

Message to the young chefs

Be passionate in what you do, be not afraid of failures. Ask yourself as many questions as possible while undertaking any task and be sure to find them out from others if you are not able to answer yourself.

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