“Cooking is a science, and then an art. If you understand the science well, then you’ll understand everything that follows,” says food maestro Hemant Oberoi. Brewing up a storm for over four decades now, his closely-guarded recipes have helped tide over the gap between Indian cuisines and international gourmet dishes.
Known for his restaurants Zodiac, Wasabi, Souk, Masala Art and Masala Kraft, he first joined the Taj Mahal as the youngest trainee chef in 1986. Adding another vibrant feather to his cap, the chef recently made his television debut with the cookery show ‘Food Memoirs with Chef Hemant Oberoi’. Spilling the beans on his show, he reveals signature dishes and food choices of popular celebs — right from Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to Bollywood celebrities Rishi and Neetu Kapoor and world leaders like Barack and Michelle Obama, former Prime Minister of UK, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, George and Laura Bush!
In an exclusive interview with the indianexpress.com, the chef, who has also won the National Award for best chef by the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, shared fascinating anecdotes.
Former US President George W Bush loves his biryani in a jar!
“When I got the opportunity to prepare a meal for former president Bush, I decided to make biryani, but with a twist! While biryani is a hit among Indians, most people are unaware about the right technique for preparing and plating the dish. We wanted to offer an authentic dining experience to President Bush and decided to prepare and serve the biryani in a glass jar. The jar works best for layering the biryani and helps in enhancing the flavour and aromas of the spices. People eat with their eyes first and making a dish visually appealing is a job half done.”
Presenting the Indian flavour to Michelle and Barack Obama
“Since they were coming to India, I thought it would be a different experience for them and served Indian food. But, it was not the normal Indian food. Some dishes were created especially according to their taste, and they cherished it.”
What Rishi and Neetu Kapoor love on their platter
“Rishi Kapoor has been a friend since a long time and both of them are wonderful human beings. What’s more, both of them are fond of good food. They love their souffles and lamb shanks. Neetu loves the fish.”
Indians vs foreigners: Who is easy to please?
“It’s easy to please Europeans and other foreigners than Indians. It’s quite difficult to impress Indians. Their taste is evolving but it is still very desi. Most people don’t want to experiment with new cuisines – but now they are opening up.”
Setting foot on the small screen
“The show has been produced in a very different way as compared to normal cookery shows. It is about my memoir — the dishes I created during my journey and the way I used to please the VIP guests. I saw the first two episodes and it’s been amazingly compiled together.”
Getting in front of the camera for the first time
“I didn’t want to be a TV chef. But, I said yes only because it is not just another food show where you are just preparing a new recipe and getting away with it. The show is more about life, passion and my existence. It is not about the regular dishes, but about new recipes that have been curated and people don’t even know about it in the country.”
One thing that keeps him on his toes
“I think it’s the ‘innovation’ and ‘creativity’. I look forward to another day, more creativity, the new things to be brought in way ahead of time and that has been my passion since forever. If you cook the dishes from the heart, nothing will go wrong. Unless and until, the recipe is wrong.”
The dish he can never say no to
On tasting new recipes with his sons
Oberoi’s younger son Saransh Oberoi runs the food joint Masala Street in San Diego, California. “We spend time tasting new recipes, especially to finalise the menu for the new restaurant. And, he is better than me!” His other son, Siddharth Oberoi, is a talented culinary master as well.