Thinking out of the box leading to new innovations, sourcing fresh and the best local produce in a kitchen, Vaibhav Bhargava is currently working as a chef consultant with VIETNOM to bring in the authentic Vietnamese cuisine to the palates of Indians. Judge for culinary competitions, speaker and former corporate chef with Yuvi Hospitality group, he got many accolades and awards. He is the member of World Association of Chefs Societies, Indian Culinary Forum and Young Chef Association for Sustainable India and Slow Food Chef Alliance. His views on the kitchen are as follows.
What is your first impression when you hear the word 'Kitchen'?
One of the first things that come to my mind when I hear the word kitchen is the amazing aroma that floats around when delicious, spicy Indian food is being prepared. The cheerful environment and the peppy conversations in the kitchen and the satisfaction after receiving compliments made by customers all come back to me whenever I hear the word kitchen.
What is the importance of the kitchen in your day-to-day life?
Kitchen according to me is a place where people can go and detach themselves from their busy life, without any work pressure or deadlines. It a place where we can express our creativity, savour every moment and then enjoy the food with our loved ones over conversations and stories. Kitchen serves the purpose of humanising our lives and make us feel satisfied and content.
What do you have to say on the gradual development of the concept of working kitchen when you started your career and now?
The golden or work triangle developed as a kitchen ergonomics concept that completely changed kitchen design as we know it. It stated that the refrigerator, the sink and the hob must be equidistant from each other, forming a neat triangle that encloses the most functional space in the kitchen. So, you can reach everything you need without moving too much, saving both time and energy! Kitchens have slowly evolved into working kitchens and this creates an integrated environment which brings out the maximum efficiency of the chef.
What is the most challenging job in the kitchen in your opinion?
Maintaining high standard of hygiene and cleanliness and ensuring that whatever raw materials we use are of the best quality. All of this brings down the efficiency but at the end of the day we are glad and at the same time satisfied that whatever we served to our customers was of the best quality. This helps us to nurture a healthy relationship with our customers and build trust.
How do you maintain hygiene and cleanliness in the Kitchen?
We follow a set of rules every time we step into the kitchen. All of us change into the chef outfit, wash our hands properly and clean every counter and dishes before beginning our preparation. We make sure that all of our utensils and equipment are cleaned regularly, fruits and vegetables are washed properly and all the raw materials are kept in the refrigerator.
Tell us about the safety features of your kitchen.
Our kitchen has inbuilt fire extinguishers ready to use in case of a fire. All our chefs wear cotton clothes to avoid chances of burning. The machinery which we use is properly grounded and insulated to prevent electric shocks. We have a big exit out of the kitchen to avoid panicking in the times of emergency. We use the best quality utensils to avoid unwanted disasters.
Which method of cooking do you pursue in your kitchen, traditional or modern?
I personally prefer modern kitchen as it helps streamline the process of making food and the design aesthetics initiate creativity which is then reflected in the food I prepare.
Do you have a penchant for using new technology gadgets in your kitchen? Have you added any lately?
Technology gadgets bode well with modern kitchen and so naturally I prefer them and try to integrate them in my daily life. I personally use smart Ovens which acts as an IOT device and I can control it through my voice assistant. I can keep track of the food I'm preparing in the oven right through my eyes and this makes my life easy.
Describe the role of the trained staff in your kitchen? Do you face any specific challenges in hiring the desired staff?
Trained staff is necessary to maintain the high standard we have achieved over the past years. I can't just hire somebody until and unless I'm sure that they have the same vision as I have i.e., to treat our customers on the same way as we treat our family members.
Frozen foods are becoming popular now-a-days. What are your views on the Frozen Foods?
There are both pros and cons in using frozen food. In this fast-paced world, frozen food has gained popularity but I suggest that people shouldn't overdo frozen food. It should be only used when we are in pinch and traditional food need to be preferred as much as possible, as they retain the maximum nutrients.
What are the different sources of inspiration that you look upto to design the menu of the restaurant and buffet? How frequently do you change the same?
The inspiration comes from the environment around as and the things people relate to the most. There is no fixed time frame to change our menu but we do that when we feel the need to do. Like we changed our menu in order to embrace the covid pandemic. At the same time we make sure that we follow seasonal availability ingredients.
What are the essential health and lifestyle trends prevailing now-a-days that you like to incorporate in the kitchen?
People have become more calorie conscious then ever before. So, we try to incorporate as many healthy alternatives as we can. The demand for vegetarian food has also seen a growth and so we have diversified our choices in the vegetarian cuisine.
Its very important to incorporate good healthy recipes which includes Super foods like Barley, Quinoa, Millets, we try to create recipes which are gluten free or vegan as it reflects directly in fashion too.
More and more people are becoming calorie conscious. Keeping the statement in mind, what are the dessert trends followed in the restaurants?
Keeping calorie consciousness in mind, we try to decrease the sugar content in our deserts and try to use healthier alternatives instead like jaggery and khand. Use of yogurt makes the desert unique, tasty and have less calorie count.
Ingredients play an important role in food preparation. Do you prefer using local ingredients in your preparations? How do you select the vendors?
Local ingredients give a natural taste to our food and we try to use local ingredients as much as possible. For finding local vendors, we ask other restaurant owners which vendors they prefer and sometimes we take customer feedback too to source our ingredients. Currently we are working with our nearby farmers who grows vegetables and deliver us and as quantities are not big so we create Special dishes from them for the Guests.
What is your criteria of selecting the utensils? Is there any specific brand that you use more than others?
We use utensils from well established brands. We understand the health risks associated with using non-stick utensils and so we try to avoid it.
Throw some light on selection of crockery and cutlery?
The cutlery we use depends on the theme of the food. If we are serving western food, we try to use utensils which associate with the western culture.
Which are the upcoming cuisines in focus?
Vegetarian dishes, nutritious food and food with substantially less calories will be in focus according to me.
Do you conduct food festivals? How do you decide on a particular theme? Do you think that regional cuisines are a good theme?
Yes, we do conduct food festivals. Theme is selected on the basis of festival celebrated around the world like Hanami festival, Sushi festival etc. Yes now these days regional cuisines and their festivals are becoming popular.
Do you agree that there is a need to change the curriculum of culinary courses in India?
Updated curriculum in any field is a necessity and so is the case with culinary courses. Making use of technology to innovate should be taught to every student. Making use of social media to develop personal branding can also be added to make the curriculum more relevant.
What are your views on framing the curriculum designed especially for Indian food?
Indian cuisine is probably the most diverse cuisine around the world. Indian cuisine has also evolved and morphed aspects of cuisine from different regions of the world. Introducing that aspect into the curriculum will be a welcome move.
India is extremely diversified where as its food culture is concerned. What according to you is the scope of popularizing Indian regional cuisines across the globe?
Indian food is largely vegetarian and that aspect is finding popular demand. We as a society have focused on harnessing our food sustainably and making use of plants that have medicinal values in our food. Banking on these points can popularize Indian regional cuisine across the globe.
How do you define your 'Dream Kitchen'.
I treat my kitchen as my workplace and so I want all my processes to be as streamlined as possible, without any distractions. I want my kitchen to be designed in a way that arouses creativity. It has to be well organised so that I feel less cluttered.