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December 2016, Issue"I am a Fan of Slow Cooking. Aromas, Juices, Colour Come out Beautifully in the Slow Flame"

Ashish BhasinExecutive Chef Trident BKC, Mumbai

'A happy heart makes happy food' is the philosophy that Chef Ashish Bhasin wakes up to every morning. An avid team player, he doesn't consider what he does every day as 'work' in the traditional sense of the word- instead, Ashish feels his workplace is where he gets to spend time with friends and they cook a meal together. On a mission to spread happiness through food, Ashish Bhasin is Executive Chef at Trident, BKC, Mumbai in his culinary journey. In a candid interview Chef Bhasin reveals his likes and dislikes.

What made you come into this profession? Your early inspiration in life, well beyond your mother.
People eat to live and Punjabis live to eat is something I believe in. My love and passion for food has given me the strength to distinctly feel each flavor. I noticed this ability of mine when I was in college and, therefore, made up my mind about choosing cooking as a profession.

I participated in various kinds of activities during my school days. An all-rounder, some would say, but particularly passionate about scouting. We went for many camping trips and would have to make our own food on a chullah. The cooking bit of the trip always left me fascinated, but never once did I think that it would become my profession. In fact, at that point in time I was sure I would join the Defense Forces. In 1994, as my most of my friends were gearing up for hotel management entrance exams, my inquisitive mind too would wonder if I had an aptitude for working in hotels. This thought led me to sit for the exam. To mine and everybody else's surprise, I cleared the exam and decided to go for the course. On the very first day of college I stood in the middle of the kitchen telling myself that this was the place for me.

Please brief us about your career growth/graph.
I started my career with Taj Group of hotels and worked there for 2 and half years. In 2002 I got the opportunity to work with the Oberoi group of hotels. My journey with The Oberoi Group started from The Oberoi, New Delhi. In 2006, I got the opportunity to take independent charge of the kitchens of Trident Udaipur. From there, I moved to The Oberoi and was the first Indian chef to be made an Executive Chef. From there, I got an international posting for 2 years in Egypt on the Red Sea in a hotel called The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh. Luck has always been on my side and I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best people in the industry.

What are the unique achievements in your career?
The turning point in my career was the opening of one of the most iconic restaurants, 360 Degree at The Oberoi, New Delhi. As part of my research, I got the opportunity to travel across the world, sampling cuisines from the by-lanes of Bangkok to the Michelin starred restaurants of Hong Kong.

My greatest achievement is my family. I am a proud father of two children; one is 12 and the other 7. The thing that matters the most to me in life, is to be a good father to them and a loving husband to my wife. I try to spend as much quality time with my family as I can, even if that means not having a social life. On my days off from work, I love to cook for my little ones and wife and give them as much happiness as I can.

Your food ideologies.
My cooking style is based on the rules of French cuisine:
No compromise on taste
Each and every ingredient deserves its individual respect
Food should be as less complicated as possible
Less is more.

Your contribution to the culinary world.
I have been part of various hotels and restaurants
Trident, Bandra Kurla, Mumbai
The Oberoi, Sahl Hasheesh
The Oberoi Rajvilas
Trident Udaipur
At The Oberoi, New Delhi I was associated with the opening of most successful restaurant “Threesixty”
At Taj Mahal New Delhi, I was associated with the opening of Ricks, Emperor's Lounge and the reopening of Machaan
I worked briefly at Taj Palace Hotel, New Delhi
I was also associated with the opening of Café Fontana
I was also a part of their signature restaurant Orient Express
During my tenure have ensured that each dish created by me reflects my passion for food.

What is the future of culinary world? What changes you would like to see in this profession?
I am a big fan of slow cooking. I feel the technique gives most respect to the ingredients in the dish. On high flame cooking, the chances of food getting overcooked or staying undercooked are a lot higher. You only have a second or two to take a call on the fate of the dish. But in slow cooking, you can see the colors change, the aromas build and the flavours develop. Vegetables and meats have aromas and juices that come out more beautifully on the slow flame and slow cooked meats are as tender as they get. Overall, food made with this technique has a depth that is unparallel.

How much focus do you give on health part of cooking in your day to day cooking?
The health of my guests is my most important responsibility. We are ISO 22000 certified and have best of hygiene practices in place.

My menu provides low calorie, high protein and high fibre options and my team is well-trained to create dishes for guest with special needs. So, there's something here for everyone!

Do you still use some traditional methods of cooking in your kitchen, what are they?
Every dish is cooked exactly the way it should be cooked.

Do you encourage regional cuisines?
Absolutely, you should read about “Rivaayat” - a unique culinary initiative which seeks to revisit and revive the lost and dying food heritage of India. The first three editions we hosted in Mumbai were very popular with our patrons and we had promised to come back with some more discoveries.

Which is your favorite cuisine and why?
It's difficult to zero down on one but I love cooking Italian food, especially pastas and tiramisu. My all-time favourite meal would be rajmah chawal with kachumber salad.

Who is your current favourite chef and why?
I am a huge fan of Chef Thomas Keller. He genuinely cares about flavours and does not like to complicate things unnecessarily. Keeping it minimal is his rule.

What is your dream job/project?
My dream job is to impart culinary knowledge and educate people about food.

Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in food or cooking?
That decision is completely theirs. I am very happy and have never regretted joining the industry. Cooking according to me is a playground to experiment with ingredients. There are days when things don't go right, but the moment I step into the arena (the range), everything seems like a cake walk!

What is your goal in the next five years?
Cooking, cooking and cooking! Nothing could be better than cooking.

How do you like to spend your free time?
I like to spend time with family and friends. I party a lot.

What is your hobby?
Playing cricket, table tennis and watching movies.

Do you eat out quite often? Which places do you prefer?
Yes, I love eating out but don't have any fixed favourites that come to mind. I love to explore and try out new restaurants!

What's your dream kitchen?
To have a strong team that makes the back bone of my kitchen.

Your message to readers.
Food is the best thing that has happened to mankind. Enjoy food, but respect it. Always remember, numerous people go to bed without a meal every day. So eat to your heart's delight, but never waste an iota of this precious resource. Another thing worth keeping in mind is that food is a very simple thing, don't complicate it. Respect ingredients and cook from your heart.