Chef Manisha Bhasin is the Senior Executive Chef at the ITC Maurya, New Delhi which is home to the most esteemed ITC restaurant - Bukhara as well as Dum Pukht which continues to feature in Asias' top 50 restaurants year after year. Chef Manisha has done extensive research on various community cuisines like Moplah, Tulunadu and Saraswat and has created a buzz in this space by showcasing the vast repertoire of cuisines. She developed Dehlavi as a signature banqueting cuisine, one of India first branded banquet Cuisine at Sheraton, New Delhi in 2005. She was amongst Top ten most Admired Chefs of Asia in 2014. Following is a tete-a-tete with the versatile chef.
Your journey to the position of a professional chef. What was the turning point that made you select this profession?
Can't remember the turning point, but yes was always interested in the kitchens with the aromas and flavors of the food… In school I had science as my subject with home science in place of mathematics. This perhaps got me more so inclined to cooking which started at a very young age.
What comes to your mind when you hears the word KITCHEN?
Fun, another new day… colors and aromas… new challenges and ideas.
Recall the first time, you made something alone in the Kitchen and how your family reacted after having the dish.
Remember for one of the home science projects I made doughnut kind of biscuits with jam filling… I later realized that it was my first attempt to serious cooking… what I learnt was the Bull's Eye a very traditional cookie, perhaps my instructor then wasn't even aware of it.
Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
Initial years... with sheer magnitude of the kitchens/equipment and ingredients you are awestruck… then you turn to getting the basics right and the fun begins… whether chopping juliennes or brunnoise, or handling live crabs, or cleaning sacks full of rice or peeling onions in those days… overall it was great fun learning.
How do you balance your professional and personal life?
Always a Tug of War… but as you grow you learn to balance the work and personal life front. In today’s age of fast communication, it has become simpler.
In a busy schedule how often do you cook for your family?
Almost every day, they won't have food cooked by anyone else. Hence my day begins quite early.
Do you get any help from your better half when you are in the kitchen?
He makes excellent Indian lamb curry… that's where it stops.
How do you prove your culinary skills while hosting guests in very short notice? Any secret ingredients do you use?
Normally there is something or the other homemade always in the fridge, salsa, hummus etc. I try to blend it with unusual flavors and indianised toppings which is always a hit. Serve snacks in small portion with plenty of options... start the evening with cold snacks gradually progressing to hot and then heavier snacks and then small meals… this is a sure winner.
Do you prepare your own ingredients or do you go for the ready to use ones?
Always make my own blends to the extent of grinding my own spices and making masalas. I have a little kitchen garden, hence fresh herbs and greens are always handy which really starts off ass a great conversation point too. And also buy pure organic ingredients. My mantra of food is keep is simple uncomplicated yet tasty... the more you make a dish complex, less it will be able to stand out in the crowd of dishes.
If and when you cook do you experiment or do you cook traditionally following your mother's recipes?
Traditional recipes are tried and tested and have stood the test of time. However I like to experiment with the flavors and new ingredients keeping the taste intact yet creating palettes of color in presentations. Getting inspired by traditional and then do a modern interpretation of the same.
What's your role in planning & designing of your Kitchen?
Cent percent involvement… as besides planning menus one has to ensure getting the right cooking equipment, service flow line, HVAC, electrical loads and points etc. Infact facility planning is very crucial for any new project to be successful. so that one does not lose prime space or waste time in order processing, Storages, refrigeration, ovens, back end planning, service ware, table ware… all this plays an important role in foods.
Does it matter to have a modern well equipped kitchen or simply convenient kitchen? How does it make a difference?
A well equipped kitchen will just do fine, if one follows the artisan methods of cooking then a well equipped kitchen is sufficient to create great food experiences.
Where do you go when you feel like eating out?
New restaurants and when I am not feeling adventurous then eateries in Old Delhi for comfort food.
Do you snack while at work --- if so what do you prefer?
Not really, snacks are mostly almonds and walnuts.
How do you maintain your health through diet? Are you conscious about calories while eating?
Difficult to stay calories conscious, as one has to taste good food all the time. But yes when I feel that too much of tasting has taken place, try to go easy on the next meal.
Who is your role model ?
My Grandmother… she was the one who got me interested in cooking. I recall her trying new dishes at that time. She was an extremely strong and determined lady who supported me when I decided to do IHM and then decided to join the kitchens. I recall sending her soup recipes from catering college for her to try… which was quite unusual at that time for her age. And whatever she cooked turned out to be wonderfully curated.
Give it back to the Society… to teach the younger generation the goodness of pure ingredients' have initiated teaching Art of healthy Eating to young children in the age group of 9 to11, this is when they get hooked onto processed foods. I visit schools and do small workshops for this age group and hopefully inspire than to healthy eating. Who knows some of them may turn out to be great Chefs too.