The stubble has greyed, the lines at the corner of his eyes have become more prominent and the jawline is no longer sharp but Chef Vineet Bhatia, the man who has become the unofficial global ambassador of Indian cuisine, shows no signs of slowing down. After about 30 years in the business, two Michelin stars and nine restaurants across the globe, including Indego at Dubai’s Grosvenor House and Ziya in The Oberoi Mumbai, the hotel where he began his culinary journey, chef Vineet is still passionate about refining and redefining the tastes, textures and techniques of the Indian cuisine. And he does it at will. Whether it is the menu at any of his restaurants which he changes whenever he feels like it or use of – or not – cooking technique, he is one chef who refuses to follow a trend. (Yes, he thinks molecular gastronomy is so eighties, it has no place in today’s culinary aesthetics.)
Having released his second cookbook, My Sweet Kitchen, a compilation of some of his favourite Indian dessert recipes that have been the highlight of his menus at his various restaurants, Chef Vineet is now back where he belongs – in the kitchen creating recipes that might be a throwback to his childhood but are executed with the expertise he has acquired over the decades. A work philosophy which is evident in his cookbooks as well.
But why a cookbook completely devoted to desserts, considering sugar has become a kind of a dietary villain and Indian desserts are considered to be lacking in innovation?
‘Somebody once challenged me saying, ‘You can’t do anything with Indian desserts because they are very sweet and heavy.’ I replied, ‘Of course you can. I’ll make a chocolate samosa.’ I had no idea how to make it but I did.
And I’ve been making them since 1993. I like challenges.’
While the chocolate samosa has over the years become an iconic dish, considering the mind-boggling versions of it that are found in Indian restaurants across the world, chef Vineet has proven beyond doubt that Indian food does not lack complexity of flavour and texture.
It is all about finding the right balance between what is good and not so good for you, he said recently. For instance, if a little bit of sweet gives you happiness, then why not, he added.
It is this balance that is the focus of the cookbook. Whether it is the harmonious marriage between varying flavours and textures, or the ‘imaginative use of ingredients and techniques’, chef Vineet also wanted to ensure each recipe was entirely achievable for the passionate home cook. ‘I wanted to create recipes merging influences from east and west, playing on sharp versus sweet, warm versus cold and soft versus crisp,’ he said.
While the final course is often under appreciated, through Vineet’s cookbook it turns out to be a celebration. Divided into ingredient–led chapters, such as ‘Milk’, ‘Fruit’ and ‘Chocolate’, recipes include chai panna cotta, peach-pecan filo moneybag and chocolate cumin fondant.
The penultimate chapter, ‘A piece of cake, A slice of tart’, however, is a morsel of nostalgia as it is made of recipes inspired by people and places including Vineet’s beloved homeland of Mumbai.
My Sweet Kitchen is clearly not just a compilation of desserts but an ‘expression of creative freedom in the kitchen’, he says. Sweet.