Food Has Touched Me In Different Ways: Celebrity Chef Ranveer Brar
Beyond the man in the graceful chef apron, Ranveer Brar is an amazing personality, as well. His love for food, passion for cooking, and his impeccable interacting skill can’t be questioned. From Gurudwara langars and lanes of Lucknow to curating the menu for luxury restaurants at the age of 25 – He is the youngest executive chef to have ever worked with a five-star hotel in India. With his cult celebrity status and a conglomerate of restaurants and television shows under his name, Chef Ranveer Brar has put India on the global culinary map.
If it is a bowl of oven-baked ‘Amritsari Fish Fries’, a platter of Thai Corn Falafel, or a skewer of the Dorra kebab complete with a skein of silk thread holding the tender meat together, there is no one quite as innovative as chef Ranveer Brar when it comes to creating exciting food.
In an exclusive interaction with Outlook’s Eshita Bhargava, Chef Ranveer Brar talks about his journey, secret ingredients, the importance of sustainable food, vegan diet, his YouTube channel and much more.
Excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about your journey as a chef? How did it start?
From cooking at the langar, to exploring food on the streets of Lucknow, food has touched me in different ways. My initial years were spent simply acquainting myself with food in my hometown Lucknow, being it cooking at the langar, enjoying different cuisines at my neighbours’ homes, exploring the street foods of Lucknow or having conversations with the local grocer. After IHM Lucknow, I started off as Hotel Operations Management trainee with the Taj group. In 2003 I joined Radisson Blu Noida as the Executive chef, youngest in India at the time and with a reputation of a specialist in opening restaurants.
From there I moved to the Claridges, renovated the complete hotel. I had a serendipitous opportunity to try something new in the US, opened quite a few restaurants there. I came back to India after a couple of years and joined the Accor group.
Additionally, I was also showcasing and documenting the food on television and continue doing the same even now. I was working on restaurants for myself too, right from the fun & groovy Flyp@MTv to the experiential Alila @ Bishangarh to cruise kitchens with Royal Caribbean. It’s actually been all-terrain, you can say and God has been kind!
What’s the one cooking experience that you can never forget?
I had the privilege of cooking for the late Shri Vajpayee ji once. We had an amazing and unforgettable conversation at the table. Truly a memory for keeps.
What is your signature dish? Your favourite cuisines…
Calling it a ‘Signature dish’ would be a tad limiting. I’d rather call it the most intriguing dish I love to cook, it’s the Dora Kebab. It has a delicate balance of flavour and aroma, the kebab is held together by a silk thread (Dora) and the thread must be deftly pulled out in a single stroke. Lucknawi cuisine will always be close to the heart, followed by the food of Kolkata. In the international arena, Italian is my favourite – to eat and cook.
Which is your favourite cooking ingredient?
The true-blue Punjabi heart in me will always beat a little extra for ghee. On a serious note, Ghee, according to Ayurveda has therapeutic properties and is one of the best kinds of fat we can include (in prescribed proportions) in our food. Another favourite is Dhaniya or fresh Coriander leaves. My dishes are not complete until I add that final touch with a sprig, as my food family knows well by now!
What is your comfort food?
Khichdi and Panjeeri. Nothing like a wholesome one-pot meal like Khichdi after a long day at work. And mom always keeps Panjeeri handy, for those midnight hunger pangs!
What is the hype around organic food?
I have grown up at a farm, for us, concepts like organic food, Farm to Fork and sustainability were a part of life. When you co-exist with nature, it leads to a holistically healthy ecosystem, more so in the food chain. The concept is simple, if you take more than you give, in this case, the soil, then it will automatically lead to an imbalance. We need to bear in mind the need for sustainability, we owe this to our future generations.
And what about vegan food? Please tell us something about that.
Vegan cooking is trending big time, both from health and ecological points of view. Basically, a strictly plant-based diet, no animal or animal-derived products are consumed; so right from non-dairy butter to milk, as also nutritional yeast, which is a non-active powdered yeast that lends a nice umami flavour. It’s actually not complicated in terms of cooking and food choices, just being more mindful of what goes in and its source.
Tell us something about having the fastest growing YouTube channel in lockdown.
When lockdown commenced, we all realized that food is going to be the go-to requirement for everyone, either for sustenance or to save oneself from boredom! Especially for people who couldn’t be with family or could not reach out to anyone in the physical world, basically not used to solitude or being stationary, it was really important to stay happy and positive. I feel quite happy knowing that I was able to reach out to people in my own way and what better medium than food to spread some cheer.
What is the motivation behind your channel? The dishes you’ve chosen to prepare on it, do they have any special significance?
I have always believed that Indian cuisine and our food practices have had the answer to almost everything. As I delved into more and more workable recipes, it reinforced my belief that Indian cuisine in general and our home kitchens, in particular, are the best examples of resourcefulness, which was essentially the need of the hour. And that’s what clicked with my connections as well.
That has been the driving force behind my thought process and cooking these past months. How can we make an impact on what we have? What more hidden treasures can unravel through the simplicity of our culinary repertoire? How can I do more justice to our simple home food and make it attractive enough for my connections to reconnect with their home food?
Tell us about some of the most interesting cuisines you had on your travels across India. Which is your ultimate food destination?
That’s one of the chief reasons I love travelling. The food stories and experiences. The saying “Kos-kos par paani badle, chaar kos par Vaani” equally applies to our food. There is so much to explore and learn that it leaves you inquisitive for more. To mention a few, I visited this quiet town called Radhanagari in Kolhapur district where I had an incredible dish called Doodh Saar. It's the vegetarian answer to the famous Pandhra Rassa of Kolhapuri cuisine. It's a very humble dish but like I say, it's difficult to be simple and that's where this dish becomes even more beautiful.
Likewise, I discovered another gem called Kusubi Huggi, a salty Kheer made with Safflower or Saffola seeds, popular in the North Karnataka cuisine.
And there was this unforgettable Raab I had at the Khejarli village in Rajasthan. The lady in question claimed that she could whip up at least 50 dishes with the bare minimum ingredients on hand!!
My favourite places to explore food, especially Street food are Benaras, Lucknow, Kolkata and Thailand.
From the galis (lanes) of Lucknow to reaching the top – Do you think that you’ve achieved it all?
I’d say, I’ve never set out to achieve it all. As they say, the pleasure is in the journey, not the destination. I’ve enjoyed the journey so far, there wasn’t any plan as such that I need to be here at this stage. I’ve just let my instincts, the Higher Powers and serendipity take me where I am meant to go. Experiences make you stronger, wiser and better. Food experiences make you stronger, wiser, better and enriched. There are yet many untold stories and unread chapters waiting to be unravelled and I am right now enjoying this journey of enrichment.
Your inspiration for becoming a chef? Your craziest dining experience?
It’s difficult to pinpoint one. Right from my Biji, my first culinary Guru, to the Kebab vendors in Chowk (Lucknow), one of whom I joined as an apprentice later, to peers in the culinary world, inspiration came in from all quarters. For a long time, I had been serenading food in the lanes of Lucknow or savouring it at my neighbours’ and friends’ homes. But it was at the age of seventeen when I cooked Rajma for my mom, that it hit me. I wanted to do this for life.
My craziest and one of the most exhilarating dining experiences was at an altitude of around 1500m, at Berggasthaus Aescher-Wildkirchli, Switzerland. It’s a 170 years old place and is accessible via cable car or a steep hike. I chose the latter and trust me, the hike was more than worth it.
What is the real essence of being a chef? Do they really need to be on a TV show?
I wouldn’t say it is a de facto requirement. The true essence is your passion for food and how you interpret your experiences and feelings on to the plate. That said, being on Visual media, digital or otherwise does have its merits, as it gets you a wider reach. Now, with Digital media and OTT platforms gaining mass reach, it has become easier to share your passion and connect to the world through food. It’s another avenue for expression, that’s how I see it.
The most common mistake that people make while cooking?
One advice that I always share is to use recipes as guidelines, to understand the process, which makes the re-creation of a recipe simpler. The other is to let food cook in its own time if you are looking you are not cooking and if you speed it up you lose the true essence of the dish.
How was your Master Chef’s experience?
Season 6 was a great experience; as much for the brilliant camaraderie between the judges, Chef Vineet, Vikas and myself, as the talents on the show. From my last outing with Masterchef India in Season 4 to this season, I also witnessed an encouraging incline in the culinary interest graph in our food-loving nation. To see so much passion for food and the thirst to learn more and perfect oneself is definitely an adrenaline rush for chefs like us.
If not a chef what profession would you have chosen?
Oh, I love travelling and photography, so I probably would be packing up my camera paraphernalia and be a perennial food nomad!
What does Celebrity Chef Ranveer Brar do on lazy days?
Lose myself in my books, watch movies or take time out with family.
Three quick cooking tips?
A piece of quick advice is to keep it simple and play to your strengths. Experiment with what interests you but keep working on dishes that represent your culture and you are personal connect with food better.
And above all, cook with a smile on your lips and a song in your heart!
What is your success mantra?
For cooking - Hanste khelte jo Khaana ban jaaye, wohi accha and in life – Take it a day at a time, trust serendipity and keep going.