Celebrity chef Bobby Chinn, upclose!
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Celebrity chef Bobby Chinn, upclose!

Celebrity chef Bobby Chinn on how he found his true calling, why he doesn’t like ghee and the treat he cooked for Bill Clinton.

india Updated: Sep 21, 2012 00:39 IST
Hindustan Times

Vivacious, cheeky and totally unpredictable — that’s how we see him on television. Gourmands love it when celebrity TV chef and restaurateur Bobby Chinn (right) couples Asian and Western flavours giving them his signature spin. We caught up with the Vietnam-based chef whose new show Restaurant Bobby Chinn airs on Travel and Living Channel (TLC). Here’s the chef telling you why he chose selling fish over trading at New York Stock Exchange.

A fishmonger becomes a chef
When Chinn tells you he chucked his work as trader at the New York Stock Exchange to become a fishmonger, you can’t help but disbelieve him. He gives a logic you can’t beat: “I didn’t care to be at Wall Street. I didn’t see a purpose in the madness. I needed a purpose in my life and I felt I wasn’t going to find it chasing the American dream,” says the chef . He found that purpose selling seafood as he interacted with chefs. “They would rip open the seafood bag and sniff the products. They treated each of the mussels with utmost respect. That’s when I saw chefs as people who possessed great passion and creativity,” he says.

Chasing a dream
Restaurant Bobby Chinn shows the chef open his dream restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. “Walking through dust and debris I describe my dream. From trying to source local produce to staff, it is a roller coaster ride. Since it’s a reality show, it cuts close to the bone,” he says.

His love for Vietnam
Chinn thought he would learn Vietnamese cuisine and return to San Francisco to do French inspired Vietnamese cuisine. “It never happened as it took me a long time to get recipes. People do not share the secret to their livelihoods, so I spied and begged. One vendor I visited at least once a week for eight years, and only after that she taught me the dishes,” he shares.

Shooting in India
Chinn says that while filming the World Cafe series, India was his favourite spot throughout. “It’s colourful and rich. There may be poverty, but there was dignity and pride,” he says. He remembers dancing in the fields and he shouted out ‘And they threw the British without a bullet!’ “It was honest and came from the heart and I guess that’s part of the reason why I love India so much,” says Chinn.

Cooking a fat free vegetarian thali
When Chinn has former US President Bill Clinton eating out of his hands, he served him a ghee and dairy free thali. “I was dumbfounded by all the ghee and cream used in vegetables, especially in Punjab! Now don’t get me wrong, I love it, but is it really that necessary? I finally decided to try a low fat thali on Clinton, using little oil and I did not use cream to round off the flavours. Instead of using cheese in the palakpaneer, I used tofu. He got a daal and aloogobi. It was all very natural. He really liked it,” recalls the chef.

A chic twist to indian food
Somone who loves Indian food, Chinn often whips up his version of dishes treats. His palak paneer has steamed and blanched spinach put through a Paco Jet that micro-purees and turns the spinach into a fine green powder. “It gives the dish a very vibrant green colour when it is heated up. Food becomes ultra light and it is a healthier version,” he says.

Just because you are a celebrity, it doesn’t mean you have a palate too, says Chinn, who has had his share of super demanding celeb guests. “There are ones that are just high maintenance and they would be just as difficult for any professional in the service industry as they demand attention and there are others who go by the rule ‘the customers are always right, even when they are wrong’. I see them as a challenge and try to turn them around,” he says.

‘People want chefs to be overweight'
Does it help a chef to be good looking like Chinn? “No, people want chefs to be over weight, ideally extra heavy, it means they eat their own food!,” cribs Chinn. “There is also the opinion that you can’t trust a skinny chef”, he says, adding “How about this, I am not a chef! It’s hard to know what I am,” in his own funny way.

Grapes Goat Cheese, one of Bobby Chinn’s recipe for you to try. Team it up with red wine I find indian food very democratic. I’ve had phenomenal meals in india, right from hotels to absolute holes in the wall

One of his favourite desserts, these little mouthfuls are fun to serve at cocktail parties, says Chinn.

250 gm chilled soft goats’ cheese
300 gm red grapes
180 gm pistachio nuts,chopped

Take the grapes from their stalks, twisting them off. Don’t pull them off, as the skin will tear. Chill the grapes. Using your fingers, scoop or roll the chilled goat cheese into 10g balls.Press each cheese ball down in the palm of your hand. Place the grape in the middle of the cheese, and with both hands, quickly roll the grape back and forth until the grape is fully coated with the goat cheese. Fill a bowl with pistachio nuts, throw in the cheese-coated grapes and roll them in the chopped nuts until totally coated.
With a sharp knife, cut each in half and serve.
Chinn’s claim to fame:
This half Chinese half Egyptian chef is famous for hosting TV shows such as World Cafe Asia for TLC, BBC's Saturday Kitchen, UKTV Food's Great Food Live and Bobby Chinn Cooks Asia for Discovery. He won Asian TV Awards as Best Entertainment Presenter 2007 & 2010 and for Best Entertainment Programme 2010. Chinn got the 5 Star Diamond Award for his Hanoi restaurant from the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences and the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for seven consecutive years.

First Published: Sep 20, 2012 19:30 IST