‘I’m not a Telly chef’
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‘I’m not a Telly chef’

India’s cooking icon, Hemant Oberoi, on why he prefers his kitchen to the small screen.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2010 14:16 IST
Rochelle Pinto
Rochelle Pinto
Hindustan Times

Chef Hemant Oberoi is a happy man. His culinary kingdom, Taj Mahal Palace and Hotel, has been included in the Gold’s list of the world’s top hotels for the best food. “There are only three hotels from Asia, and again, we are amongst them. It’s a team victory, I’m just the force behind it,” he says.

Despite the accolades, Oberoi insists that he can never follow his contemporary Sanjeev Kapoor onto TV. “I think there are two kinds of people — TV chefs and chefs on TV. I belong to the second category,” he says, adding, “I’ve done it before, but you have to dedicate eight to nine hours to prepare just three, four dishes for one episode. I’d rather please people by actually feeding them.”

No brain drain
Oberoi adds that while most hotels employ foreign chefs to cook international cuisines, he’s tried to keep the talent homegrown. “If there is a sushi menu, then of course the chef must be Japanese,” he grins. “But we’ve managed to pull off French, Italian and Mexican cuisine by ourselves; and while it’s difficult to please everyone, I think we make good quality, authentic food.”

Ask him why people often complain that five-star hotel food, especially Indian dishes, never taste as good as they do in more humble establishments, and he retorts, “We should serve food that others can’t. The food in my Indian restaurant, Masala Kraft, is lighter and healthier than what you get outside. But I won’t serve butter chicken in my restaurant.”

Lack of knowledge
He bemoans people’s lack of knowledge about cuisines from the hinterland, saying, “People don’t know what the specialty of Bihar or Arunachal Pradesh is. And Mughlai food, which is what most people mean when they say ‘Indian food’, isn’t even of Indian origin!”

According to him, there are at least 25,000 Indian recipes that are known, including some 400 recipes for dal (lentils). The chef insists, “Somebody needs to document this, so we can reinvent this food and make it popular. A few years ago, nobody knew anything about the local cuisine of Kerala or Tamil Nadu, and now finally we’ve moved beyond idlis and dosas.”

And as far as his own quest for new food goes, Oberoi admits he frequents seafood joints: “I go to the tiniest possible places to find good food. And no, I don’t criticise what I’m served. One is always pardonable, two is an error, but three is a blunder.”

First Published: Dec 05, 2010 14:11 IST