Chef Saransh Goila and the curious case of the “accidental” butter chicken
When you think of the new breed of Indian chefs taking Indian cuisine global, one name that pops up is chef Saransh Goila. Saransh recently appeared as the guest judge on the internationally acclaimed TV show MasterChef Australia, on its 10 year anniversary special season. He got the contestants on the show to recreate his famous butter chicken as part of the challenge. We got in touch with Saransh, who shares how he initially struggled to make it as a chef and how he accidentally came up with his signature dish Goila Butter Chicken, which was called the best in the world by chef George Calombaris.
How it began
I grew up in Pitampura, Delhi, in a middle class family. The most affordable form of entertainment was going out to try new restaurants or cooking new recipes at home. At the age of 12, I was already playing around in the kitchen. With time, I began to be known in the family as ‘the boy who cooks’. I used to sit with my grandfather who was a passionate cook himself. When it was time to decide what to do after 12th, my mom wanted me to be a biotechnologist but I knew that it wasn’t my cup of tea. I had a deep love for theatre and was great in the kitchen. The family agreed that becoming a chef was a little more stable as a career and I went to IHM-Aurangabad.
From acting to cooking
After training to become a chef, I decided to take a break from the kitchen as I felt like it wasn’t where I belonged. So, I went back to my first love, acting, and studied under Barry John for six months. However, I also started a catering company in Delhi on the side and was doing food styling assignments for adman Prahlad Kakkar. It was then that I realised that I could use my oratory skills to both cook and teach people how to cook, like what chef Sanjeev Kapoor has been doing for two decades.
I had a vision but it wasn’t easy for me to make family or friends understand how it made sense. I went for a lot of meetings and interviews, failed auditions and even had my application for US visa rejected. In July 2011, I bagged a spot as a contestant on Madhuri Dixit’s comeback show — Food Food Maha Challenge, hosted by chef Sanjeev Kapoor. I went on to win the show, which eventually got me a show of my own, called Roti Rasta Aur India.
Rise of GoilaButterChicken, Masterchef Australia calling to chef George Calombaris labelling your butter chicken, the best in the world
I happened to make this recipe accidentally. I wanted to create a dish that tasted like butter chicken but didn’t have chicken, for my vegetarian parents. I introduced smoke directly into the gravy, didn’t use any sugar, added kasuri methi, and tweaked the tomato to dairy ratio (80:20 as opposed to the usual 60:40), so that the flavours were more complex without the dish being overly rich and unhealthy. When my friends in Mumbai first ate it when I moved here, they loved it so much that they started a Twitter hashtag, #GoilaButterChicken. This then became my signature dish, which I started serving through my outlets and pop-ups, and now will be seen on the epic TV show, MasterChef Australia.
MasterChef Australia makes you feel special! It’s one of the most beautifully shot food shows I’ve ever seen. It was a big platform to break a lot of myths and stereotypes about Indian food. When you see the show you’ll notice how difficult it is to cook a traditional Indian dish from scratch! And how only by adding rich dairy or extra spice you cannot make a perfect butter chicken! It requires good technique, a lot of skill, and of course enough love to balance the spices in the dish.
The explosion of Indian cuisine globally
There is a lot about Indian cuisine that we ourselves don’t know and we need to change that. Of course, Indian food is not only Mughlai or just butter chicken, and the world needs to know that. It is a great time for our cuisine and we all need to join the movement.
The marriage of social media and food
Only well cooked delicious food will stand the test of time. That’s what I believe in as a Chef. While I can’t deny the social media pressure that restaurants and chefs face these days to deliver Instagram worthy food, our responsibility is to serve customers delicious food and we should stick to that.
On his physical transformation—from 93kg to75kg
Deprivation does not work. To be fit, you have to first get your mind adjusted to the fact that you want to change your habits. I think that a balance of eating healthy and in moderation. And physical activity is what is required. It can be running everyday or playing a sport. Eating half a portion of dessert and not being full. That is my mantra. I don’t believe in extreme diets.
On Delhi and his favourite chefs
My favourite spots in Delhi are Raju Chaat Bhandar in Bharat Nagar for their Dahi Bhalla, Armenian food at Lavaash by Saby and Chicken Curry at Rajinder the dhaba. I really look up to Jamie Oliver and was a big follower of Chef Anthony Bourdain. In India, Chef Manish Mehrotra and Chef Sanjeev kapoor have always inspired me.
Next big food trends
Regional Indian cuisine wave will be strong. We will see a lot of Assamese and Bihari food pop ups this year.