Premium ingredients have no space in my kitchen; I focus on complexity of spices: Chef Himanshu Saini


Express News Service

There are dishes, and there are destinations, and then there is deep knowledge a chef has of a culture that makes him create an adventure in every dish. Chef Himanshu Saini, whose restaurant Trèsind Studio in Dubai recently became the only Indian restaurant to win a Michelin star in the first-ever list by the restaurant guide for the city, is a culinary genius, committed to celebrating his culture through thought-provoking gourmet preparations.

“I believe in creating vegetable-forward dishes, where animal protein if used, supplements the vegetables on the plate. Not vice-versa” says the 34-year-old-chef, whose Dubai offerings in Trèsind and Trèsind Studio have been ranked 18 and 4 respectively, in the inaugural edition of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in the Middle East and North Africa this year. Saini, who cut his teeth at chef Manish Mehrotra’s iconic Indian Accent, in Delhi, before springboarding to Dubai, says,

“My cooking mirrors the evolution of Indian cuisine. While we are picking up ingredients from all across the world, going on foraging trips yonder, I feel we need to have a balance between regionality and comfort on the menu.”

A case in point is the 14-course tasting menu at Trèsind Mumbai launched in June: arugula panipuri served with preserved pear and feta crumble; dal vada coupled with carrot kanji and black lime pickle; khandvi ice cream teamed with pickled papaya and chilli; thakkali thoku with asparagus and jaggery chutney, butternut squash dumpling on a spinach cracker; raw banana varuval, his interpretation of the Delhi chaat that arrives with a splash of coconut lassi, curry leaf and banana chips as opposed to the usual imli and mint chutneys.

His strength lies in creating comfort dishes. “Premium ingredients have no space in my kitchen. We must focus on the complexity of our spices; just our garam masala is a fragrant mix of 15 spices. The galouti celebrates 18 spices in a single kebab. We don’t need to look beyond our roots for inspiration,” says Saini, who believes that food does not need crazy equipment to be made interesting. “I work with emotion,” he says.

He invests most in his human capital, the core team in the kitchen. “I have grown up in my maternal grandmother’s large, ancestral home in Delhi, where meals were cooked for 50 family members every day. Duties were allocated in the kitchen from roti making to chopping to washing utensils and serving. Winning isn’t a solo sport,” he says.

What’s next on the horizon for the chef? “A second Michelin star. Why can’t an Indian restaurant win a second one? It’s my next big challenge and I will get it for India,” he says. For the Manchester United supporter, this will be just another superkick. Rev on.

Chicken Cafreal

Ingredients (Cafreal Base)
✥ Coriander 700 gm
✥ Coriander seeds 30 gm
✥ Black pepper whole 7gm
✥ Star anise 5 gm
✥ Fennel seeds 5 gm
✥ Cloves 3 gm
✥ Cinnamon stick 3 gm
✥ Ginger 10 gm
✥ Garlic cloves 20 gm
✥ 1 onion
✥ White vinegar 500 ml
✥ Refined oil 30 ml (Cafreal)
✥ Chicken juliennes 160 gm
✥ Onion juliennes 80 gm
✥ Green capsicum juliennes 80 gm
✥ Coriander 20 gm
✥ 8 Shiso leaf
✥ Tempura flour 80 gm
✥ Water 60-80 ml
✥ Smoky aioli 40 gm

✥ Soak all ingredients for the base in vinegar for an hour
✥ Grind to a fine paste. Retain the remaining vinegar.
✥ For the shiso leaf, make a batter using tempura flour and water.
Whisk it well and pass through a fine strainer to get rid of all the lumps.
✥ Take 4 leaves and dust them with corn flour, and shake off the excess corn flour.
✥ Dip the leaves into the batter and deep fry.
✥ Take the chicken juliennes and fry them till half-cooked.
Drain the oil. Keep aside.
✥ Deep fry the onion and capsicum juliennes. Drain the oil. Keep aside.
✥ In a pan, add oil and allow to heat. Add the cafreal base and cook. Once done, finish it off with coriander leaves.
✥ Add the fried chicken juliennes, onion juliennes as well as green capsicum juliennes and toss
✥  Allow the chicken to cook throughout, for 2-3 minutes
✥ Take a plate and place a crisp tempura fried shiso leaf on it. Spoon out some of the cooked chicken mixtures onto the leaf and pipe smoky aioli on top.

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