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Turning up the Heat

The top finalist, Ronak Nanda will showcase his dinner menu on March 23.

There is no stopping Indians in the world food arena. After Kolhapur’s Rishikesh Desai became a household name last year following his outing at MasterChef Australia, it is the turn of Mumbai-born Ronak Nanda to make waves in the culinary world.

A student of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, San Francisco, 26-year-old Ronak is one of the three finalists at the third annual Culinary Clash competition organised by the college in collaboration with Luce At The Intercontinental, San Francisco.  The culinary school’s largest cooking competition and scholarship effort invites student chefs to compete for a chance to cook with Michelin-star chef Daniel Corey.

Along with student chefs Ruhi Johar and Austin Alexander, Rohan is set to begin his journey to the final prize — to get his menu featured at the restaurant, besides the scholarship money. Bahrain-born Ruhi, too, is of Indian origin, though she is an Australian citizen who currently lives in the US with her husband and daughter.

After submitting menus and corresponding recipes through February 2014, the three finalists will be cooking three-course dinners at Luce, with each featuring on a designated night in March. The finals kicked off on Sunday, March 9 with Ruhi. While Austin will cook on Sunday, March 16, Ronak will showcase his menu on March 23.

The three will be judged by a panel of hotel executives, local personalities, and food writers, as well as guests of the restaurant that evening when the dinner comprising an appetiser, an entrée and a dessert will be offered at $40 per person. The students will also be pairing wines with their dishes, working with Wine Steward John Wight.

Ronak will start his externship right after the competition. “I just hope that I get to work at great restaurants with chefs who impart some of their knowledge to me,” he says.

Born and raised in Mumbai, Ronak always loved eating and cooking. Having done his schooling and junior college from Dr S R Vidyalaya, Borivali, and HR College of Commerce & Economics, Churchgate, respectively, Ronak had landed a job with Jet Airways. But after working with the airline for six years, he finally listened to his heart and found his calling at Le Cordon Bleu in the September of 2012, where he is already called “a great rising star”.

“My passion for food started with TV and has developed in the last five years. It brings joy to me to watch people enjoy what I made,” says Ronak.

Agrees his uncle Sunil Nanda, who lives in the same house in Borivali where Ronak grew up. He feels proud of his nephew whom he always found “focused and determined”. “He is already a winner,” says Nanda, who claims a passion for cooking runs in the family.

Having lost his mother in 2003 and father last year, Ronak has a brother living in Mumbai and a sister in Gwalior.

Eagerly waiting for the final results, a proud Rajeev Nanda, his brother, is aggressively promoting Ronak’s achievement on social media. Recalling the way his brother used to be glued to TV, watching cookery and food-based shows, Rajeev says it was expected that Ronak would choose this profession.

In addition to his favorite patisserie and baking classes at school, Ronak likes fusion of cuisines and techniques. As far as Indian food is concerned, he finds it “as good as any other cuisine”. “A lot of (Indian) food today is being modernised. Indian food, being so versatile from north to south and east to west with all the spices and herbs that we use, would be very fun to work with if modernised,” he says.

While his culinary passion was influenced by the women in his life — his mother, grandmother and aunt – Ronak finds his role model in the “amazingly calm and knowledgeable” dean of his school, Chef Michael Weller.

In the final of Culinary Clash, Ronak will be cooking with his Sous Chef Cavin The, who was among the three contestants who finished fourth, fifth and sixth in the competition.

Ronak may be looking forward to cooking in the Luce kitchen at the moment, the good news for India is that he plans to come back to the country “in the near future” and “open an establishment of my own”.

The winner of the competition will get an opportunity to compete in an Ultimate Culinary Clash with the InterContinental New York Times Square, InterContinental Chicago Magnificent Mile, InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta, and InterContinental San Juan in San Francisco on May 15, 2014.

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