November 7, 2021 12:30:03 pm
Well-known for his exceptional culinary skills, chef Davinder Kumar has been an integral part of India’s food and beverage industry for over five decades. Currently serving as the vice president – F&B (production) at Le Meridien, New Delhi, and the president of Indian Culinary Forum, India, the chef has now also turned author with a coffee table book titled ‘Second Meals: An art of cooking through food scraps‘.
In an exclusive conversation with indianexpress.com, the culinary master talks about experimenting with food scraps, the effect of the pandemic on the industry, Indian cuisine on the food map and much more! Excerpts:
What led to the conceptualisation of the book, and why did you decide to explore the domain of cooking with scraps?
Over the years, the one subject which has concerned me is food waste. Though it is a very vast subject, and the world is focusing on it, I have picked up one element of it — scrap. Scraps are unavoidable products derived during food preparation. These scraps, from peel to root and seeds, stems, stalks, etc, are often thrown. However, they are full of nutrients. So, I thought why not upcycle them into an ingredient and then convert that into a delicious meal.
That is the reason I wrote this book; to introduce a sustainable and healthy way to cook food. These recipes give a mindful insight and also an option to use food scraps to cook with innovation and creativity. But I would like to reiterate that if the scraps are from organic fruits and vegetables then nothing like it, otherwise one must take full precaution, as we do before using vegetables.
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Cooking with scraps is the most sustainable and healthy way to prepare food. When did you adopt the practise in your own kitchen?
When scraps get converted into an ingredient by upscaling and are then used for creating delicious meals, we maximise nutrient and minimum wastage. I have been using this for a long time. I have gradually implemented the converting of scraps into delicious meals, through continuous innovation and training.
Which vegetable, according to you, is the most versatile and why?
Broccoli – This crucifer has to be one of the most versatile veggies. We can make soups, breads, fritters, pickles, hummus, rice, mash and more.
Broccoli is high in fibre, vitamin C, K, iron and potassium. It also has more protein than any other vegetables.
The pandemic made people experiment with their culinary skills, and many new trends came to the fore. Did you try any of these yourself?
Yes, I have tried quite a few myself. The pandemic gave me an opportunity to try something new. I tried cooking with scraps, and experimented with the idea which has been on my mind. It is all these trials that have made me convert the recipes into the book. During the pandemic, the focus was to manage with the limited available resources, keeping the freshness intact. Covid has taught us to utilise available resources and eat fresh, local, seasonal food.
The last two years have also impacted the food and beverage industry in a huge way. What steps, according to you, does it need to take to bounce back to normalcy?
First and foremost, it is important to ensure that best hygiene practices are adapted. Secondly, as chefs we need to be committed to providing sustainable, healthy and balanced food for our customers. Thirdly, it is important to be innovative and reinvent our menus by showcasing more interactive cooking, see-through kitchens, etc giving reassurance to the clients. Also, it is equally essential to keep the staff motivated.
The thought process has changed, and the customer is more price conscious today. So, we must manage with available resources, while keeping an eye on the costs. Pandemic has forced us to start thinking in a new way and adapting to the new normal. While the focal points remain hygiene, safety and sanitation, sustainable, healthy and balanced food is also essential. Simplicity, freshness and portion control are important.
You have prepared delicacies for many well-known personalities. But what would you call your best creation to date, and why?
Through my journey, I have been fortunate to be able to cook for many dignitaries and celebrities and have been well appreciated for the same. While cooking, I like to keep my offerings simple and nutritious, with an element of my skill involved.
I consider my Panseard Sea Bass, Madra Curry, Steamed Asparagus, Snopeas, Millet Pilaf as some of my best creations. An Avant Garde, healthy sea bass delicacy infused with spices from the south, prepared with fresh, local and immunity boosting ingredients.
You have said you started at a time when foreign chefs used to head Indian hotel kitchens. How would you describe the evolution in all these years?
The turnaround came about in the 1980s, when educated people started to join this profession. They made a big difference through their experience, academic knowledge and international exposure, and with their ability to manage and lead. I was able to replace expat chefs way back in the 1980s through continuous innovation, upgradation, and creativity. This was the big change. Prior to the 1980s, we never had that expertise with us because kitchens were dominated by masters with no managerial or leadership skills.
One person you really wish to cook for, and what?
During my journey I have been fortunate enough to be able to feed many nation heads, industrialists and celebrities. In today’s date and time, I would like to cook for a cause rather than any particular person. I would like to create a dish by using ancient grains and ingredients which we are discovering. I would also like to cook something with plant-based ingredients.
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Indian cuisine has made a mark for itself on the global map, but do you feel that its full potential has been recognised — especially regional cuisine?
Not yet. I think there is still a long way to go before Indian regional cuisine makes a mark on the world platform. We have to make more efforts in promoting regional cuisine. At the same time, we must ensure that authentic cuisine becomes viral. It has made a mark, but there is still a long way to go. It is is important to maintain originality while promoting it.
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