His love affair with food began at a very young age. Sunday lunches, special occasions, and family meals – which he says had far more meaning back then – helped strengthen his bond with food. So much so that he quit school at the age of 15 to become a chef, a decision fueled by the boom in the tourism industry and the mushrooming of hotels in his country, Austria.
“Little did I know then that becoming a good chef and understanding food is a lifelong learning experience,” says Chef Hermann Grossbichler, opening chef at the Italian restaurant La Piazza at Hyatt Regency Delhi, which has completed 25 years of service.
The chef, who has designed La Piazza’s menu, says while many classic Italian dishes from the original menu are still served, more varieties have been added over the years. Ask him if he ever altered authentic dishes to suit Indian taste buds, pat comes the reply: “That’s the point exactly! I do not make any alterations for Indian customer when it comes to Italian food. In fact, I want them to experience true Italian food, and for the most part it is well-received. Indians are getting multi-cultural, and appreciate things not Indian. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and the extra chili can always be served separately. It is paramount to keep the authentic taste of any cuisine because in the end that’s what will make the restaurant succeed or fail.”
Describing Italian cuisine as the “mother of all European cuisines”, he says the same sentiments would be echoed by those who have studied and been around food for long. “Of course this also makes historical sense. Italian food is about the ingredients themselves. The original taste of an ingredient must speak for itself in every dish. What’s interesting here, I think, is that given Italian cooking is relatively simple it’s hard to find good Italian restaurants outside Italy. Unfortunately, commercialised version of Italian food can be found everywhere and many people no longer know what real Italian food tastes like,” he tells indianexpress.com.
Grossbichler, currently the executive chef at Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, has had a long-standing association with India and has worked at senior culinary positions with the chain in Delhi, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, New Zealand, Guam Micronesia, China, and Mumbai. “I have always liked working in India because I feel this country has so much culture, so much history,” he says.
He points out that there are not many similarities between Indian and Italian cuisines except that both are universally popular. He adds, “I think Indian food has even stronger roots and identity than Italian food. Some Italian dishes can be traced back to Mediterranean cuisine – it spread through the Roman Empire through common learning, trade and cultural exchange. Indian cuisine, on the other hand, is born in India at least for the most part.”
Grossbichler, who feels India has one of the richest culinary heritages, shares that though his list of favourite Indian dishes is “too long”, at present it is “Duck Egg Dosa, “Meen Kodampuli” (Kerala fish curry), and “Meen Porichathu” (fried fish).
On being asked about the food trends in the various Indian cities he’s lived in, Grossbichler expresses discontent. “In all these cities, the so-called food trends are mostly about creative presentations of dishes and less about quality of food. This is my criticism, perhaps a little harsh. Then again, that’s my job. The ‘fashion’ aspect of food has been given too much attention in my opinion. The future in food lies not in how many posts about food we see on social media, it will be about high quality raw products and the sustainable production of fresh ingredients. It will be about our respect for fresh ingredients and our ability to pay for the same,” he concludes.