Interview with Chef Hari Nayak

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Chef, Restaurateur, Author and Culinary Consultant all rolled into one and more Hari Nayak’s epicurean journey is a story in itself.

Known for his penchant to deconstruct, innovate and keep the ethos of the taste intact, Hari Nayak’s food is a delightful take on Indian food that has its heart in the right place. As he says, it is important to keep the food simple and fuss free so that its flavours come to the forefront.

Food Flashback

A graduate from Manipal Hari worked in at the ITC hotels as a Kitchen Executive Trainee before he joined the Culinary Institute of America, New York where he passed wout with flying colours. Honing his skills working with world renowned chefs like Daniel Bolud, Marcus Samuelson and Albert Adria, he even trained as a pastry chef opening America’s first patisserie in Princeton and also worked at one of the largest food service companies in North America. “From my early memories of amazing food in Udupi, as a young boy to a graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, my food journey has been an exciting and beautiful. It has been almost 25 years as a professional chef and every day there has been something new to learn and experience.” A flag bearer in terms of introducing Indian cuisine abroad, Nayak has authoured six books and has several restaurants across the United States and Dubai as well Alchemy at The Chancery Pavilion in Bengaluru. “Food to me means happiness. It evokes childhood memories of being with my grandma and spending many hours in the kitchen with her just soaking in the smell and colors and sights and flavors. But more importantly food to me always symbolizes bringing people together and celebrations. I am lucky that I am in a profession that allows me to make people happy with my cooking.”

Contemporary Hues

Among the new trends in the food space, Nayak says that chef driven fast casual restaurants, Vegan & Vegetarian food and fine dining moving towards fun dining are some key changes. As an advocate of simple flavours, his advice to cook a great meal is simple. “Always cook with seasonal fresh and local ingredients. Good ingredients cooked with lot of love and care always results in good dishes. Do not complicate recipes. Keep it simple, wholesome and soulful.” Indian food flavours are changing in India and abroad and Nayak knows it firsthand. “It has never been a better time for Indian cuisine than today. Our cuisine is gaining popularity in the west in a fast way. People are much more aware about our diverse cultures and cuisine. There are a many advocates and ambassadors emerging who are doing some amazing work to popularize the flavors of Indian food and making it accessible and approachable globally.” Incidentally he admits that chefs abroad including himself are working hard to change the typical perception about Indian food, that it is greasy, always curry-based and focused on the stereotypical Punjabi dishes that are popular in the west. “There is so much more to Indian food than that. Hopefully, in the next 5 to 10 years, regional Indian food will be on the forefront.” Quiz him on his best meal and he admits that it is impossible to name one best meal as such. “Some of my best food memories and experiences range from fine dining restaurants like French Laundry, Perse, Brooklyn Table to no name street stalls in Bangkok, Singapore and Mexico.”

Green mango apple and watercress salad
Green mango apple and watercress salad

Future Perfect

Looking ahead, he has two new restaurants in the pipeline. A restaurant focusing on coastal Indian cooking in Bangkok, Thailand in October and an upscale modern Indian restaurant with a New York state of mind in New York in December. He is currently working on a book on the cuisine of his home town Udupi. “Other than working on my restaurants and books, I wish to do some research on regional cuisines of India. There is so much to explore and learn in India and I am looking forward to that. Apart from that I plan to be a better time manager and spend more time with family and friends. I feel I have missed out and having the right balance is important. Life is too short, want to make the best of it with my close friends and family.” Wise words indeed which is what makes him the person he is.

Green Chili Roast Chicken
Green Chili Roast Chicken

Cherrywood Smoked Chicken Kabab                                                                 

Ingredients                                                                                                     

  • Chicken Boneless 200  Grams                                                                         
  • Ginger Garlic Paste 10 Grams                                                                         
  • Lemon Juice 2 Nos                                                                              
  • Oil 50 ml                                                                                 
  • Shahi Jeera 5  Grams                                                                         
  • Besan 50 Grams                                                                                  
  • Jeera Powder 5 Grams                                                                        
  • Garam Masala  5 Grams                                                                                  
  • Yellow Chilli Powder 10  Grams                                                                         
  • Salt 10 Grams                                                                         
  • Chilli Flakes 5 Grams                                                                          
  • Butter Form Top 10 Grams                                                                             
  • Green Chutney 30 Grams                                                                             
  • Roasted Garlic                              

Method                                                                       

  • Marinate the chicken with ginger garlic paste lime juice and salt and leave overnight. In a lagan add oil shahi jeera, garam masala, besan, jeera powder, yellow chilli.                             
  • Powder and saute till the besan loses its raw smell. Then add the chili flakes and the marinated chicken.
  • Smoke the mix with cherrywood and skewer the chicken and cook in the tandoor. For plating place the chicken in the bowl and smoke with the smoking gun and serve.                                                                              

This story first appeared in The Tribune dated Sep 7, 2019 here:

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