At Fine Dining Day, we understand that its the men and women who work in the kitchen and on the restaurant floor, who keep our love for food alive. Hence its an honour for us to meet and chat with some of these leading culinary wizards.
Here's the highlights of our very interesting discussion(s) with Chef Gurpreet Singh Dham - Executive Sous Chef, Hilton London.
FDD: what is your favourite cuisine to cook? Why?
Though I am specialised in modern British and European cuisine professionally. But I also love to cook Italian and Indian-fusion cuisine if I have to do it for my personal guests. Italian because it is very simple but yet very straight forward and aromatic cuisine. Every ingredient in this cuisine gets an opportunity to play its role, the recipes are simple and short. The details of each ingredient are taken care from the farm stage itself, be it is about the reggiano, grana Padano or even a humble pearl mozzarella. Some chefs call it a cuisine of tomatoes, pizza and pasta as you might find tomatoes in most of the recipes. But the Italian cuisine is far more than that and the fact is Italians use everything that a man can source to create an authentic gourmet experience on table.
Indian fusion I would say a nouvelle version of our rich, authentic, and vast Indian cuisine. My interest in Indian cuisine was nurtured only when I arrived in England about over a decade ago. Those days the British version of Indian cuisine was revolving around, Baltic, Pakistani and Bangladeshi style of food flavored or I would rather say overpowered with 'The Curry powder' (Madras curry powder). This is the invention of restaurants in Britain, the myth is that when British left India they brought this curry powder with them to satisfy their urge of eating curried meat. So I made a point which ever kitchen I will work, I will make sure the Indian food is cooked closest to its authenticity and original taste. But the challenge was to deal with the main stream British guests who were not use to It. SO I started developing some fusion Indian dishes, which is basically nothing but Indian dishes cooked in authentic Indian style but served in continental presentation. Which attracted a lot of curry fans.
FDD: Why did you chose to become a Chef?
At a very young age I lost my mom and we 3 brothers and my dad were exposed to cooking, due to not having any woman in the house. By eldest brother use to make me sweet Omelette (Omelette with sugar) and sweet French toast for breakfast. Then over a period of time I also developed my interest in kitchen, during my teens once I wanted to make a mutton curry and asked an aunt for a recipe , to simplify the recipe she said you can make a mutton curry exactly the way you make Rajma curry ( red-kidney beans curry , North Indian speciality)
So I did the same 1st I made Rajma curry and then added mutton to it, here is when my 1st creativity ( by accident) was dished out in plate 'Rajma mutton'. And now I am here with over 15 years of cooking experience travelled across the Europe and America to get the in-depth exposure and knowledge.
FDD: What inspires you? And How do you come up with ideas of dishes in your restaurant?
A artist's art is of no use if there is no audience, What inspires me is , peoples' urge to have good food, be it a restaurant or my home, if I have someone looking for a good food, that inspires me to create some real good experience in the plate which the person will take along with him and cherish for a long time.
‘Trends’ is one of my most important element in composition of my menus. I like to know what are the current trends in market, whether people like to have fine dine or casual, comfy food or complex. Keeping that in my mind I scribble my pencil on the pad, mixing of flavors, looking for the post popular season ingredients, using their best proprieties and adding a little bit of my twist to it to have some complexity into the dish. Along with all these aspects the nutritional responsibility is also an important factor in each of my dishes.
FDD: What's your favourite dish on the menu and why?
I personally do not like to answer this question as I am passionate about food and food is my life, every dish I create is like my new baby and I do not love one more than other, Its practically impossible to choose just one dish, it doesn't happen I like all of them. A menu is created like a poem, every dish compliments each other, it help fill the gaps in between, create the rhymes. each dish is carefully chosen and well tested, because they are then going to go out and campaign for us , about how good we cook and what efforts we take to create such a menu, which does not only bring the business to the entrepreneurs but also brings the pleasure and satisfaction to the connoisseurs.
FDD: What was your worst kitchen disaster. Tell us the Story.
Well hand on my face I have to tell you this story as this gives you an insight to the struggle of my career as a commi chef
I was working in The Renaissance Mumbai as a commi chef, and used to be responsible for filling up the buffet for dinner service in busy all day dinning coffee shop. On this evening was this a VIP event in coffee shop and some top big-wigs of Marriott group were supposed to meet some business tycoons of Mumbai’s commerce industry. We were already running a bit behind the schedule to pick-up the buffet, the top chefs were in the kitchen. Every day we have 2 soups on the buffet along with the extravagant display of number of hot and cold dishes and live stations. That day the vegetarian soup was potato and leek soup and the non-veg soup was bouillabaisse, a French soup of seafood court bouillon flavored with saffron. In the rush we were filling up the buffet and the executive chef then , Chef Oliver cloft told me to put the soups in respective tureens and come, So I was running around them passionately following the orders like soldier making sure I waste no minute here and there and show my 1005 efficiency, I took both the soups one by one, poured into the tureens, when I was returning to the kitchen after pouring the 2nd soup , one thought ran into my mind and left me shaking and shivering, just to reconfirm I went back to tureens to check whether I have actually did that disaster which my mind is telling me and my heart is not ready to believe. And it was exactly the thing I was praying not to be, I had poured both the soups in 1 tureen, and when I turned around I looked on the restaurant reception Area the guests were coming in. I felt like the earth splits into two and I get buried in there.
FDD: Do you have any vivid or memorable food experiences that impacted on you as a child or as a young chef?
Every year finally year students of Hotel Management in my college Dr. D.Y. Patil IHMCT, compete with their own batch mates by organizing a Theme dinner, its 2 groups each batch, I was chosen the executive chef for our event and we decided to go for an Italian theme with live pasta stations n the dining hall, 1st time in college campus. It’s like running a restaurant for a day, organizing the event, menu planning, marketing, service everything and most important selling tickets. And I was impressed with the way my colleagues came up with the creative ideas of marketing, decor, selling of tickets and my chef-mates in menu planning and execution of the event. We even had Italian consulate members coming to enjoy this event and endorse the authenticity of the food and ambience, we even created the leaning tower in the entrance as a decor. The best part of the whole event was when I walked into the dining hall the scene of the restaurant was just amazing, people with their friends and family enjoying the dinner, as I was passing by each table they were just standing up from their chairs to shake hands with me, congratulate me, and some of them even hugged me. I was feeling like I am walking on the skies, you can imagine what reward it is for a student. That is the day when I realized that good and honest food has a lot of respect in the world, and one has to think out of the box to be exclusive. And of course we got the title of best theme dinner of the year.