Chef Aabhas Mehrotra On Tryst With Italian Cuisine And More

Italian cuisine is one that is replete with some iconic dishes that have won hearts around the world. The versatility and simplicity of this culinary culture is what makes it a mass favourite, and this is what has also drawn Chef Aabhas Mehrotra towards it. While he always wanted to open a restaurant, it led him to cooking, after which his mind was intrigued and he delved deeper into culinary art. After winning many accolades, including ‘Chef Of The Year’ title in 2019, at the prestigious Asian Food Congress, Chef Aabhas is currently spearheading Sorrentina All Day Dining, known for serving authentic Italian food.

We recently caught up with Chef Aabhas for a conversation about his journey, the popularity of Italian cuisine in India, and his tryst with it. Excerpts: 

Q. When did you start taking interest in cooking and what inspired you to do that?  

A. Do you believe in ‘love by chance’? If so, you might enjoy my story. When I was younger, I always wanted to open a restaurant. Understanding operations was the ideal way for me to achieve my dream, and this is where my love affair with cooking started. Cooking became a comfort zone for me as I could add my own personality to it, and the satisfaction of seeing people's faces and smiles moved my heart. Since then, I haven't looked back.  

Q. Tell us about your journey as a chef   

A. I have had the opportunity to work with some of the best chefs across the country and explore distinct cultures and cuisines of several places - including Kolkata, Shimla, and Agra, among others. My first employment was with The Oberoi Group of Hotels in Mumbai, and from then on, there was no turning back. 

In 2018, I got the opportunity to set up Sorrentina - an all-day dining, authentic Italian restaurant in the heart of Mumbai - which has now become home for me. I went on to spearhead the launch of the brand’s retail arm, Sorrentina - Honestly Italian - conceptualising a range of pantry essentials designed for customers to prepare authentic Italian food in the comfort of their homes.   

Q. Given that your experience has been with Italian food and ingredients in particular, how will you describe the popularity of the cuisine in India?   

A. Italian cuisine is well-liked because of its straightforward yet wholesome bold flavours, which appeal to people of all ages. One of the main reasons Italian foods have gained more popularity over other European cuisines is due to its simplicity and use of the freshest ingredients (no artificial flavours).  

Q. What are your top food recommendations from Italian cuisine to anyone looking to go beyond pasta?   

A. Since I was a child, I have seen references to Italian food, primarily pizza and pasta. Italian cuisine, however, has a lot more to offer. The recent trends in food and ingredients like burrata, spaghetti meatballs, lasagnas, tiramisu, and gelato have added to the rising popularity of the cuisine.  

Q. Which one is your absolute favourite cuisine and why?   

A. This is a trick question, it would be very easy to answer Italian. But in all honesty, I have developed a strong affinity for Konkani and South Indian food. I believe both have incredibly powerful flavours, are highly seasonal, and highlight the finest and freshest produce.  

Q. And your secret dish to impress someone would be?   

A. It definitely has to be the Truffle Pasta served at Sorrentina or a braised beef stir-fry prepared at home with a lot of curry leaves and chilies.  

Q. What is your comfort food?   

A. A large bowl of khichdi, with a fresh salad of tomatoes and onions, has always been my go-to comfort food.  

Q. As a culinary expert, do you think there’s any lost recipe or food you wish to revive or redo in an innovative way?   

A. The list is endless, particularly in the Indian subcontinent, which has never been chronicled. Recently, while I was returning from a trip, I came across a really delicious recipe for Lamb Lonche, which is a pickled lamb. I will undoubtedly reinvent and innovate this dish in the future.