Chef Prakash Lobo, The Man Who Aces Indian Vegetarian Thalis
Image Credit: Chef Prakash Lobo

When one talks about exhaustive pure vegetarian thalis served in India, it is impossible to not mention Chef Prakash Lobo. He worked as one of the founding chefs of the Rajdhani group of restaurants, which is today famed for its vegetarian Rajasthani thali. After spending a significant phase of his career in Mumbai's several five-star properties, he is now helming the startling menu at Hyderabad-based exquisite eatery, Gaurang's Kitchen, by renowned fashion designer Gaurang Shah. In his latest role, venturing into an entirely vegetarian culinary space with a sizable menu, he finds it no less than a thrilling expedition. 

In an exclusive interview to Slurrp, Lobo shared that he is on a mission to restore several Indian foods that have yet to be explored; some are well-known regionally, while others are dwindling in oblivion. He wants to introduce them to the epicureans. Also, one may expect an array of unique fusion foods.


Q. Can you share how your journey as a chef started?

I hail from Karnataka, and I am into this industry for nearly three decades. I started my career with The Retreat, Mumbai. That was where I picked up the tricks of the trade with on-job mentoring. Eventually, I landed in Rajdhani, the famous thali restaurant in India. The parent branch is in Mumbai; today, it has nearly 50 outlets worldwide.

Q. What drew you towards this field?

I was driven by passion. Nevertheless, my curiosity about the sheer versatility of food egged me to get into this industry. For example, looking at the diverse forms of food outlets, cafes, motels, hotels, and restaurants and how each one functions in a particular manner is fascinating. Likewise, how a specific dish is teamed up well with another is equally an art in itself. 

Q. What are the significant milestones in your career's trajectory? What was the turning point?

I gradually acquired knowledge about different cuisines, which was a fun experience for me. The first Southeast Asian restaurant in Mumbai was launched by me. 

The turning point was getting into the Rajdhani group. Before that, my experience was mostly around non-vegetarian grubs. But Rajdhani was a purely vegetarian spread and curating a thali with such a diverse range of vegetarian fares was a formidable task. Serving 1000 thalis in a day was no mean job. Getting the whole thing organised was an achievement in itself. 

A vegetarian thali, Image Source: Gaurang's Kitchen

Q. What was your main learning while curating a massive thali like that?

While handling such grand thali, there was hardly any room for verbal communication with the team. It used to be on sign languages. If there is a hand gesture of four, it indicates the main course. Number 3 signalled, getting the finger bowl. In the same manner, there were hand gestures for each dish, and we all mastered them. It also moulded skills such as teamwork, agility and attentiveness. 

Satkar Residency was the next big project with eight banquet halls. I got my expertise in Tex-Mex, European and a part of Russian cuisines.

 Q.30 years into the trade, aren't you bored?

Boredom is out of the question. I try to keep my work fresh, innovative and versatile. Every day, it's about matching the flavours and colours and experimenting. Creativity keeps the game going!

Q. What is your forte

Instead of any dish, I would say the Gujrati and Marwari cuisine, tandoor, and south Indian are my forte. Likewise, in the international domain, Southeast Asian culinary fare is my favourite. 

Q. Your secret dish to impress?

It will be Lobo's special melt-in-mouth Galouti Kofta. Filled with cheese and paneer, this Kofta can woo anyone. 

Q. What is your comfort food?

Anytime, it is the humble khichdi. It keeps the tummy, mind, and soul relaxed.  

Chef Prakash Lobo with stuffed kulfis

Q. How did Gaurang's Kitchen happen to you?

I was referred to Gaurang by a common family friend. We had exhaustive sessions discussing the menu, and finally, I designed it. This experience opened a whole new dimension of culinary fares. 

It wasn't an easy undertaking to make a home for India's delectable forgotten foods, as envisioned by Gaurang. Fusing the chat with other completely different genres of food isn't simple. Within four months of our opening, we already have 500 pure vegetarian dishes on the menu. There are vegan options too. This excludes the segments catering to chat, drinks, south Indian grubs and desserts. 

Q. Have you introduced anything exotic or unique on the menu?

This exquisite eatery isn't just about kansa thaalis serving Indian regional meals. It has a startling spread of Indian chat sections. In the meantime, one gets to taste an array of unique dishes such as jinni dosa and different versions of idlis. Equally impressive is our Indian mocktails menu, which includes spicy guava, masala kala khatta, jaljeera with spices, aam panna, and tender coconut mocktails. 

A while ago, we made Idli prepared in jackfruit leaves cones. Another one was an authentic preparation of a Mangalore coconut stuffing dish. There has been a constant effort to revive several lost recipes of Gujarat and Rajasthan. 

Teen Patta Chaat, Image Source: Gaurang's Kitchen

Q. How do you research such forgotten dishes?

It takes time and can span over weeks or even months. Whenever we (me and my team) prepare such forgotten fares, we get the original spices, herbs and essential ingredients from those regions. I become a journalist like you and get engaged in exhausting discussions with the older generations who have been the custodians. 

I don't rely on commercial establishments to learn about these delicacies or original recipes. I visit homes and remote corners of India.

Q. What is your take on bizarre fusion food trends? 

Those bizarre foods are short-lived. They may have their glory for a couple of months, and then 90 per cent of them fizzle out. They lack any research, and such fads can never be sustainable. 

Q. What's next?

We are going to add another 30-40 types of chats to the menu. There are also attempts to revive Indian healthy and traditional food, which are forgotten. There is a traditional cuisine in which shevay/semiya is made using pounded rice batter. Then it is stewed until it forms a thick lump. It is followed by steaming and then shaped as shevay. At last, it is served with coconut milk and jaggery.

People are interested in quality food. They are spending time to know its history, preparation and intricacies. It is a welcoming change. Responding to such shifts among patrons, we plan to run a competition for the city's women to introduce their dishes on social media. It is an effort to make them feel 'belonged' and enhance their engagement with us.