Hailing from Allor Town in Kerala's Thrissur District, Chef Shinto Varghese is currently as the Executive Chef, Eighth Bastion, CGH Earthhas has a global experience of 17 years with brands such as Kempinski, Jumeirah, Holiday Inn etc. before joining Eight Bastion in Fort Kochi as Executive Chef over 6 years ago. Known for his signature dish Crème Brûlée French Toast, he owes his interest in cooking to Chefs Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White as he kepy watching their shows while they created magic. 

What has been your inspiration to the trade?

As early as my school days I watched my grandma and my mother cooking food in a way that was most traditional. It slowly inspired me to join them in the Kitchen. This interest grew stronger with every passing year. My interest in cooking was further strengthened after reading and watching Chefs Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White creating magic. It fuelled in me a passion to take up cooking as a career. I wanted to learn so much more, so I enrolled myself in a cooking school that gave me a foothold in this field. Over the years and the experiences I’ve had, I know that every kitchen I worked in, every hour I stood, and every onion that made me cry was the force that brought me this far. If I have to name a few people who inspired me, it would be Chef Nguyen Len, Chef Peter Henze, Chef Cole, Chef Asif Ali and most of all my Mother and Grand Mother.

What has been your primary style of cooking, and how would you say it’s evolved over the years?

My approach begins with the ingredients and contents by themselves. What is available in the season right now, how can I utilise it, and where can I get good-quality ingredients from? From this, I work on building a dish or menu around basic ingredients with a consciousness that emphasises their characteristics.

I follow the good advice and tried and tested methods of my seniors and then make calculated modifications to bring about a dish that has evolved so beautifully that every flavour and texture is enhanced to give the end user the most desirable experience. 

Kerala Fish Curry-Syrian Christian influenced

What does it take to sustain the competition?

It all depends on how strong your product is and how unique, from other offerings. A good amount of R&D on the product and making the dining experience an unforgettable and mindful experience, will help. What your clients have to say about the experience will keep you motivated and excited to create more. 

To stay constant and up there in the chain, positive feedback from my valuable guests and the support and motivation from my organisation definitely help. Teamwork is very important to sustain and face competition.  Tourism relies on the natural and cultural resources that attract tourists and act as the main driver of growth and development in the tourism economy. Sustainable practices that CGH Earth follows i.e. Clean, Green, and  Healthy products make our hospitality chain stand out. Today’s travellers, restaurant patrons, hotel bookers and shoppers care about sustainability, genuineness and authenticity. They want to know that the companies they give their business to follow environmentally, socially and culturally sound practices. An overwhelming majority of millennials and Generation Z will pay more for tasty products and services that don’t harm the environment and their health, if we articulate the benefit of food and the methodology of cooking.

What trick and brainstorming go when it comes to designing a new flavour or a menu?

There are multiple factors that are taken into consideration while conceptualising a dish. Firstly the evocation. Each of CGH Earth’s Hotels and Resorts have a concept for its décor, cuisine and experiences. At Eighth Bastion the cuisine concept is an improvisation on some old favourites, hand-picked from the ring of Indian Ocean spots that witnessed Dutch influence from the early 1600s. Secondly what is offered needs to align with CGH Earth’s core values where the focus is on local, sustainable and community driven. There are single definitive steps and best practices that have defined CGH Earth’s cuisine and our efforts into the realm of conscious cuisine. Thirdly comes the creativity that the chef can bring into the cuisine offering thus making it an experience. I believe that cooking is not only how good the food tastes and looks, but also about what it does to you, especially for your wellbeing. Something that is done with TLC. I would not put any creation in my menu if I did not love it. I’m constantly working towards creating a different dish everyday, something that is always a bit closer to my vision and taste.  

Parsley and coriander grilled jumbo prawns

What is your idea of innovation when it comes to food?

Local Food with a compelling story. Using ingredients that are colourful. Elevating local cuisine to make it gourmet and experiential.  Nothing is constant, look around and use ordinary ingredients to create the extraordinary. I like trying new things, and I love mixing things up. Variety is the spice of life, so I evolve, change, and experiment a lot. So many flavours, textures, and options which I have included in my food have a great response from my guests.

What are your favourite ingredients to cook with?

I love using Thyme, Olive oil, Coconut oil, Basil leaves, Ginger etc. in my cooking which adds flavour and depth to most of my dishes.

What is your idea of comfort home-cooked food?

If I prepare any food at home I like to choose my own farm chicken and vegetables from my garden which leads to a very simple and tasty meal.  I can share one of my favourite recipes.

Tell us about the signature dish Crème Brûlée French Toast. What makes it special?

A rich and creamy custard with homemade wheat bread, that’s what the Crème Brûlée French Toast is. A combination of Crème Brûlée custard and a thick slice of bread is baked. It is served with roasted white chocolate sauce and caramelized banana, garnished with powdered sugar.  The roasted white chocolate with French toast is one amazing combination and definitely, a must-try on your trip to Cochin.