Chef Sikandar Singh And His Love For Himachali Flavours

Chef Sikandar Singh, hails from the picturesque land of Bilaspur, Himachal Pradesh. He is a talented chef with a deep passion for cooking, cricket and an extensive background in the hotel industry spanning 8 years. For him Being a chef is an artistry that blends passion and precision. It's an exhilarating journey of flavors and textures, where creativity reigns. Chef Singh believes that from conceptualizing dishes to meticulous execution, each chef immerses themselves in the alchemy of ingredients. As the Executive Chef of The Orchid Hotel Manali, he shares his insight on Himachali cooking and what makes it special 

What has been your inspiration for the trade?

In my childhood, I had seen people preparing the mouthwatering ‘Himachali Dham’, a traditional feast. This captivating sight sparked a deep-rooted passion within me. As I started my culinary journey, experimenting with new recipes and witnessing them turn into delightful dishes, it filled my heart with joy. Inviting people and serving them food cooked by my own hands gives me immense satisfaction. The appreciation and praise I received for my creations further fueled my love for this profession. 

How easy or difficult is it to understand the Indian palate and flavours?

Every time I create a dish, I strive to ensure it caters to the Indian palate. However, I have come to realise that sourcing the exact ingredients used in traditional recipes can be challenging. Therefore, I adapt the recipes to suit the available ingredients without compromising the authenticity of the dish. This balance between tradition and adaptability enables me to craft flavours that resonate with the Indian palate.

What are some signature dishes from Himachali cuisine that you would recommend to someone trying it for the first time?

When exploring the flavours of Himachal Pradesh, one must indulge in the exquisite ‘Himachali Dham’. This traditional feast, consisting of a spicy ‘Rajma Chawal’, Fried Dal, aromatic rice, ‘Boor Ki Kadhi’, curd, sweets, salad, and jaggery, is prepared during auspicious occasions and festivals. Additionally, one can savour dishes like ‘Siddu’, and Momos, each offering a unique and delightful culinary experience.

Could you share some unique cooking techniques or methods specific to Himachali cuisine that you have mastered over the years?

Himachali cuisine boasts several unique cooking techniques that contribute to the distinct flavours and textures of the dishes. Some notable techniques include ‘Siddu’, ‘Dham Cooking’, ‘Chha Gosht’, and Kullu Trout. These techniques not only enhance the flavours but also showcase the culinary expertise and cultural heritage of the region.

Are there any seasonal or festival-specific dishes in Himachali cuisine that you find particularly interesting or challenging to prepare?

One dish that stands out in Himachali cuisine is the traditional ‘Himachali Dham’, a nine-course menu consisting of a spicy curry of red kidney beans, fried dal, aromatic rice, boor ki kadhi, curd, sweets, salad, and jaggery. It is a mid-day, vegetarian festive meal prepared on auspicious occasions, festivals, weddings, and religious functions. The authentic preparation of ‘Himachali Dham’ is always interesting and poses its own set of challenges.

What is that one food memory that really makes you nostalgic?

The flavours of Indian cuisine, such as ‘Dal Makhani’, ‘Bhuna Gosht’, and ‘Biryani’, have a remarkable ability to transport us back in time, evoking cherished memories. These dishes, with their familiar tastes, allow us to tap into the nostalgia associated with those flavours and create a connection with our roots.

Three kitchen spices that you can’t do without?

Three kitchen spices that I cannot do without are smoked paprika, cinnamon, and garlic powder. These ingredients lend unique flavours and depth to my dishes, enhancing the overall culinary experience.

What is your idea of comfort food?

Comfort food varies from person to person, but for me, it encompasses dishes that hold sentimental value and evoke a sense of warmth. Lemon Rice, Curd Rice, ‘Kadhi Chawal’, and ‘Rajma Chawal’ are among my personal favourites. These soul-warming rice preparations never fail to provide comfort and a feeling of contentment.