Cooking With Heart: Chef Abhishek's Passion For The Palate
Image Credit: Exec chef Leela Abhishek-Gupta

The culinary industry has always been a dynamic and evolving space that requires chefs to be creative, adaptable, and passionate about their craft. Chef Abhishek, the Executive Chef of The Leela Ambience Gurugram, embodies these qualities and more. With over 15 years of experience, he is an expert in creating culinary delights that balance taste equilibrium and cater to the diverse Indian palate. In an exclusive interview with Slurrp, he shares his inspiration to become a chef, his experiences in the industry, and his insights into sustaining competition and creating unique concepts and menus. Additionally, Chef Abhishek reflects on his biggest pandemic learning and his unforgettable experience of cooking for the Indian Army in extreme conditions.

What has been your inspiration for the trade?

My inspiration for the trade is the joy you get when you cook for someone. Creating memories, stitching little moments all through the power of food. This is not possible without being a chef.

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

I feel that if we focus on balancing taste equilibrium, then no palate is easy or difficult. Sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, and umami are the flavours that one must focus on while creating a dish. Of course, by the nature of Indian food and eating habits, we like to eat more "spiced" food depending on which region we come from, but I guess as a chef, if we keep a balance of one or most of the flavours then we can get over it.

What does it take to sustain the competition?

Consistency and adaptability. It is like cricket; you may be a good player in the 50-over format or test cricket, but in time you will have the IPL too. Similarly, to be sustainable in these times, cook like it's today and think about tomorrow.

What has been your most significant lesson from the pandemic?

The biggest lesson has been to focus on a healthy lifestyle, save waste, be forgiving, don’t stress out too much, enjoy life, and have fun while cooking.

Tell us about your time cooking and serving in the Indian Army. Was it a fulfilling experience?

The moment was the most precious ever. I think we live in a commercial world of expectations and deliveries; however, there is someone who has sacrificed their life for the nation. What a greater emotion it can be for soldiers and their families! Cooking at 11,600 feet, where your tongue goes tasteless, you need more salt in food, winters hit you hard, food ought to be spicier, diesel burners are used, and supplies coming in from Srinagar or Chandigarh are even more challenging. Cooking is challenging in such conditions where oxygen is scarce and you have a heavy breath all the time. Therefore, cooking for them was truly gratifying, and being the first chef in India to represent The Leela Hotels, Palaces, and Resorts along with Padmashri Chef Sanjeev Kapoor ji was even more memorable.

What’s that one secret kitchen ingredient that can absolutely turn a dish around?

It’s funny, but the balance of "salt" can simply turn a dish around. Simple thing, but magical.

Who are some of your favourite contemporary culinary maestros whose work you admire?

Honestly, I appreciate every chef who cooks his or her heart out, be it in India or abroad. I think narrowing it down won’t do justice, as in today’s time we have quite a few restaurants and chefs doing a wonderful job and making India proud.

What goes on behind the scenes as you create various concepts, unique ideas, and menus?

A lot of research and development involves studying books, browsing the internet, going back in time, using drawing boards to create something, looking for ideas on digital platforms, calling up chefs, friends, food historians, researchers, etc.; coming to agreements and disagreements; conducting trials; tasting; and repeating. This happens until we hit the spot in our mind and our palate and agree that it’s the perfect dish.

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

Eating street food makes me nostalgic, as this is something that we all grew up with in our hometowns, or during old school style Indian Railways train journeys, or at grandma's house, or while coming back from school, college, or for that matter anywhere.