How Chef Varun Shahani Went From Hyderabad To New York
Image Credit: Chef Varun Shahani wants to lead an organization, either of his own or as leading chef at a fine dining restaurant.

Chef Varun Shahani, at the young age of 26, has tasted success that many professionals aspire to. The local Hyderabad boy is now a successful chef in New York and he has only just started. Having changed his mind from becoming a Chartered Accountant, to becoming chef at a Michelin star restaurant, Shahani believed in himself and his dreams. He also runs an Instagram page which has several innovative recipes, which he started during the lock down. We got into a conversation with Chef Varun Shahani about his journey from India to the US, about his aspirations and his love for food and cooking. Here is an excerpt from the chat.

What inspired you to take up the profession of chef? What kind of journey did you have, starting from working at The Trident to becoming Chef de Partie at Jean-Georges in New York?

Ever since I was a kid, I somehow was always in the kitchen helping my mom either cutting something or imitating her gestures, while she stood for hours making the best meals for my family. When I grew up that passion started to deteriorate and I wanted to pursue CA, maybe because I thought it would be the right thing to do. But I looked at my dad working in the restaurant and catering industry and my mom in the kitchen cooking day in and day out and that made me realize that I was still drawn to my childhood passion and could never become an accountant or pursue anything else because my heart wouldn’t agree to do so. When it comes to food, I always loved to explore different cuisines and learn about their history and the culture they came from. I knew if I had to pursue a career, it would be working as a chef in the kitchen, getting my hands dirty.

Soon after high school, when everyone around me applied to subjects that are considered “serious” and “respectful” I took the leap and applied to culinary school in India and ended up doing a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts at the Culinary Academy of India. From there on, getting to the actual industry and working in the kitchen for hours together only portrayed the reality of the hotel industry, which is long and odd working hours and minimal pay at the start. After working for nearly 2 years in India I felt like I needed to explore more and get out of my comfort zone. The Culinary Institute of America in New York had always been my dream school and to be a part of that school wasn’t an easy path to walk on.

I am currently working as a Chef de Partie at Jean-George Restaurant in NYC and I have been with the company for 3 years. I was an extern at the restaurant when I started off, as a part of my last semester at The Culinary Institute of America, New York. I had applied to over 20 jobs all over NYC and the first one to get back to me was Jean-Georges, an upscale two Michelin star French restaurant owned by a very well-known Chef, Jean George Vongerichten. Jean-Georges in NYC is the flagship restaurant and is very much my bread and butter but also the only thing that keeps me motivated and grounded. I absolutely love my job and all that it brings with it, the good and the bad.

Chef Varun runs an Instagram page called The Virtual Cook

I feel the USP of any restaurant is just consistency of either their food or the kind of service they provide.

Having achieved so many accolades and success as a young chef, what is your advice to the youth who want to get into this profession?

The best advice I feel is trust your gut and go for it. It’s not easy but it’s worth every penny and your sweat and tears.

What are the goals that you have set for yourself in terms of your career trajectory?

Working in the kitchen industry you never stop learning. I would say my goal is to never stop learning every single day. Apart from that, I see myself leading an organization, either of my own or being leading chef at a fine dining restaurant.

Your Instagram page 'The Virtual Cook' looks very interesting. How do you plan on taking that forward?

The Virtual Cook is something I started during peak COVID and the idea for it has always been the same, which is just sharing easy recipes for people to look at and replicate at home.

You are from Hyderabad. What are your favorite local Hyderabadi delicacies?

When it comes to Hyderabadi delicacies my all-time favourite is Biryani and chicken 65.