Indians Need To Explore Regional Gems More: Chef Atul Kochhar

‘Michelin stars are just accolades,’ says Chef Atul Kochhar, the first Indian chef to ever win (what is considered) the most prestigious award in the culinary world, with the most humble tone. During an exclusive interview with Slurrp, he explains, “Five years ago, before COVID-19, I visited Northeast India, and I thought I knew very little about my country. The food was amazing, humble, and simple. I call myself an Indian chef, but I knew nothing about it.”

Chef Atul Kochhar, who has been leading the Culinary Sessions organised by Swiggy-Dineout, was in Delhi-NCR on June 22-23, 2024. At Le Meridien, Gurugram, the spectators got to witness and taste the exquisite creations made by the legend who has been at the forefront of promoting, creating, and serving Indian food for more than 30 years on multiple global platforms. “I am thrilled to present a menu that embodies the spirit of culinary adventure and invites diners to indulge in a truly unforgettable gastronomic experience,” he adds.

‘Nature Is The Best Teacher,’ Says Atul Kochhar

If you have ever witnessed Atul Kochhar’s creations, you know that he has a distinct style of cooking and presenting the food. He is the master of fusion recipes and a pioneer of modern Indian food. 

Speaking about the fusion of ingredients and cuisines, the chef says that the process of designing these recipes is quite simple. “I have learned from my father that nature is the best teacher. You will have to work less hard if you use seasonal produce.” He jokingly adds that he is not lazy in the kitchen but believes that cooking seasonal ingredients brings a burst of flavour to a dish.

Imbibing his philosophy were his creations at the event - Kunafa Pattice, Duxelle Tart, and Beetroot Cake - that included potatoes, chickpeas, mushrooms, and beetroots as star seasonal ingredients. Atul Kochhar, who hails from a Punjabi family, was brought up in Bihar, went to South India, and has worked in North India. He says, “I curate food based on my experience.” He is among the best Indian chefs, with two Michelin stars awarded to his restaurants, and adds, “I still think I know so little wherever I go. I always dwell on something new.”

With modesty in his tone, he says that though Michelin stars are a testament to his work, receiving them was not his ultimate goal in life. “Continuing and learning more and spreading the love for food and connecting to people what our culture is, and that’s what I like,” he adds with a smile.

Chicken Tikka Pie: Atul Kochhar’s Unique Creation

Chicken tikka pie, which is one of his most renowned creations, came into existence because when the chef first moved to the UK in 1994, he noticed that Britishers loved to indulge in chicken tikka, and they cherished their pies. 

“So I thought to remove the steak and kidney stuffing and put chicken tikka in there? I thought it would be a cool thing to do,” shares Atul Kochhar. He served this distinct and new creation as a surprise course at a dinner honouring then Prime Minister of the UK Tony Blair. It looks like an Indian savoury puff pastry but only flakier, tastier, and more flavourful. 

Atul Kochhar Expanded His Culinary Knowledge By Speak To Other Chefs

When Atul Kochhar initially moved to the UK, he started working with locally sourced ingredients, many of which were not available in India. He was catering to the palate of local people, but his father encouraged him to be bolder in his creations. 

When he started talking to other chefs around the country, he realised that they were interested in using Indian spices in their food but they were afraid to do it. He added that they had no hesitation in asking the difference between yellow and black mustard seeds. They asked him about nutmeg and other ingredients that are widely used in Indian cuisines.

But the chef was not only teaching other chefs about Indian spices, he was also learning about produce in the UK. He started asking about the difference between salmon and turbo, what kinds of fish are available in what kind of water, what was their role in the human food chain, and different cooking methods that helped him hone his skills as a chef. 

Travelling Is How Chef Atul Kochhar Incorporates Various Indian Cuisines Into His Creations

Speaking about modern Indian food, he says, “What I am cooking today will become classic tomorrow as new technology will come and new ingredients will be introduced in the Indian culinary world.” He says that the debate between modern and authentic Indian food is going to continue for decades to come.

He says that the best time to see how much India and Indian cuisine have changed is to go back to the era of independence in 1947. People have changed, their ideologies have evolved, and food habits have changed as well. Hence, when Atul Kochhar visits India, he makes sure to travel extensively throughout the country.

It is only through travel that he got acquainted with the cuisines of Northeastern India and believes that Indians should continue to explore regional gems. Though spending time with his family and children will be among his top priorities now, he will continue his expeditions across India and keep discovering his country and its cuisines.