Aakash Nakra, the super-talented head chef at two of the Gurgaon’s most exciting and dynamic restaurants, Viet: Nom and The Drunken Botanist, is known for his love for the region's local ingredients to stay connected with the culture and people. Hailing from the city known for the rich culture and good food, Amritsar, Aakash, graduated in Hospitality management and administration from IHM, Pusa New Delhi. Henceforth completed his management trainee program with some of the finest properties of Taj. This talented chef has a demonstrated history of working in the restaurant industry and is well recognized for his skills in Catering, Food Cost Analysis, Menu Costing, Pre-opening, and Food Service Operations.

Work Experience and Indian Food in Style

The chef has worked with Expat chefs like chef Hana from Vietnam, Chef Leong from Hong Kong, Chef Shi Xilin, and Chef Dan Koh from Beijing. Have been a part of many pre-opening teams of restaurants in five-star hotels and standalone restaurants. In addition, have worked with St. Regis Hotels, the luxurious brand of Marriott International. A known name for curating stellar menus, the chef tries to nurture the flavours from Southeast Asia in his food to make it very well balanced for the Indian people in terms of aesthetics and tastes of food.

What is your childhood memory of cooking?

I remember those days when I used to help my mom cook Gurudwara style 'Aate ka halwa', not only her, but I remember learning it from my Nani when she used to cook for us during our vacations. It is the best childhood memory of my home kitchen I have.

What made you pursue cooking?

The joy of making smiles with your curation and making them happily satisfied with delicious food is the happiness you find like no other. You can relate it to the satisfaction that a mother feels when she feeds her children the food they like.

Tell us about the journey to Drunken botanist, the roadblocks, and the success

I started my culinary journey with graduation in Hotel Administration and culinary arts from IHM Pusa, New Delhi. Then, I pursued my management training from Taj hotels and Resorts when I worked in a coffee shop, pre-opening team, assisted in menu and Buffet laying, curating Special Sunday brunch, etc. and In speciality kitchens with ex-pat chefs like Chef Hana from Vietnam (Blue Ginger Restaurant), Chef Leong and Chef Dan (Spicy Duck Restaurant), Chef Shi Xilin (By The Mekong, St. Regis, Mumbai). Henceforth moved to stand-alone Restaurants and started with Viet: Nom, a modern Vietnamese speciality fine dining restaurant, The Drunken Botanist, Brewery, and gastronomical food adventure. 

What is your favourite comfort food that you love to cook on repeat?

My comfort food is always, 'Namak Mirch ka paratha Mirch with malai Henceforth, made with love at home. Amritsari 'bheega kulcha is chole', an excellent street food only found in the streets of Amritsar. It's a Pindi chole preparation with soft kulcha bread soaked in it and topped with more chole, tamarind chutney, green mint chutney, chopped onion, tomatoes, coriander, green chilli with raw mango(most important).  

The pandemic hugely affected the F&B industry. How did it affect you personally?

Yes, it did to everyone. It had its own positive and negative impacts on everyone's life, infecting it still is. The positive aspect for me was that Well-being started working on my personal well being and got more time to read books.

The pandemic also led to many food trends. Did you see and try any of them evolving prominent soon?

Yes, the Pandemic has brought in many trends in the industry. They are more sensible and educated in terms of their food and hygiene. One of the trends that I have incorporated in my menu and would become prominent shortly is Vegan food. Many people choose to make lifestyle changes for ethical or environmental reasons. Equally important are those who have no choice but to completely overhaul their existing habits due to increasing health issues in the current generations. Situations like COVID have made people realize to care about their health and well-being and be concerned about what they have in their diet to keep their immunity strong.

What would you like to tell aspiring chefs?

You must read books, learn about the upcoming trends in the market, and keep your basics strong. But, at the same time, it's crucial never to stop cooking and stay connected to it even if you get less time. So I would like to say to everyone, stay grounded. 

Tell us about your future plans

I plan to expand the Gastronomical adventure of the two restaurants in other major cities.