Slurrp Exclusive- Chef Shamsul On Exploring Indian Palates And Flavours
Image Credit: Chef Shamsul Wahid

Chef Shamsul Wahid started with his culinary journey at a much early age. Working for Costa Crociere, an Italian cruise company as well as Holland America Line, a Dutch company he had spent years sailing across the oceans and that gave him numerous culinary adventures. They exposed him to different cuisines, fresh produce and an array of ingredients from around the world. Be it with rare vegetables or the finest meats, he experimented to his heart’s desire constantly challenging himself in the process. During this time, he also got the chance to work with top international Chef Gordon Ramsey, which played a key role in the preliminary years of his career.

Back in India in 2007 he joined Impresario Handmade Restaurants as a Sous Chef and from then onwards there has been no looking back for him. Today he is known to follow a holistic approach to cooking with the aim of adding a twist to his dishes when it comes to the menu at Social and Smoke House Deli. He also describes the menu, at both these restaurants, as one that ‘caters to people with any food mood’.

How difficult or easy is it to please the Indian palate?

It really is quite easy to please the Indian palate. But the first step of that, and one that people always find difficult, is defining what an Indian palate is. The diversity and preferences which lie within the Indian palate makes it a tad complex to please. Especially, if you work for brands like Social or Smoke House Deli which are present in almost 11 cities in 6 different states- each a diverse culinary heritage of their own. You have to keep your recipes and menus flexible to adapt to the local preferences and palate. In some regions we need to amp up the spice, some we have to make the recipes a tad richer and in some places we need to keep it tangy. One you figure out your audience, through active feedback from diners, critics and even local resources, it’s really a matter of adapting your flavours and creating something that resonates with their version of the Indian palate.

You are known to channel the essence of Indian street food and give it a unique twist. Tell us something about it?

We do Indian food at SOCIAL and as you know SOCIAL is all about keeping the food simple, satisfying and flavourful. That said, SOCIAL is also about having fun and adding it’s own twist to some signature Indian dishes. So we play around with our ingredients and recipe a bit, just enough make it stand out against its traditional counterparts.

To do a fresh, new take on something or giving something a twist. you first need to understand and master the techniques of the original. Then comes the fun part of adding another element to make it interesting, different and exciting for your palate. As with everything, this too has its limits. It’s imperative to reign it in and ensure that what you are making should not be completely alien to the original version.

What’s you take on new age fusion food and one dish that you feel has been wrongly created in fusion

I feel New Age Fusion is a very positive step with chefs trying to create something new and different with their offering. To me, this is how cuisines evolve, but as with any experimentation and innovation, there will be hits and misses, jokes and banter. But in all this chaos, we might end up getting a great dish which will make it to the books and have an identity of its own. Great discoveries in any field always happen with either accidents or crazy ideas, and we owe it to our profession and diners to experiment and play with flavours.

Some misfires which I have seen on the internet are: Sushi Burrito ( The Japanese might invade Mexico coz of this), Chocolate momos (though some people love it, I think it’s the worst way to have  chocolate), RoohAfza Maggi (theoretically yin and yang should balance but this is just gross)

Tell us something about the Smokehouse Deli has revamped the menu. What thoughts, preparation went behind the same?

The Smoke House Deli 2.0 menu is one that continues to delight and excite. We have curated the menu as a balance of old and new, with comfort food and signature flavours forming the foundation of the offering. The menu serves up the good-old classic European menu along with some delightful new additions. We have introduces Neo Neapolitan pizzas- hand-rolled and loaded with fresh ingredients while pushing the boundaries of the usual Neapolitan with surprising flavours and appetizing twists.

We have also stared integrating our all-new house-made cream cheese, feta, bocconcini and mascarpone across the menu- which is a first for the brand across the country. We also have our Goodness To Go section, a go-to stop for all things wholesome, healthy, and fresh; like healthy smoothies, salads, sandwiches, cold-pressed juices and more. It is in essence, designed to energise those on the go, or the ones looking for a healthy artisanal break.

What has been your comeback mantra to adapt to the businesses post the pandemic?

Pandemic has made us focus on delivery in a big way and try to work on how we can get our restaurant food to homes or offices in the same way as it is served in the restaurant .

Also, we have learnt that building trust with the customer is very important whether he is ordering at home or eating at a restaurant . We have to develop trust so that he/she knows that everything in front of them is hygienic, safe, contains high quality, fresh ingredients and consistent flavour and service. It is the trust that will make him/her come back.

Who has been your best critic till date?

My Family- both at work and at home

What does it take to build an Iconic brand and keep up with its loyal customer base?

Consistency, innovation and trust are the three things you need to build iconic brands that go down in history.