Slurrp Exclusive- Chef Vanshika Bhatia On Embracing Old Grains And On Need Of Sustainability
- Ayandrali Dutta
Updated : June 12, 2022 04:06 IST
Vanshika's passion to preserve her native cuisine, work with sustainable products and promote Indian food globally using local ingredients sets her apart in the culinary scene.
When you think of one of the most sustainable chef in the country one name that surely tops the list is that of Chef Vanshika Bhatia. Bhatia’s journey is nothing less than a dream from having interned at Noma, worked with Gaggan Anand and more, she had though studies for baking as a teenager, but always had the urge to be a chef. She always wanted to go to a culinary school. Her passion to preserve her native cuisine, work with sustainable products and promote Indian food globally using local Indian ingredients sets her apart in the culinary scene.
Today as the head chef at OMO- which is built on the ethos of a more awakened lifestyle; accustomed to healthy living and smart-conscious dining, the sanguine bespoke chic cafeì, handcrafted for a euphoric embrace of sustainability and nostalgia. Stirring the magical melting pot she has earned her stripes by whipping out delightful gourmet dishes across the best restaurants in the country.
Currently as she is travelling around North East, Vanshika managed a quick chit chat with HTSlurrp
The culinary genius that you are how do you see the industry embracing age old recipes, old grains like amaranth, millet etc and sustainability as the way forward?
Using forgotten grains like millets and grains like different variety of rice is the fascination for a lot of chefs right now . Hopefully the financing authority in restaurants will realise that if they buy these ingredients and use it , the overall cost will be lesser then using imported ingredients. Alot of chefs are doing alot of innovation and trying to introduce these ingredients on the menu. We also need to educate the consumer on the benefits of eating local instead of just putting on the menu and forgetting about it. Chefs have to also give interesting names on the menu like millet taco or nachos so people can relate it to foods they are used to having.
What trick and brainstorming goes when it comes to designing a new flavor or a menu?
One thing I learnt working at different parts of the world are how different communities pair ingredients together. This has helped me in experimenting with ingredients and trying out different methods to cook them .
So usually I take an ingredient in season eg beetroot, try to cook it with as many methods as possible eg roasting, steaming, sautéed, fried, dried, pickles, fermented etc and then see what works best. Then try it with an herb in season or another vegetable in season and then pair with a protein. Any dish can start with just a herb for eg fennel leaves and then be paired with a main ingredient like fish. Keeping in mind that even a humble leaf can be a hero ingredient.
How sustainable is the new menu of OMO?
We are on our way to convert OMO to a 100% Indian sourced restaurant with a lot of fermentation, preservation practices in use. Even now While We're on a trip to the Northeast we are exploring more and more local ingredients that we can replace and use everything local be it the different kinds of potatoes and even the hundred varieties of rice here and there are millets that are to be found in different parts of India and the amount of Green Leaves salad leaves everything that is used here is absolutely amazing and we want to implement all of that at OMO. More even potato leaves, even passion fruit leaves that I tasted which are mostly thrown is all eaten here. It’s all about zero waste.
The pulp that is left after making juices is used in making cookies in OMO and serve with our specialty North east coffee. This also motivates the chefs. We check our dustbins so that nothing goes waste. I make sure each ingredients sees a yield of at least 90%. Even the pottery is locally sourced.
Over the years what has been your most challenging project and why?
OMO has been a challenge foe me. When Rajan came and told me about the concept and said that he wanted a 100% vegetarian restaurant. In India not many restaurants are truly veg except for the South Indian ones. The truly plant based are seen mostly using rice, lentil or potato as their main ingredients
So we are aiming to make OMO ingredients forward restaurant so that no one misses meat and people feel that they have a satisfying meal. Coming to cuisine we have see that we are not using anything Asian and Indian rather keeping it fairly European and yet vegetarian was a big big challenge.
There have been different tough tasks in different projects. Together at 12th was my first restaurant, understanding business while being creative was tough. Petite Pie shop is a new concept for India so creating something that the market is comfortable with but yet new and interesting was a challenge.
Omo was a challenge in the sense that creating a space where everyone wants to come and dine, vegetarians or non vegetarians. No one should miss meat in their meal. Making a vegetarian meal the new normal. Making local vegetables the new trend.
What has been your idea of comfort food? What’s your fondest food memory?
Not sure if I can choose but the first thing that came to my mind is walking around Paris picking up a baguette and some cheese and figs and making myself a sandwich.
Who is your worst critic when it comes to food?
My sister I think. She tells me what the customer will like when I go all crazy experimental.