Slurrp Exclusive: For Chef Harpal, Comfort Food Is Like A Warm Hug
Image Credit: Chef Harpal

In Chef Harpal words he loves everything about food: the fragrant, irresistible smell; the amazing, original colors and the rich, overwhelming tastes. His love for food is not only about eating, but he also enjoys cooking a lot. With his love for innovation, he is also in a lookout to learn all the secrets and tricks. His theory about food is “the most important ingredient for any food is love”. This is probably why I do not enjoy food in restaurants. It is impersonal- cold”. For him being happy is getting your fill of favourite food in the company of your favourite people. Nothing can beat that, NOTHING!.

Currently working at Home By PVR as An executive Sous Chef, Harpal expertise lies in Western cuisine, Modern Mediterranean, Modern European and finding a way to beautifully incorporate those techniques with Indian flavours. The kitchen has always been my safe space because it’s when I’m the most aligned with myself. I enjoy the fast paced life that being in the kitchen brings to me.

Here are the excerpts of the interview with chef

Tell us something about your growing up years? How much influence did food had on you?

I grew up in the wilds of Assam, an impact of multi-cultural environment have sparked my vision for culinary science. Being a North-Eastern I had immense opportunities of experiencing diversity of food traditions. The smell of cooking with locally sourced & fresh ingredients in my grandmother’s kitchen first attracted when I was 12-year-old to become a chef. Managing to convince my parents to allow me to follow my passion to begin my culinary Graduation at the age of 21 from Goa. Three years later I had the fortune to grab internship in the some of the finest and supreme luxury resorts of India like Taj Fort Aguada Beach Resort, Marriott Goa etc. Later I moved to Dubai where I worked with some of the best Chefs in the world including Chef Marco Pierre White.

Came back to India for sharpening my knowledge and skills in our very own Indian cuisine and met the famous inventor of modern Indian cuisine Chef Sujan Sarkar, through his mentorship and vision I aspired to become one of the world’s renowned chef. It’s been 15 years for me now into the culinary industry & to reach my exceptional high standards, values and vision. 

What is your idea of innovation when it comes to food?

Creativity is precisely what chefs together with patrons are looking for in a culinary world where everything happens via innovation.  My innovative inspiration always comes majorly from paintings, vibrant colourful produces, trends, kitchen wastages and combination of new ingredients and new methods of production, we can get access to new flavour profiles. I must say art can be considered as a true catalyst for innovation.

What trick and brainstorming goes when it comes to designing a new flavour or a menu?

Time in the Kitchen and keeping my brain cool is the trick for me to scale up a new flavour or designing a new menu because for some flavours require more time and concentration than others as well designing a brilliant menu takes 3 – 4 months or more, it’s a job of patience. Research and development of local market, meeting cultivators, visiting farms , going for foraging with the team helps me the most.

What’s your take on new age fusion food?

My forte is to upgrade local India based cuisine to modern Indian cuisine which gives us a scope of taking it into higher order & direction, but preferably not much within the constitution of fusion cuisine.

The pandemic impacted the FnB industry. How did it effect you and what had been your learning?

Effect of Pandemic have changed our scripts of living - Stay positive & Stay Healthy was the mantra for me during pandemic. My practical learnings and researches made me think deeply about wat’s next for the chefs & society, here are some of them-

    Produces from local cultivators will be in fashion - Pandemic situation & importing of ingredients is not fitting in for standalones as well chefs. Recent trend is for local produce to shine; Chefs are personally indulging themselves into foraging & looking for ingredients locally available. 

    Reduction of waste - will last, In sync with the society & eco system, we are considering the minimalistic lifestyle; therefore we are more aware of the effects of food waste. We aim to ratify a sustainable lifestyle & ZERO WASTE cooking system, which will give us an opportunity to popularise this concept. Moreover, this can be practised not only in restaurant kitchens but home kitchens as well.   

    Micro menus -We’ve seen restaurants really pare down their menus, and I think the trend this is here to stay for a while longer. Honestly, we love when a restaurant’s menu has fewer options that are done really well. Its more customer-friendly, streamlines kitchen operations, creates a high end feel& can help to support eat local food movement.

Three kitchen spices that you can’t do without?

Long pepper (Peepli), Mustard, Garlic 

What is your idea of comfort food?

My first preference will be always a hearty meal with loved ones.

Comfort food for me is like a warm hug. The nostalgia may be specific to an individual, everyone has their version of comfort food or it may apply to a specific culture. Comfort food for me is like a warm hug from a loved one. Nostalgia and familiar flavours bring a special touch of love, especially during cosy days. Moreover, Indian food has an innately special quality that makes anyone feel at home. Everyone has their version of comfort food. Indian cuisine is a wholesome delight, made with authentic spices and delicious flavours that comfort the body and mind.

What is the most bizarre food trend according to you?

In recent years, the bizarre food trends which are getting into my attention are mostly done in the restaurants on the name of modern cuisine which is actually a confused unnecessary theory of fusion food culture eg. Maggi laddo, Oreo pakoda feels like hogwash philosophy of food where the essence and modernisation both are lost in the hurry of creating something new.

At second, usage of silk worms, jungle ants and lizards etc. is still justified as it is indigenous to many cultures.