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Delhi Wine Club
Chatting with Chef: Neeraj Tyagi @Sevilla

Posted: Monday, 13 May 2013 10:17

Chatting with Chef: Neeraj Tyagi @Sevilla

May 13: Executive Chef at The Claridges ,Chef Neeraj Tyagi was the Opening chef- in- charge of Sevilla that has been awarded the 'best new restaurant in Delhi' by the Times Food Guide-the Mediterranean restaurant at the Claridges was the venue of Delhi Wine Club dinner. Renu and Anil Malhotra talked to the Chef at length as he was preparing the dinner for the members and were impressed by his dexterity

Photos By:: Adil Arora

Click For Large View"Never trust a thin Chef" is an old adage. We immediately warmed up to the burly and energetic Neeraj Tyagi who welcomed us with a broad smile. Neeraj, an alumnus of IHM Meerut, quickly gave us his educational background and experience though he credits his parental and family army background for instilling in him the core qualities of integrity, discipline and hard work.

Chef’s background

He has a wide culinary background, having trained on the one part in Italian cuisine at the world famous Garibaldi Restaurant in Singapore and on the other, in German cuisine at the Brix (then Grand Hyatt) with Chef Stephan Foucher and German Chefs Bernad and Ulli, he tells us. To demonstrate his versatility and vast repertoire of skills, Chef Neeraj conducted a New Indian and Lucknavi food festival at the Hulhule Airport Hotel in Maldives for a period of 3 weeks.

Neeraj has a long string of achievements having done cookery shows on NDTV and ZEE TV, winning various medals in Culinary contests, both in New Delhi and Mumbai, and having been a part of the ISO 14000 and 22000 certifications for Claridges. Small wonder that he has been able to create a first class Spanish Mediterranean restaurant without ever having visited Spain!!

Sevilla Restaurant and Josper

Click For Large ViewSevilla is yet another manifestation of Chef Tyagi's vision and passion. The signature specialties at Sevilla prepared under the supervision of Chef Neeraj include the tapas selection, paella, wood fired pizza and the house special sangrias. Giving us some background, Chef Tyagi tells us that the word "tapas" is derived from the Spanish verb tapar, "to cover". The original tapas were the slices of bread or meat which sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses between sips. This was a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst. Because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.

Neeraj explains that at Sevilla, much of the cooking is now set around the unique Josper oven from Spain costing about Rs 25,00,000 (€35,000) which is the first of its kind ever used in India. The oven reaches temperatures of over 500 degrees centigrade in minutes and creates a particularly distinctive smoky flavour, yet retaining the succulence of the food.

Tasting with Chef Neeraj

Young Adil Arora from our Delhi Wine Club arrived with his camera and diligently set about taking photographs to record what happened next for posterity! We got to witness the workings of the mammoth Josper oven in full cry right under our noses when Chef Neeraj started to effortlessly rustle up the Salmon in the Josper even while the mis en place was being prepared!

The fillet was rubbed in with crushed sea salt; a wide variety of different sea salts are used at the Sevilla, we discovered as we progressed our culinary tour-Lava red salt, Himalayan pink, Hawaii black, Danish smoky among others used for curing all sorts of meats which lend a special flavour and work into the meats in different manners per the outcome desired of that dish.

Click For Large ViewThe fillet was carefully cooked in the Josper at a temperature of 350-400°C. Round cut potatoes were separately lightly reddened with a hint of rosemary. Edamame beans and chorizo rounds were then tossed together and a few twigs of asparagus added just long enough to retain their green brilliance. Some baby spinach leaves were then sautéed in a little garlic oil and I thought this was going to be for the bed on which Neeraj would place the salmon; but when he got down to getting his expert fingers to move on the plate, he actually placed the rounds of potatoes, the asparagus over the potatoes so as to make a zigzag pattern on it, the salmon beside it and the spinach over the fish like a crown! The chorizo and the Edamame beans came on the side and finally a couple of slices of grapefruit with a hint of lemon butter doused on the side of the plate to finish it; all in 10 minutes flat!

Whenever I have tried cooking the Paella, it was based on my instincts of taste and what a million recipes tell you over the net, which could vary from person to person. This was my first introduction behind the scenes to authentic Paella accompanied by a charming story of a woman suddenly visited upon by a number of guests and having to provide a meal for them. She found a big cast iron pan and threw in everything that she could find in her kitchen, thus contributing to a wide variety of meats in the dish, right from prawns, squids, mussels, oysters, chicken, chorizo, sausage etc. Bomba rice is doused with saffron water and added to the cooking meats in the pan. Some puréed tomatoes with Spanish paprika powder and salt to cook the rice along with the meat is added. A hint of sage adds to the flavour. The Paella is devoured almost immediately but that is not the end of the story- after the Paella is consumed, we are scraping the bottom of the pan with great relish, albeit surreptitiously, only to discover that the burnt crust at the bottom is called La Soccarat and actually considered a delicacy!

Neeraj emphasised that we could not complete our Tapas education without learning to do a cold dish with cheese. The watermelon and goat cheese Tapa was an entire charmer! Watermelon was cut into cylinders by a tube and then injected with goat cheese and placed on a long serving dish. Peels of aubergine, diced very thinly and fried were placed on each piece. Some dill for that nice refreshing look, Avrooga or trout eggs piled up on each cylinder standing tall with a shower of basil olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Unparalleled!!

Having industriously imparted to us some practical knowledge in his kitchen, Neeraj was then ready to expose us to the joys of his beautiful restaurant and its ready to gorge delights. We began with the Grilled Asparagus with Romesco on Lavash which looked and even more, tasted remarkably fresh as if just plucked from the garden.

Getting ready for the evening

Click For Large ViewThe Aioli marinated Prawn Skewers were both crunchy and juicy, the Josper having ensured a very even cooking and browning. The Grilled Chicken Wings were cooked well in their juices, although I would have preferred them a little more well- done. The piece de resistance was the very originally conceived and unique bacon rolled dates and mustard relish- perfectly balancing the contrasting salt and sweet flavours. One must not fail to mention that the superb smoky flavour of the pepperoni Pizza was yet another reminder of the distinctive character of the Josper oven cooking at the Sevilla.

Between alternating sips of wine and tapas, we were reminded of the Spanish king Alfonso the 10th, who was made to take small bites of food with some wine between meals when he was recovering from an illness. The king then decreed that no wine was to be served in any of the inns in the land of Castile , unless accompanied by something to eat.

This was a wise precaution to counteract the adverse effects of alcohol on those people who, through lack of money to buy a nourishing meal, drank alcohol on an empty stomach. Thanks to the diligent efforts of Subhash Arora and Neeraj Tyagi though, we had no concerns of an empty stomach as the pre-plated main course choices of delectable pan roasted fillet of river fish, char grilled, corn-fed chicken and grilled ricotta and cottage cheese cake were presented to us. The sauces and vegetable accompaniments were just perfect.

The grand finale was the roast pineapple with mango gelato and coconut crumble served at perfect temperature. I always maintain that food is eaten first with the eyes and then on the palate; and what stood out about each dish was the perfect sauces, balance of vegetables and their brilliant colours.

We could not help but notice the very enthusiastic support that Chef Tyagi received from his very sprightly and willing team, in particular Santosh, Abhinav and Nitin. Neeraj says, "As a team leader I focus on continuous team knowledge development via on-the job and structured class room training. I strongly believe people have the power to deliver excellence in innovative ways if provided the required guidance & focus."

Click For Large ViewTruly the speed of the boss is the speed of the team and quite evidently both Sevilla and Chef Neeraj Tyagi are going places!! Right now Chef Neeraj is going shortly to London on a 5-month assignment to work with a 3-star Michelin Chef at the Italian Restaurant Toto's. Says Neeraj, "I aspire to constantly tune and develop my culinary passion into creative food!"

And the gourmets like us look forward to his creativity and innovation getting every better, making  our taste buds take us back to Sevilla more often!

Renu and Anil Malhotra

Renu and Anil Malhotra are very widely travelled food and wine enthusiasts. Renu is the President of the Culinary Club at The Imperial and laughs that Anil's enjoyment Index of any place in the world is a direct derivative of how he enjoys his experience of the local food there. Not the least of his recognitions is the fact that a hard core, no- nonsense Chola Bhatura shack at Sadar Bazaar keeps his photograph on their wall as a preferred customer!! They are both members of the Delhi Wine Club.


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