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Delhi Wine Club
Thinking Chef Sujan Sarkar @Olive

Posted: Wednesday, 29 January 2014 14:34

Star Chef: Thinking Chef Sujan Sarkar @Olive

Jan 29: The new Chef de cuisine, Sujan Sarkar who has joined Olive from London to look after the cuisine at the Delhi and Mumbai restaurants, is a Thinking Chef with a lot of experience, ideas and determination to take our taste buds to another level and make us visit Olive more often, writes Subhash Arora who had a long chat with him while discussing the innovative Menu he designed exclusively for the Delhi Wine Club Dinner on Monday at the Olive Beach Restaurant in Chanakyapuri .

Photos By:: Adil Arora

When I met up with Shailesh Jha, The General Manager of Olive Bar and Kitchen, looking after the Olive Beach Restaurant in Chanakyapuri and the new avatar of the erstwhile Ai Restaurant at the Metropolitan Mall called the Guppy by Ai in the Lodhi Colony, my intent was to check out the Japanese cuisine and possibly organise our next wine dinner for the Delhi Wine Club at this venue. But Shailesh steered me to shift the venue to Olive Beach using his newly acquired trump card - the new Chef de Cuisine Sujan Sarkar who had joined Olive barely 2 months ago after a 10-year stint at various establishments in London, working under several renowned and even Michelin Star Chefs. One look at the CV and I was sold-enough to even want to interview him as our Star Chef.

I was startled when he sat across me at the table as I was waiting for him at the Olive Beach. In his daily street clothes, I thought he was one of the PR persons who had come to engage me in conversation as the Chef was working in the kitchen and would meet me later. It was when I asked his name again that I heard ‘Shoojan’- the Bengali-pronounced Sujan and the conversation started in the fourth gear.

A graduate of IHM Bhumeshwar, Chef Sarkar tells me he worked with JW Marriott in Mumbai in 2003 when it was opened. He went to UK in 2004 where he joined the Hilton group. After spending some time in Jamie Oliver's Fifteen Restaurant, he started working under Peter Tempelhoff, the Relais & Châteaux Grand chef and later in the Michelin-starred Galvin at Windows under Andre Garret and Chef Cris Galvin.

He shifted his gears rather swiftly and within 4 years of his arrival in UK, by the end of 2008, he had taken over Automat Restaurant (an American steak house and brasserie) in Mayfair as the Head Chef. The following year he opened Almada restaurant in Berkeley Street which used to be the celebrity hot spot of London with regulars like Madonna, Jude Law, George Clooney, Jay Z, Leonardo di Caprio, Elton John and Cindy Crawford to name a few. Here, he served his specialty - the modern European inspired menu. He has worked as the Chef at the Whistling Shop, the most famous cocktail bar in London. His last assignment before coming to India to join Olive was with Cipriani of London.

Chef Sujan has been a finalist at the London chef-of-the-year competition in 2008 and 2009. He was the Visionary Dining UK National Chef of the year finalist 2011 and reserved finalist UK National Chef of the year 2013. Out of his many celebrity dinners, the five course sensory (touch, vision, taste, sound and aroma) menu for many groups is notable. He has handled many wine dinners but is very proud to talk about the one with Silverado of Napa Valley where the visiting President of the wine company conceded that his food had overtaken the delicious wines.

Modern European cuisine has become his calling and the buzzword when you talk to him. He is not pleased when people talk about molecular gastronomy, saying it is passé now. Having worked with several Michelin-starred restaurants, he says ‘we refer to modern gastronomy where elements of the food are important.’  He can rattle off several elements that go into the food and how he deconstructs and constructs making sure the flavours and textures make you want to eat more but you do not feel bloated after eating, as in many cases.

He likes to work with Indian ingredients as far as possible but tries to find alternatives that give the best results. He says, ‘I use Indian kale instead of Spinach for garnish; we don’t blanche it too much. Our sauces and garnishes are different too. I don’t use too much of vinaigrette. I bring in sweet and sour taste and add crunch to the texture.’ He can use beetroot in 10 different ways like dry, powdered and using microwave. He could show you in many ways how the crunchiness and sour taste is obtained from turnips or how he adds crunchiness using pumpkin pieces in the Pumpkin Velouté (slightly thick textured soup).

He prepares Goat Cheese Mousse like you may never have eaten before by supplementing the texture of beetroot and using walnuts which he blanches and then caramelizes, giving the crunchiness and the faint hint of sweetness in the salad.

Sarkar, who has completed WSET Level 2 Award in Wine and Spirit and a wine-course in Vinopolis in London, understands that drinking wine should be fun and one glass of wine should make you want to have another. He feels eating should also be fun. Finishing a dish should make you want more of the same. But of course, with the 6-course dinner he crafted for the Delhi Wine Club members, before you even finished describing a dish in superlatives, the next one was on the cards-each with a character of its own but with a distinct stamp of his style-with sweet, sour and crunch being well integrated so much that by the end of the dinner people would be busy analyzing the elements in all earnest.

There were emotional discussions on whether the Wellington with Indian kale and red wine jus was the most delicious Main dish or Wild mushroom Risotto with wild rice and porcini and the chicken dish could vie for the top honours. It was our chef member Tarsillo Nataloni who volunteered to be the judge by tasting and in fact devouring all three dishes. He was unsure enough to order an extra portion of Beef before declaring that the Risotto was very deftly made, followed by chicken and then the beef which was truly delectable. He was not happy with the presentation of the chicken which simply had a sprig of kale on the side and looked bland. He approved it with flying colours when he was given the same dish on a bed of mashed potatoes.

Sarkar likes to cook longer at slower temperature to bring out the best flavours. He can give different textures to soups by changing the ingredients. He believes viscosity is very important for desserts. The list he can churn out of his thinking caps is rather long but no more need be said about Chef Sarkar’s cooking prowess and his thinking out-of-the-box for now.

But proof of pudding is in the eating, they say - in this case Tiramisu is the pudding. Nataloni forgot all about the dishes in the Mains and declared that this was the best Tiramisu he’d ever had. The unabashed praise from an Italian Chef who is not shy of being a vocal but unbiased critic at any dinner, says it all about the cooking of Chef Sujan Sarkar who says that as an assignment he would be designing a few more innovative dishes at the Olive Bar and Kitchen at Mehrauli where the cuisine is supposed to be a notch or two higher and more complex than at the Beach where the Menu would be more classic and straightforward.

Click For Large ViewChef Sarkar does not like to repeat ingredients in his dishes. ‘We must not use the same herbs or spices in sauces in a multiple-course meal. If we use thyme in many dishes, for instance, the flavours of other herbs are lost.’ It is then that I realized that the Menu he had prepared for the dinner had no repeats and very little duplication of any herbs in the 6-course meal.

The chef dons his thinking cap again when he talks about Indian cooking. He believes not enough has been done in taking the Indian cuisine to another level and we have to think out-of-the-box. Taking the cue from his successful trial in London where he innovated for a wine dinner with Indian cuisine, he plans to come up with a special combination that he feels would be quite revolutionary and revealing about his skills. He assured me that soon he would be ready with a demo in the glass house.

We shall await that meal from the new rocking and rolling star at the Olive –and a few meals in between and have fun eating them-with wine.

Subhash Arora

Tags: Olive, Olive Beach Restaurant, Sujan Sarkar


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