What did you want to be when you grew up? I wanted to be a pilot. Although I grew up near an airport in Bombay, I took my first domestic flight at 21. What a joy it was! I moved to London because of Heathrow airport, so I could see the planes. I used to live under the flight path of the Concorde. I was part of the British Airways Taste Team for almost a decade, advising on Concorde, First Class and Business Class meals. On the last flight of the Concorde, they served my chocolate dessert.

Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia
Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia

How often do you travel for business? I’m a constant traveller — it’s something of a trademark now. It begins in London and goes on to everywhere. My restaurants in Mauritius and Mumbai get three or four visits a year, I’m in Geneva every six weeks and I use Dubai as a transit hub every four or five weeks to go to Bahrain, Doha or Saudi Arabia. In addition, I consult on Qatar Airways’ meals for First and Business Class long-haul flights and am revamping the YU Lounge luxury private terminal menu at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam International Airport in Mauritius. I’ve just launched a new concept at Amari by Vineet at LUX* Belle Mare, on the east coast of the island — it’s a tasting menu paired with specially crafted gin and tonics from the resort’s IM-A-GIN bar.

Did you ever imagine becoming such an esteemed chef? I never felt that I had a natural aptitude for cooking. My mother was an excellent cook with a fantastic imagination, but despite her early efforts to school me, I never felt that I had a knack for it. In fact, my first few attempts at cooking on my own were downright failures.

What is the secret of your happy married life? My wife and business partner, Rashima, says it’s because I’m never at home. When I’m working at Vineet Bhatia London, which we relaunched with a tasting menu only after an extensive renovation in September last year, it’s a 16-hour day.

The key to a tasting menu? It has to be like a musical note. If we serve six courses to you, one after the other, they shouldn’t be boring! In short, you’re after a symphony of matching flavours, complementary colours and tantalising textures. When you bite into something crispy, it crackles — so it gets your ears going…makes you salivate. All your senses should be activated when you eat. There’s more to Indian cuisine than rice and curry. Our menus give everyone the magic of the spices — our food is aromatic for the sake of flavour. It’s not chilli hot unless it’s by request.

How do you stay connected? When I’m travelling I’ve got WhatsApp, Tango (the Middle Eastern equivalent) and Skype. And the airlines have got in-flight wi-fi so communication is instantaneous. Technology has been a huge asset for travellers who need to keep in touch, not just with their families but also their teams, globally. And then there’s social media for everybody else — I had fun taking over the Twitter page of The Oberoi Mumbai recently and documenting my day at work.

What about downtime? Vacations boil down to the schedule. My diary is generally booked up 12 months ahead, but we try to plan at least one trip a year somewhere totally different. Our family took a break in Jordan over New Year.

What have been some of your more interesting finds, food-wise? In Venezuela I saw black-coloured corn for the first time. I thought it was artificially dyed, but they said that’s the natural colour. That was an eye-opener. This is a very important aspect to travel...it opens up your thought process.

Which has been your favourite holiday destination to date? Japan. As a chef, I enjoyed visiting the markets and seeing things so symmetrically arranged. All the carrots, beans and peas are the same size, yet they are not genetically grown. The quality is A grade, not just in the big cities but also the smaller villages.

What is your favourite food? The cuisine I love most after mine is Japanese. We combine the flavour and pungency of wasabi with mustard seed, for example, and infuse it with tandoori prawns. I have made a dressing out of the Japanese lemon, called the yuzu, soya sauce and tamarind chutney to go with idli, a steamed rice dumpling from south India. The Japanese use matcha green tea to make cheesecake, or pancakes, or crepes — so we tried blending chai, an Indian tea, into certain desserts in Bombay because I know it works quite well. It has to be subtle, not in your face.

What about dessert? When I opened Rasoi by Vineet at the Mandarin Oriental in Geneva, I had the pleasure of teaching a pastry chef the art of spices and how to incorporate flavours. First we had very simple menus — a little panna cotta or a cheesecake — then we started experimenting with the French technique, the spices, and a neutral base of milk or plain flour. The tricky part is trying to make a typically sweet Indian dessert lighter in fat and sugar content. Our desserts sell very well at all the restaurants, actually, but especially in Geneva. Everyone wants three courses because the food is light, clean and flavourful. In fact we published our dessert cookbook, My Sweet Kitchen, late last year, which will soon be available for online sale. It won Best Book in the national CHEF category in the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards and will be up for the global award as a result.

How do you handle special dietary requirements? If guests specify that they’re lactose intolerant or vegan or don’t want any spices in their food at all, the restaurants cater accordingly. In the Middle East, we try to incorporate jaggery, brown sugar and molasses with the date syrup and honey influences from Morocco, Iran, Iraq and Syria so our desserts can be diabetic friendly.

What has travel taught you? No matter where you go, it’s all about people, culture, respect, and good-quality fresh product cooked with passion, love and care.

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