Cooking Is More Skill-Based, You’ve to Keep Honing It - Chef Sujan Sarkar

One of the highlights of my journey as a chef is the confluence of my past and present – how far I have been able to come as a chef to push the boundaries of this cuisine, while the inspiration emanates from my younger days.

1. Tell us about your background and journey.

I hail from a suburb of Kolkata, and my childhood was deeply influenced by natural respect for farming and nature. I grew up eating a variety of Bengali food at home and my exposure to food from Odisha during my college days helped develop a better understanding about simple ingredient-driven cuisine which is highly seasonal, many of which are still etched in my memory.

After I graduated from culinary school I started as a cook at JW Marriott Hotel, Juhu and from there I moved to London in 2004 and started working at Michelin star Galvin at Windows at Hilton London Hotel. Things got exciting when I got my first Head Chef job at Automat and then Almada in Mayfair, which use to be a celebrity hotspot.

After spending a decade in the UK and different parts of Europe, working with top chefs and culinary minds I returned back to India and joined as Executive Chef of the renowned Olive Bar & Kitchen. Before I crossed the Atlantic I curated and launched TRESIND in Dubai and opened India’s first Artisanal cocktail bar called Ek Bar in Delhi.

My first restaurant in the US: ROOH opened in early 2017 in San Francisco and soon after gained its popularity on the west coast, followed by Indian gastro bar called BAAR BAAR in New York. Since then, I have opened ROOH in New Delhi, Chicago, Columbus and, most recently, Palo Alto.

One of the highlights of my journey as a chef is the confluence of my past and present – how far I have been able to come as a chef to push the boundaries of this cuisine, while the inspiration emanates from my younger days.

2. What led you to take up this career path?

I was super passionate about taking up design as a career, which I felt was my calling. Growing up in a Bengali household, my upbringing was inextricably linked with food, culture and art. Eventually, my connect with the kitchen drew me to a career in food as a chef.

3. What does your typical day look like?

It can vary depending on which city I’m in, more recently travel has become less hectic for obvious reasons. The routine before and after COVID has changed. Before I wasn’t as much of an early riser, now I am; our team starts operations earlier than usual to cook for our community kitchen initiative that provides charity meals to vulnerable groups in the pandemic.

Before I reach the restaurant, I usually get a breakfast pancake or bagel to go for the team, the Little Goat Diner is a favourite. I’m in the kitchen with my team, we’re tackling multiple projects at once – from recipe creation to experiential tweaks.

After a hectic and fulfilling evening service, I do a catch-up call with all our restaurants in different locations to get a consolidated update on each. I typically finish late and I’m definitely one of those people that ends the day with some Netflix!

4. Does one's approach change when cooking professionally and at home?

At home, we try to cook more organic stuff, there is a lot more attention to the kind of groceries we buy. The cooking process is always simple and not so recipe-driven, but more mood-driven.

Professionally we show great attention to detail from produce to final presentation, which is based on our menu and philosophy. We follow a much more disciplinary protocol, there is a structured approach to it, but both the cases its love of cooking which is common.

5. Is there a dish you particularly associate yourself with?

Textures of Yogurt Chat (Tasting menu at Rooh, New Delhi). This dish is a perfect combination of flavour, texture and nostalgia. Simple street food elevated to the level of fine dining. The guiding philosophy for building this dish is evolving and contemporary understanding of the diversity, the complexity that encompasses foods from India.

Concepts that enhance the understanding of ingredients, techniques, flavours that many regional cuisines showcase are exciting. It’s time to put Indian cuisine on the global map in these new forms.

6. Can cooking be learnt at culinary schools or natural talent is required?

Culinary school is important to understand theoretical knowledge and protocols, the way of doing things, the technique, which is critical. But ultimately cooking is more skill-based, you’ve to keep honing it.

In my view, skills should be rated higher than knowledge. Skills will be backed by knowledge, but not the other way around. So both are important, but one definitely gives you more of an edge than the other.

7. Which is your favourite book and why?

Modernist Cuisine: it is a 5-series cookbook (by Maxime Bilet, Nathan Myhrvold and Chris Young). It’s a journal and encyclopedia.

In-depth info about not just cooking or recipes, but the science behind it, different aspects of it (even styling and photography). It’s an eye-opener. A complete journal for any modern chef exploring their own style. Vol 2 is out already, so the book evolves too.

Interview By - Shruti Kaval

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