Stuart Forster interviews chef Vijay Bakshi from India.
Vijay Bakshi is an Indian chef with experience of working in top hotels. While working in New Delhi, he was a judge in the preliminary rounds of Master Chef India.
I first met Vijay in Bangalore, while learning Indian cooking techniques. We arranged a ten-week cookery course, invited ex-pats to participate and became friends.
Vijay is known within India for cooking European-style cuisine. He’s a versatile chef and enjoys cooking dishes from around the Subcontinent. He’s worked on the Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise ship, at the Taj Residency and Royal Orchid Central hotels in Bangalore.
Learning cooking from mother
“It was always been inspiring to watch my mother cooking in the kitchen. Learning homemade recipes and tips to keep in mind helped make cooking an interesting part of my life,” says Vijay. He has been cooking since the age of 12.
“I come from a family of foodies. My great-grandfather, grandfather and also my father rave about good food. I was born into a vegetarian family and there were always 101 vegetables cooked to different preparations, from simple curries, stuffed kormas, ground into smooth chutneys, sun-dried and pickled or even frittered,” says Vijay, who comes from the small town of Rourkela in Odisha and speaks eight languages.
Cooking on the QE2
“There are a number of chefs I look up to for their creativity and how they go about their work. I attribute my success to the Austrian chef Josef Jungwrith who was confident about my performance and kept on motivating me. In my three years of association with him in the kitchen of the QE2 I learnt a lot. I could see in him the hunger and desire to perfect and innovate recipes. He was my gateway to European cuisine.”
“My signature dish is garlic and cabbage omelette cooked in olive oil. Garlic and olive oil keep cholesterol at bay and the cabbage adds fibre. Yes, it’s a rare combination, but it’s very flavoursome and healthy,” he says.
Vijay thinks the most enjoyable place he’s worked was on the QE2 cruise liner, where he worked in the Queen’s and Princess Grill plus the Britannia and Caronia restaurants. “I worked with a wide range of nationalities, went round the globe three times and managed to visit 58 countries. This was my first international exposure. I was excited to see so many types of ingredients, to learn advanced cooking methods and also the latest presentation skills.
Preparing French cuisine
While I was on the QE2 a British guest summoned me into the restaurant, as he wanted to compliment me for the Yorkshire puddings that I had made. I’ll always remember that he said, ‘being an Indian you have left all the Brits far behind!’ That’s one of the most unusual and memorable comments I’ve ever been given,” says Vijay.
“My long-term dream is to run my own culinary school and fine-dining restaurant. The menu would consist of my signature dishes. I’d like to provide a great learning experience to my students and provide a delightful experience to all our guests,” says the chef when I ask him what he’d like to do in the future.
“If I could work anywhere in the world then it would be France. French cooking is the mother of all cuisines. The culinary trends and the eating habits in France are inspirational. The use of ingredients and their cooking methods are very special.”
Vijay was certified as a trainer by the Accor Academy in France and worked as the executive chef for Accor hotels throughout India before becoming the group’s regional food and beverage manager.
Vijay’s favourite Indian cuisines
When I ask which style of Indian food he likes most, Vijay has no hesitation in answering: “Hyderabadi cuisine, there’s an art and real skill attached to Hyderabadi cooking. It relates to the eating style and royal kitchens of the Moghuls and ancient maharajahs. The kebabs and biryanis they used to make were innovative. It takes a lot of attention to detail for anyone to master Hyderabadi cooking.”
He’s keen to point out that, despite its fiery reputation, good Indian food is not always spicy and varies markedly from region to region. Taste, in his view, comes from choosing the right balance of flavours and cooking methods.
“The best Indian food is found in homes and made with simple ingredients,” he says with conviction. “One needs to understand the chemistry between ginger, garlic, turmeric and chilli. They are used extensively. The tempering or ‘chaunk’ is the final finish on most dishes.”
I persuaded Vijay to share one of his favourite recipes, a Malai-style prawn curry, which he recommends you try making at home. Here’s his prawn malai curry recipe, a dish also known as chingri malai:
Chef Vijay’s Chingri Malai Recipe
To cook Chef Vijay’s Chingri Malai curry you’ll need the following ingredients:
- 400g prawns
- 3 tablespoons of mustard oil
- 2 tablespoons of ghee
- 2 tablespoons of ginger paste
- 1 tablespoon of cumin paste
- ½ tablespoon of whole cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon of chilli powder
- A teaspoon of turmeric powder
- 1 teaspoon of garam masala
- 2 slit green chillies
- 1 ¼ cups of coconut milk
- Salt and lime to taste
Method of cooking prawn malai curry
- Boil water and cook the prawns for two minutes with a twist of lime and a dash of salt and turmeric. Put to one side.
- Heat the mustard oil in a frying pan and add the whole cumin until it crackles, then add the ginger plus the cumin, chilli and turmeric powders and stir to ensure the ginger cooks.
- Add the prawns and slit chillies.
- Pour in the coconut milk and season.
- Sprinkle garam masala and ghee on top.
- Serve hot with steamed rice.
If you want to get in touch with Vijay, drop him a line via email at [email protected].
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A version of this blog post was initially published on 8 October 2014.