Bindu Gopal Rao
Known for his penchant to deconstruct, innovate and keep the ethos of the taste intact, Hari Nayak’s creations are a delightful take on Indian food. He says it is important to keep the food simple and fuss free so that its flavours come to the fore.
A graduate from Manipal, Hari worked at the ITC hotels as a kitchen executive trainee before he joined the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he passed out with flying colours. He honed his skills working with world-renowned chefs like Daniel Bolud, Marcus Samuelson and Albert Adria. He later trained as a pastry chef and debuted by opening a patisserie at Princeton. Over the years, the Upudi born has come a long way. He runs several restaurants across the United States, Dubai and Bengaluru, and has authored six books.
“From my early memories of amazing food in Udupi to graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, my food journey has been exciting and beautiful. It has been almost 25 years as a professional chef and every day there has been something new to learn and experience,” says Hari.
He says food means happiness to him. “It evokes childhood memories of being with my grandma and spending many hours in the kitchen with her, soaking up on the smell, colours, sights and flavours. But more importantly, it always symbolises the coming together of people and celebrations. I am lucky to be in a profession that allows me to make people happy with my cooking.”
As an advocate of simple flavours, his advice to cook a great meal is simple: “Always cook with seasonal and local ingredients. Good ingredients cooked with a lot of love and care result in good dishes. Do not complicate recipes. Keep it simple, wholesome and soulful.”
Hari says there has never been a better time for Indian food than now. “Our cuisine is fast gaining popularity in the West. People are much more aware about our diverse cultures and cuisines,” says Hari, who admits chefs like him are working hard to change the typical perception that Indian food is greasy, always curry-based and focused on the stereotypical Punjabi dishes that are popular in the West.
Quiz him on his best meal and he admits that it is impossible to name one. “Some of my best food memories and experiences range from fine dining restaurants like French Laundry, Perse and Brooklyn Table to street stalls in Bangkok, Singapore and Mexico.”
Into the future
Looking ahead, he has two new restaurants in the pipeline — one focusing on coastal Indian cooking in Bangkok in October and an upscale Indian restaurant in New York in December. He is also working on a book on the cuisine of his hometown, Udupi. “Other than working on my restaurants and books, I wish to do some research on the regional cuisines of India. There is so much to explore and learn in India and I am looking forward to that. Apart from that I plan to be a better time manager and spend more time with family and friends. I feel I have missed out and having the right balance is important. Life is too short. I want to make the best of it with my close friends and family.”
From the chef’s table
Cherrywood smoked chicken kebab
Shahi jeera 5g
Chilli flakes 5g
Jeera powder 5g
Juice of 2 lemons
Garam masala 5g
Green chutney 30g
Yellow chilli powder 10g
Ginger-garlic paste 10g
Chicken (boneless) 200g
Marinate the chicken with ginger-garlic paste, lime juice and salt and leave overnight.
In a lagan (utensil), add oil, shahi jeera, garam masala, besan, jeera powder and yellow chillies. Powder and sauté till the besan loses its raw smell. Add the chilli flakes and the marinated chicken.
Smoke the mix with cherrywood and skewer the chicken and cook in the tandoor. For plating, place the chicken in a bowl, smoke with a smoking gun and serve.