Actor Svar Kamble in the kitchen
Jon Favreau's 2014 film Chef was a visual delight for food lovers. Now, with its official Indian remake (also named Chef) set to release on October 6, expectations are high for two reasons: for actor Saif Ali Khan, who learnt to cook for the film, and the food itself. Khan, who plays the lead, Chandan Roy Sanyal, his sous chef and child actor Svar Kamble got cooking lessons at a city five-star kitchen. It was Thiruvananthapuram-based chef, food consultant and stylist Sandhya Kumar's responsibility to prepare and style every meal, from banana chips to idiyappam that is featured in the film.
Idiyappam with Egg Roast and other Kerala dishes will be seen in the film
How did a chef with no Bollywood connection land a Khan flick? "It goes back to 2008, when I worked at Four Seasons in Worli. Anuradha Shetty [production designer, and director Raja Krishna Menon's wife] was a frequent guest at the restaurant and she was keen to know how things functioned. I was an intern just out of college and was put on that duty. For eight years after that, we were never in touch. But it was she who recommended my name for the film. When I got the call from the team, I thought it was a prank!" shares Kumar.
Svar Kamble and Saif Ali Khan in a still from the film
Menon wanted authentic Kerala cuisine for the film, hence Kumar was their choice. The movie traces Khan's road trip in his food truck from Kochi to Amritsar, and unlike the original, the Indian adaptation is more about the father-son bond than the food. However, Kumar tells us that Menon took utmost care about the portrayal of the food and had given strict instructions that all food should be fresh and real, down to the exact colour. "Menon wanted the emotions of the lead actors to manifest through the food. We haven't used any artificial colour. Each dish was made from scratch and remade several times till we got the shot right - even the burn dots on the roti had to be uniform," says the 29-year-old chef.
Sandhya Kumar with Kamble
All the cooking was done at makeshift kitchens across the sets. "I would be up before 5 am every day to start the prep. This was a first for me, so during the initial days, I had no idea how a film set works. But within a week, I was calling the shots in terms of the right camera angles for each dish," says Kumar, adding, "Saif would arrive on set early. Svar was the most enthusiastic; he would constantly come to the kitchen to cook with us. We would get really scared when he used the knives. But he loves cooking, and how!" shares Kumar. Sourcing equipment while in Kochi and on road was a challenge for Kumar. "I requested our equipment dealer to place his hand on the large tavas and send photos so I could get an idea about the sizes before purchase. He did the same with refrigerators too, instead of telling me its capacity in litres," laughs Kumar.
While Favreau prepared cubanos on his truck in the original film, Khan's truck speciality will be the Rotzza, a combination of rotis and pizza. "We must have easily made 50 to 80 Rotzzas for each shot, and in total around 5,000 for the whole film. There was food for the whole crew by the end of some shots," she tells us. Since the truck journeys via Goa and Delhi, in addition to Kerala dishes such as Kerala Fish Curry, Idiyappams, Ela Ada, Avial, Kappa and Kozhukatta, you will also see famous chaat dishes such as Kachori Chat from Chandni Chowk, Goan Prawn Curry and Rawa Fried Fish, and traditional dhaba food from Amritsar.
Was Kumar star struck, we ask. "Saif was very warm. And I have served other stars before when in Mumbai," recalls Kumar. "Once on a rather slow afternoon, Hugh Jackman and his wife had walked into our restaurant, and he watched and cheered for Australia during the India-Australia match that was being played out in the city."
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