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The fiery return of Chef Vikas Milhoutra

After showing Italians in London how to make the perfect gnocchi, Chef Vikas Milhoutra, known for his Oriental fare, makes his Mumbai comeback

Isn't it something,” asks chef Vikas Milhoutra when our necks crane to take in the 65-feet high ceiling at Tiqri, and then a tree made of cut glass that disperses light in the day in as dramatic a fashion as the theatre lights do at night. No wonder then that Milhoutra finds “glamour” in the job (that's what called him to the profession, he says).

Pic/Shadab Khan
Pic/Shadab Khan

Tiqri is the all-day restaurant at Taj's latest property at Santacruz, an extension of the domestic airport. Milhoutra, whose last stint was at St James Court, London, started his career at Taj Mahal Palace & Towers at Colaba.

Back in Mumbai, again at the Taj, he will head three restaurants — Tiqri, the fine-dining Rivea and soon-to-launch China Inc.
“I enrolled at the Taj group-run Institute of Hotel Management in 1985 and started my career in 1990. It was tougher than I'd imaged. We had a start time but no leaving time. Sometimes, I would go into the cold storage just to get my bearings right. At the end of the shift, I would go to the bunker rooms and crash. It was a sort of army life we led,” says Milhoutra, who worked in banquets, before moving to Zodiac Grill under chef Hemant Oberoi and Golden Dragon where he worked under chefs Pius Lo, Hardy Cheung and Chef Shi-Xi -Lin.

Milhoutra remembers his first job fondly.

“Chinese chefs are peculiar. While some will go out of your way to train you, others will guard their recipes and techniques like treasures. Pious once told me, 'The tongue does not recognise chillies as a taste. It can only understand sweet, sour, bitter and salty. The chillies should hit you in the throat, only as an aftertaste'.”

“The thumb rule for succeeding is local produce. In London, ours was an Olympic hotel in 2012, and we hosted officials and sportspersons. The challenge was to get Italian and British chefs to accept an Indian boss. Imagine their reaction when I told them that their gnocchi was not right. But, I got my way around,” he smiles.

Here, Milhoutra introduced the Gold Afternoon Tea ceremony, which served the classic British tea-time service in gold-plated crockery, and added food elements of gold, sparkles, gold dust dust, varq, sheets and in the form of spray.

Back to base
On his return to the city, Milhoutra finds that the fine-dining space has changed. “When I left, there were only a few eateries including Khyber, Indigo, Yoko's and Kobe. Today, fine dining has become casual and has lost its frills.

“Apart from Mexican and Italian, at Tiqri, we will serve Mumbai delicacies like kheema pav, vada pav, bhakar vadi, komdi vadi, kala rasa mutton. I prefer to offer local food since that's what the travellers want to try,” he adds.

Rivea is a fine-dining restaurant, that will serve cuisine from the South France and West Italy.

“This broadens our canvas and we are taking seafood delicacies from Nice, Cannes and Lombardy. The Oriental restaurant, China INC, will have the lost recipes from Golden Dragon — honey's spare ribs, congi crispy lamb, onion cake — as well as
experimental interpretations of Chinese food. For example, we are doing a Chillian seabass, inspired by Japan's marinated black cod miso,” he signs off.

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