Mumbai, Delhi get set to cook off

Mar 31, 2013, 09:03 IST | Phorum Dalal

Rohini Dey, owner of Indian-Latin cuisine restaurant, Vermilion, in New York and Chicago, speaks to Phorum Dalal over email about Indian-Latin cuisine, an upcoming cook-off in Mumbai and Delhi and making space for the winners in her restaurant

If you are an executive chef or a sous chef, put on your cooking hat, knot the apron around your waist and be prepared to show off your culinary talent at a cook-off competition to be held in Mumbai on April 23 and Delhi on April 30. The contest is the brainchild of Rohini Dey, owner of Vermilion restaurant in New York and Chicago.

Ten contestants will be finalised in each city from the registrations received online on the basis of their resumes and recipes. The contestants will then be judged live on the Indian -Latin dishes they prepare. Twenty most deserving candidates will be chosen to join the Vermilion with a paid internship for three years. The judges include Sharmila Tagore, Shabana Azmi, Vikas Khanna, Nikhil Chib, Anoothi Vishal, Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal and Marryam Reshii.

Lobster Portuguese served at Rohini Dey’s (above) Indian-Latin restaurant Vermilion

Excerpts from an interview:
What is the aim of the competition?
The focus is to identify chefs and restaurateurs and help them build leadership and culinary skills through internships and mentorship opportunities. Through these cook-offs, I look forward to unearthing amazing culinary talent in India— both aspiring and veteran. I did not study culinary but I am passionate about our food and wanted to represent our cuisine in a new light

From being a banker holding a PhD in management science from the University of Dallas, what made you become a restaurateur?
After a PhD and working at the World Bank and McKinsey, I switched to the world of restaurants out of a passion to take our cuisine to the world. Ten years ago in the US, it was incredibly difficult to find Indian restaurants that broke away from cliches and stereotypes. As an avid foodie, this perplexed and inspired me.

What does your food take inspiration from?
My food is inspired by the Indian- Latin concept and my travels around Latin America and Spain. It has strong influences of the Persians, Moors, Spanish, Portuguese, and waves of direct migration. Vermilion overtly celebrates the vibrant flavours of Indian and Latin cuisines, steering clear of both Indian dining stereotypes and the French overhang. The concept draws from the tropical and geographical overlap of ingredients, herbs and spices across India, Spain and Latin America—such as coconut, tamarind, mango, papaya, beans, rice, guava, cilantro, lime, corn, rice, beans, chickpeas and saffron.

Where does Indian cuisine stand on the global front?
Much needs to be done to get Indian cuisine to the level of international success as French, Italian or even Japanese fare. Currently Korean and Vietnamese are all the rage in the US, and Chinese and Thai are considered mainstream, but Indian cuisine is still very much on the fringe. The world is increasingly open to bolder flavours and experimentation, the timing couldn’t be better, and these are steps in the right direction.

Do you qualify?
To compete, one must have led restaurants of calibre for at least three years at least as a sous chef; have an educational background in culinary science (Bachelor’s or higher); demonstrated innovation and accomplishment in their experience; and boast of substantive kitchen management skills.
To register, contestants need to submit three items — their resume, a brief essay on what this opportunity means to them, and their Indian-Latin recipe on by April 10. The ten finalists for each cook-off in Delhi and Mumbai will be announced on April 15.

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