Dharmen Makawana, Executive Chef of The Leela Palace Chennai, has travelled half the globe, working for prized hotel chains and serving up luxury cuisine to gastrocrats. He explains the nitty-gritties of luxury fine dining to Business Today -
Q. How do you see luxury cuisine evolving in India?
A. It is happening in pockets - in Mumbai and Delhi, now in Chennai. People are travelling and they are getting used to seeing certain things. Even in Chennai, we are cooking up caviar and truffles. People are ready to try even if they are not familiar with luxury ingredients and food.
Q. How would you define luxury cuisine? Is price the most important benchmark?
A. We see certain foods as luxury - caviars, truffles, saffron, Kobe beef. It is not easily available and expensive to get and sell. So luxury is something you don't get on a regular basis. Then, a combination of two items can be luxury - like a Foie Gras on the steak. But price is a benchmark, obviously.
Q. Is molecular gastronomy fizzling out? We hear conflicting opinion on this.
A. I carry all the products, all the molecular stuff. When the market requires a special dinner , certain elements are a nice add-on. They help in the overall look and flavour. Recently, the French ambassador was in town. He did private banqueting at The Leela. We had to impress him. We did a fantastic menu with all of these items. We did a Fusion Ravioli where the Mango balls looked like egg yolk and we made balls out of balsamic vinegar that looked like caviar. It is very effective and gives a punch line on the flavour.
Q. Do flying down Michelin-starred chefs work for restaurants in terms of increasing footfalls? Many hotels have tried this.
A. It may work for restaurants but it doesn't mean that rest of the chefs here are lesser chefs. Michelin-starred chefs do limited menus, they are rated on experience, not just on food. But there are certain set standards and quality that come with such a chef. What they do, they do very well. In India, menus are never small.