Passionate in Marketing in conversation with Chef Ishijyot Surri.

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Chef Ishijyot Surri.
Chef Ishijyot Surri.

Brief profile of Chef Ishijyot Surri

Chef Ishijyot Surri stands as a beacon in the global culinary arena, he has been formally trained in the culinary field at the Taj IHM-A institute with an affiliation to the prestigious University of Huddersfield, UK. His accolades, such as the ‘Young Chef of the Year’ and ‘Best Chef Led Restaurant’, are a testament to his relentless pursuit of culinary perfection. Ishijyot’s entrepreneurial flair led to the inception of three distinct culinary hubs under the banner of the SJI Hospitality group: Mulk, reflecting old world North Indian charm; and Pachinco, a haven for Italian diner and coffee enthusiasts alike. Yet, it was his venture, Miniya Turk, inspired by his trip to Turkey, that truly showcased his unwavering commitment to pushing culinary boundaries. In our exciting conversation we shall explore Chef Surri’s life, philosophy, challenges and much more.

Can you tell us about your culinary background and experience? What inspired you to become a chef?

Since I was young, my family has operated a boarding and lodging facility with great enthusiasm. This inspired me to get into cooking, as my grandfather believed that as long as you work with your own hands and have knowledge of the subject, people will not treat you like a child or deceive you. I discovered my strong passion for food and enjoyed trying all kinds of dishes. As I grew older, my interest in food and its vastness and creativity increased. I decided to pursue a career as a chef because I learned from my elders that management is a skill that can be taught by a business, but being a chef requires a love for the art and science of food and a desire to explore. I read about and observed food more closely, and I admired Chef Ananda Solomon, who was an expert in his field, just like my grandfather had described. I enrolled in IHM Aurangabad to study culinary arts, which is affiliated with UK Huddersfield. I was fortunate to train at Taj President Mumbai under the guidance of Chef Ananda, my role model. Working with him heightened my passion for my work, and I strive to handle situations the way he would.

What is your cooking philosophy or style, and how does it influence your approach to creating dishes?

My food philosophy is to ensure that a person enjoys their dining experience in three stages: anticipating, experiencing, and remembering. If I can achieve these three goals with my guests, then I consider myself a successful chef. I make sure that everything on the plate is edible and complements the main dish, rather than just being decoration. I strive to create dishes that blend the flavors and ingredients of traditional Indian and Mediterranean cuisines, with a modern twist. You can experiment with cross-cultural ingredients and techniques to achieve this fusion. For example, you could make a modern Indian-inspired curry using Mediterranean vegetables and olive oil, or incorporate Indian spices into grilled fish from the Mediterranean. The key is to balance and enhance the flavors while retaining the essence of both cuisines in your creations.

Could you share an example of a challenging culinary situation you’ve faced in your career and how you overcame it?

I faced a difficult situation at the restaurant when a client wanted to meet the chef and had specific instructions about how his food should be prepared. Initially, I was excited to cater to a guest who seemed knowledgeable. However, when the dish was presented, the guest complained that it tasted like his house help cooked it, not like a restaurant meal. This shocked me because I thought I had followed his instructions. I asked him for more time to prepare a dish with my own twist. I made a fusion dish that was different from our usual style, but I thought the guest would like it. He appreciated my efforts and said it showed that our restaurant is chef-led, unlike others that stick to their recipes. This experience made me realize that our main goal is to serve the guest and make their experience memorable. It also reminded me of my father’s two rules: the guest is always right, and if the guest is wrong, refer back to rule number one. Following these rules helped me handle the situation successfully.

In the world of gastronomy, trends are constantly evolving. How do you stay updated and innovative in your culinary creations?

As a chef, I believe it’s important to keep learning and adapting in the cooking world. This means watching cooking shows, trying new types of dishes, being active on social media, attending food festivals, experimenting in the kitchen, getting feedback on my creations, and being open-minded. By following these methods of learning and keeping up with what’s happening, I constantly try new things to stay connected. It’s also important to stay true to my own style while keeping up with the changing culinary landscape, which boosts my confidence and drive for knowledge and growth.

What techniques or cooking methods do you excel at, and which ones do you continue to refine and improve upon?

Sautéing t requires precision, quick thinking, and finesse. I have become very skilled at sautéing and it is a key part of my cooking style. However, I believe there is always room to get better and be more creative in cooking. I am dedicated to improving my sautéing skills even more.

I have spent a lot of time at the stove, working hard to get better at sautéing. I am always striving to improve.

To improve my sautéing, here are my plans:

  1. I want to try new ingredients, including unique vegetables, meats, and spices, to broaden my sautéing skills.
  2. I am excited to learn from top chefs who are experts in sautéing. They can teach me more advanced techniques and tips.
  3. I also want to focus on presentation. Sautéing isn’t just about taste, it’s also about how the dish looks. I want to learn creative ways to make my sautéed meals visually appealing.

Sautéing is something I am really good at, but I am always working on getting better. I am committed to pushing the limits of what I can do with this technique, while still keeping the flavors and textures that make sautéing an art form.

Can you provide insight into your menu development process? How do you select ingredients and create balanced, unique dishes?

Developing a menu involves carefully choosing ingredients, flavors, and the overall dining experience. The menu development process involves defining the concept and theme, identifying the target audience, researching and seeking inspiration, selecting high-quality ingredients, achieving balance and variety, considering flavor profiles, focusing on presentation, utilizing seasonal ingredients, considering cost and pricing, testing and tasting, organizing the menu layout, promoting through marketing strategies, training staff, and maintaining flexibility. Seeking feedback and staying aware of culinary trends is important for a successful menu.

Food safety and hygiene are paramount in the culinary world. How do you ensure your kitchen and team adhere to the highest standards in this regard?

We try to follow  a few strict rules and methods in the  restaurant to maintain food safety and hygienic standards.

A few Key steps include training staff in safe food handling, maintaining personal hygiene, preventing cross-contamination, controlling temperatures, proper food storage practices, cleaning and sanitizing utensils and equipment, verifying suppliers, implementing a HACCP plan, conducting regular inspections, promoting open communication among staff, developing an emergency response plan, and documenting food safety protocols. We feel by  consistently following these steps, the restaurant can establish a strong culture of food safety and provide safe and high-quality food to customers.

As a chef, you’re often expected to handle high-pressure situations. How do you manage stress and maintain composure during busy service times?

Dealing with intense situations in a busy kitchen is a key part of a chef’s job. To handle stress and stay calm during busy times, I use a combination of preparation, organization, and mental techniques to stay ahead of the pressure. One way I do this is by preparing before service, knowing what ingredients we have available so I can quickly purchase anything we’re running low on. I also talk to my team to give them an idea of how many guests we’re expecting and how we’ll work together for a smooth service. Taking a moment to review orders helps ensure that nothing is forgotten. These are just a few ways I handle the challenges of a high-pressure kitchen. It’s an ongoing effort to manage stress, but with the right mindset and strategies, I can maintain composure and provide exceptional culinary experiences even during our busiest times.

What is your favorite dish to prepare, and why? Can you share the recipe or key elements that make it special?

My favorite dish to make and eat is tandoori chicken. It’s been a favourite since I was a child and I can eat it any time of the day. It has always been a part of my cooking journey from the very beginning. I even talked about it during my interview and when I was in training at the Taj, the chefs called me “tandoori chicken” because I ate it the most. When I started my own business, I even made tandoori chicken for my trial.

Here’s a simple recipe for tandoori chicken:

Ingredients:

– 8 pieces of chicken with bones

– 1 cup plain yogurt

– 3 tablespoons lemon juice

– 2 tablespoons ghee

– 2 tablespoons garam masala

– 1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste

– 1 teaspoon ground cumin

– 1 teaspoon ground coriander

– 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

– 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

– 1/4 teaspoon red chili powder

– 1 teaspoon red chili paste

– Salt to taste

Instructions:

  1. In a bowl, mix together yogurt, lemon juice, ghee, ginger-garlic paste, garam masala, cumin, coriander, turmeric, red chili powder, chili paste, pepper, and salt.
  2. Cut shallow slits in the chicken and coat it well with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  3. Preheat your grill or oven to about 400°F (200°C).
  4. Thread the chicken onto skewers or place them on a baking tray. If using skewers, soak them in water for 30 minutes to prevent burning.
  5. Cook the chicken in the oven for about 30-35 minutes, turning it occasionally and basting it with any leftover marinade.
  6. Check if the chicken is cooked through with no pink in the center and has a charred appearance.
  7. Serve the tandoori chicken hot, garnished with fresh coriander and lemon wedges, and accompanied by chutney.