It was Mark Taylor, famous food writer and editor, Bristol, who had said once, “I called into Chef Rounak two times, and it was like having two beautiful, entirely different experiences.”
It was an honor conversing with the one and only, Rounak Kinger, Chef de Cuisine, Shangri-La Hotel, Bangalore. He talks to us about his passion in food and travel.
“My cooking styles are very authentic with stylish twists. It is very important to retain the flavor of the cuisine by using the best quality seasonal produce. I always try to use slow cooking methods like confit, sous-vide or slow braising. I respect all the cuisines for the varied cooking techniques and ingredients; my inspiration for cooking is essence of many cuisines; Japanese cuisine for its respect for ingredients, European cuisine for its modern techniques, Indian cuisine for its varied spices, Arabic cuisine for its richness and Chinese cuisine for its simplicity,” he says, with elan.
How do you keep a restaurant running in chaotic situations? How do you calm everyone around you?
“For a restaurant to operate smoothly, it is very important to have the kitchen organized. Every chef in the kitchen must be aware of their duties and responsibilities during the operations. Maintaining highest standards in the kitchen and remaining focused on the job is very important.
For keeping the kitchen calm, The Chef of the kitchen himself should be calm first. In times of high volume, everyone in the kitchen must be motivated and supported. Hard work and persistence is the key to tackle tough situations in the kitchen.”
Looking at his energetic replies, we shoot on the next question. “How long have you been cooking professionally? How did you start?”
“It’s being more than 8 years of cooking including 3 pre-openings of hotels, cooking for diplomats and head of states. I graduated from Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai and was picked up by Taj group of hotels as kitchen management trainee; started my career with Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, Mumbai.” It (this hotel) will always hold a good place in his heart, he says.
What is your signature dish?
“Wild Mushroom Risotto – Chanterelle, porcini, arugula pesto and parmeggiano reggiano.”
Then we ask a question many chefs avoid to answer! “Is there one secret ingredient or spice you love to cook with?”
“Star Anise,” he strikes back with ease. “It is the most versatile spice used in multicuisines. Cooking with spices is the most technical aspect of cooking. Many factors like freshness, permutations & combinations, quantities and behavioral qualities of each spices makes great difference to the taste of food.”
Then he chuckles, and says that any chef must be prepared to craft a beautiful, aromatic cuisine from literally anything!
We ask him about any memorable experience(s) he had in his career. “There are a lot, he says!”
“Cooking during festivities is the most interesting times. During festive season, varieties of menus are planned across all the restaurants. A lot of varied buffet setups are the point of attractions. Another interesting times are when you have to cook for dignitaries or head of the states, he says, makes him feel proud about his job.”
One cuisine you would love to experiment with?
“Indian cuisine is one of the cuisines which is now spreading its feathers to great heights. Indian food is no more about butter chicken or tikka masala, its way beyond that. 28 states have 28 different cuisines, so there’s much to discover and reinvent. Reinventing Indian food is one of the most exciting things I have worked upon. I always enjoy twisting and surprising my diners with exciting Indian food.”
“Everybody has a role model to look up to, so who’s that person for you?” we ask him. “Also, is there a food critic you’ve always feared?”
He laughs uncontrollably at first. Then, picking up his stance, he says, “Chef Marco Pierre White, the famous British Chef who is renowned for his fine cuisine and ferocious management style. He is known for working for some great chefs and in turn have trained few of the great chefs in return.
My best food critic has always been my diners who always have something to teach me even if they appreciate the food.”
Who did you experiment your initial recipes on?
“My parents and brother. They have always been on the chopping block to taste my food and provide honest feedback. Professionally every person must develop a habit to taste their own food first before serving it to others.”
Then we ask him, “Do you enjoy being in any place other than the kitchen?”
“Apart from cooking, I love going out. Beaches are always fun. I love sun bathing, water sports and dining by the beach restaurants,” he shoots back.
Then we ask him a last customary question, before he gets ready to prepare another wonder-dish. “Any advice you would give to budding chefs?”
“It’s necessary to learn the basics right and practice cooking and strive towards perfection. Never leave the pan (and stove). Keep working towards creating exciting food and experiences.”