Hot Air Chat with Chef Ramaswamy Selvaraju, Vivanta by Taj, Bangalore

Today, on our list is a celebrity chef, who is genuine and gentle from inside. So much career decorations and fame around him, he still talks in an understated modesty.
He is the Executive Chef, Vivanta by Taj, Chef Ramasamy Selvaraju. He has been voted the Best Chef of the Year by the Ministry of Tourism. He has twice won the International Black Box Culinary Award Australia for pre-plated fine dining. He has also cooked for His Holiness Pope John Paul II, Kofi Annan, Bill Clinton and a host of international heads of state and celebrities. From common man to connoisseurs, this decorated chef has catered to all.

Chef Ramaswamy

1) Style of cooking.

Basically I prepare European dishes, apart from the Indian fare. I enjoy cooking Mediterranean and Italian food the most. “When you cook with passion, it ensures that nothing ever goes wrong with the dish,” he chips in.
He introduced the sous vide cooking in Graze for the first time in India, the latest concept in cooking where the quality, flavors and the nutrients are preserved by cooking in vacuum.

A normal day in Graze, one of the most feted European restaurants in Bangalore, starts with the chefs meeting wherein the agenda for the day is set and the respective teams work towards delivering superlative customer experiences. There is also lots of focus on keeping oneself updated with small projects and workshops and elaborate trials that leads to developing new menus and cuisine concepts Graze team, as the rest of the kitchen, is handpicked by the Chef and mentored personally.

2) How to KEEP CALM.

My folks tell me I motivate them well. Well, team works requires to take in pressure as much to fight back pressure. And I feel, being with my prized team, seldom a panic happens here in the kitchen. And you have to show passion in work. When others see the hard work and vigor you put in, they’re motivated to join you in the fight for excellence.
“I am particular about the ingredients I use. They have to be fresh, and match the requirements of the recipe exactly,” he says.

3) Inspiration getting into the profession.

He did a hotel management and catering course in Chennai. “I started my culinary journey about 25 years ago with the Taj Group itself. I graduated from the catering college in 1985 and started working with the hotel immediately after that,” Sevaraju says. He had interest in cooking when he was a youngster.
In fact, he meekly says, “I also prepare my mother’s recipe of fish curry at the hotel. I ensure that the masala is exactly the same and ground by hand,” he says.

4) Signature dish.

I specialize in European dishes. After all these years of experience, there are a few unique dishes I can call my own. One of it is Salmon with Martini Veloute, which I prepared as part of the Four Seasons Gourmet Indulgence program about one year back.

Salmon with Martini Veloute

It’s basically a Salmon dish prepared with Martini. The Richness of Salmon and crown pearls of Cavair is a perfect match with Four Season Chenin Blanc as the harmony extends the freshness and adds citrusy notes lemon and mandarin to the dish.

“I credit my ability to a German chef and a Lebanese chef with whom I trained in Oman. I picked up how to make stuffed vine leaves and fish with tomatoes and olives from them,” he says, adding, “Layout and presentation is the other important thing they taught me.”

5) Interesting or fun experience you’ve had.

“I cherish the memory of Amitabh Bachchanji saying ‘Badhiya’ (excellent) and Clinton telling me that he loved the steak,” happily says the chef, who prepared daal and bhindi sabzi for Bachchan and Rib eye steak, smoked yogurt and Watalappam (a coconut custard pudding made of coconut milk, jaggery, cashewnuts, eggs, and various spices), amongst other dishes for Clinton. He has also flexed his culinary muscles for Pope John Paul II and Kofi Annan.

6) Cuisine you would love to experiment with.

Indian cuisine. It is vast and has lots of combinations in spices and ingredients. The best food is undoubtedly Mother’s cooked food, I try to keep the basic dish same with twisting little on flavors and aromas sometimes.
Then he hits back, “… but as far as my Mother’s favorite dishes are concerned, I don’t change them a dime.” Of course, homemade food is always tasty and healthy.

7) Someone who inspired you at the start. And your best food critic.

My mother inspired me to start cooking. Not that I haven’t faced challenges, things were little tough then. But seeing her cook so good within limited resources, I was determined to learn preparing delicious food.
It’s been a long and rewarding career, so there have been many a top critics and celebrities for whom I have prepared dishes. But at the end, my best food critic will always be the visitor, who sees, smells and tastes the food.
Many people don’t know the indepths of cooking, how much time and effort goes into it, but still their smile and praise enlivens the whole kitchen.

vivanta by taj food

8) Favorite places to eat.

Nowadays I don’t get much time to go out. I spend the weekends with my family. When you’re responsible for a big property as this and at the same time love your job, you don’t have to go out often to refresh yourself.

9) Initial food tasters.

I started cooking when I was young. I sometimes made my family taste the recipes. When I used to visit her in the vacations, she used to say, “Why do you need to study to do cooking?” But she was the one who’d taste most of my experimental dishes in the beginning.

When asked about what the acclaimed chef does on spare time, he answered that he enjoys cooking on weekends for his kids. “Sometimes, they demand Italian and on other days, I make Oriental dishes for them.” At times, when he’s not immersed in work at Vivanta by Taj, he derives as much satisfaction for his soul by serving orphans, the underprivileged and doing charity dinners for the AIDS affected. What a gem of a man!

And whose cooking does the culinary star enjoy himself?
“My wife’s,” and he smiles. Well, chefs are husbands, too! And that’s a great moment!

10) Advice you’d give to budding chefs.

Believe in your passion and work for it. Your passion and enthusiasm for work should be so much so that even others would be interested and fueled to join you.
Rest, practice makes a man perfect. Even to make a roti round takes some years of practice. Of course, no excellence is acquired without emphasis on quality. Don’t think overnight you’ll become a celebrity chef. You’ve to work your way up there.

After a healthy round of talks, we sign off. We definitely hope to enjoy a selection of dishes prepared by him someday.

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