With her extremely capable, inventive and passionate stint in leading hotel chains, Chef Neha Lakhani brings fresh and innovative culinary skills to the art of baking inspired by classic training and world travels. After a bachelor’s degree in Finance, Chef Neha was drawn to bakery and patisserie and pursued Pastry Diploma at Le Cordon Bleu Ottawa under Chef Christian Faure and Chef Herve Chabert. She holds a strong background in Fine Dining Restaurants, banquet operations, food production management and guest relations. Under Chef Heinrich Stubbe at Stubbes Chocolates, Neha learnt to craft a wide range of chocolates, truffles, alcohol truffles, chocolate show pieces and delectable cakes. Chef Neha honed her skills in planning customized fine desserts with fresh and high quality ingredients in the pastry kitchen of ITC Maurya Sheraton, New Delhi. Chef Neha has also trained with Chef Fredrick Monti, Stephane Treand, Stephane Glacier, Jean Francois Arnaud, Peter Yeun, Martin Lipo, Sebastian Chavilliar, Roland Delmonte at Asia Pastry Forum, Malaysia.
An innovator and baker par excellence, Neha’s desserts and bakes have a distinctive French influence. Chef Neha Lakhani designs every dish to capture a delicious and exciting range of flavours, textures and aromas, and she firmly believes that any dish is incomplete without the study of its core ingredients. This is a fundamental aspect of her culinary excellence that has taken her to conduct workshops and demos extensively all over the country. Neha is also invited regularly to judge contests and cook-offs globally. Herself an award-winner at CAI (Ahaar 2016 – where she won the Silver Medal), Neha has been a prominent judge at the Asia Food Festival as well. Chef Neha specializes in Cupcakes, Tea-time/ Fruit/ Dry cakes, Cookies, Breads and Cake making and decorations, working with chocolate, mousse, tarts and soufflés, plated desserts. Neha won two bronze medals at the recently held SICA (South India Culinary Association) Competition in Chennai in the Petit Four Category and Plated Dessert Category. She has been a Faculty /Trainer Chef for bakery at Le Cordon Bleu at GD Goenka School of Hospitality. Neha is a member of the Indian Culinary Forum, the Penang Chefs Association, Saudi Arabian Chef’s Table Circle and also Indian Federation of Chefs Association (IFCA).
Chef Neha is consulting at Lavaash Deli, a restaurant that has Armenian influences. One can catch a glimpse of her life and her love for food through her social media platforms and Youtube channel where she loves to showcase her classic creations and the magic that she makes at her Patisserie Royale. In addition, she explores the writer in her by chronicling her culinary experiences for NDTV as one of their expert on-panel chefs. She is also a consultant with Aaj Tak, and makes recipe videos with them regularly. Her YouTube Channel is also very popular. A few excerpts from our meeting with her as we chatted with her over a few delectable treats at Lavash Deli.
Sudipto De: What drives you to be in this industry?
Neha Lakhani: The best part about being in the culinary industry for me is that it doesn’t feel like a job, even though it is one – as scientific and artistic as it is emotional. My job is my life. I can spend crazy number of hours as I love what I do. The best part about being a pastry chef is you’re the master of your creation. A dish can be as good as your imagination be unique and creativity knows no limits. I love the fact that there is so much new that is possible every single day!
SD: Where do you draw you inspiration from?
NL: My inspiration comes from many places. Firstly my father who began from scratch has always taught me no work is small. He would always say that if we have to rise we have to struggle and make our own way and we shouldn’t fear hard work and hardships.
My inspiration also come from a lot of those women who are multi-tasking – working, handling families, kids, themselves and their jobs. It’s a lot on a woman’s platter to do, really. And I am proud to know a lot of my friends and colleagues who do this. They also inspire me every day from the adjustments they make in their lives to the sacrifices they make to achieve a work-life balance.
This may sound cheesy, but my inspiration even comes from the have-nots. A beggar or destitute on the street may have nothing but they way they smile – from the heart – it just makes me thankful and motivates me to forget my trivial problems and be strong.
SD: What would be your advice to upcoming Chefs ?
NL: My advice to upcoming chef is that you have to work a lot – perhaps till your body is buckling with the strain of standing (laughs). But your mind has to be awake and alert. You have to be strong mentally and physically both. Also, don’t fear innovation and go out of your limits. That being said, do not forget the basics of classic pastry. Innovations should never overpower the basics.
SD: What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
NL: In terms of equipment, I cannot work without a rubber spatula, bread knife and palette knife. When it comes to ingredients, I must have butter, chocolate and vanilla beans in my kitchen.
SD: What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant?
NL: I cook at home what I’ve learnt from my Mom . The basics – Dal, Baingan bharta and lauki (which is my favourite).
SD: What are 3 tips for running a successful restaurant?
NL: The first and foremost is consistent good quality. The second is to have strong and flavourful desserts which make people come back for more. And finally, something that no successful restaurant can function without – smiling and good service staff who can make your customers happy and increases business.
SD: What’s your regular comfort meal?
NL: Either roti and dal or rajma chawal- either of the two can heal anything for me!
SD: If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick and where would you want it to be located?
NL: If I was to open a restaurant would be around Khan Market or in Gurgaon or Sunder Nagar in Delhi or the NCR. And it would most definitely be French cuisine and French pastry.
SD: When you’re at home or someone else cooks for you, do people feel pressured to cook you something fancy because you’re a chef yourself?
NL: (LAUGHS) No there are no pressures to cook for me as I’m really a very simple eater. I like the basic food that we all eat at home – dal, vegetables, rotis. It should be basic and not fancy and definitely not too spicy. Cooking for me is really very easy!
SD: Mention one project which is very close to your heart?
NL: Lavaash Deli by Saby. I am attached to it on many levels.
SD: What do you think will be trending this coming festive season?
NL: Macaroons are making people go nuts. And Madeleines are also going to be extremely popular.
So guys, when are you planning to check out Lavaash Deli?
Executive Chef Subrata Debnath leads the effervescent culinary team of chefs at the Vivanta by Taj – Gurgaon, NCR, the 100th hotel of the Taj Group. With a rich and diverse experience spanning 25 years, 10 unique destinations across the world and several international brands, Chef Debnath is known for his love for food and passion for perfection.
Born and brought up in the steel city of Jamshedpur, Chef Debnath embarked upon his career with the Taj Group in Bangalore. Apart from various assignments in the Taj, he has spent close to a decade with Hyatt Hotels Corporation, working in its properties across South Asia – Kolkata, Singapore, Bangkok and Kathmandu and Chennai. He has also worked with the Hilton at its hotels in Dubai and Bahrain and also at the Swissôtel in Kolkata.
A seasoned gourmand and a food connoisseur Chef Debnath’s culinary repertoire ranges from the authentic to the contemporary. He crafts his dishes with love, passion and artistic touch and strongly believes in food that is carefully sourced and thoughtfully served. His easy-to-approach personality makes him idolized amongst his contemporaries.
Amogh Tiwari- What drives you to be in this industry?
Subrata Debnath- The sheer love for food! As a young boy, it was my dream to don the chef’s hat in a professional kitchen. My father, however, wanted me to become an engineer. After pursuing an engineering course for some time, I decided to follow my passion for food and cooking and joined hotel school. The rest is history. Today, it gives me immense joy to our guests smile after they have savoured what we have prepared in our kitchen and that inspires me every single day.
AT – Where do you draw you inspiration from?
SD- I derive a tremendous amount of inspiration from many famous chefs in our industry – both in India and globally. Their skills and showmanship are truly admirable and I look up to the benchmarks that they have established for the culinary industry at large.
AT- What would be your advice to upcoming Chefs ?
SD- Patience and positivity is the key. Also, an intrinsic can-do attitude, the ability to learn from one’s mistakes and an eye for detail, together makes for a winning combination.
AT- What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
SD- Cooking brings together an array of items and ingredients so it is difficult to single out any one item as the most essential of them all. However, I always lay strong emphasis on local produce and the fresh harvest of the ongoing season. I am of the firm belief that food must be both carefully sourced and thoughtfully served.
AT- What do you cook at home that you never cook at the restaurant?
SD- I rarely cook at home! I love my wife’s home-style cooking. She whips up magic in our kitchen with the use of very little fat and seasoning and focuses on the core ingredients of every dish she prepares.
AT- What are 3 tips for running a successful restaurant?
SD- First, never compromise with quality. Second, know your customer so that you can deliver what you promise. And third, choose the most optimum cooking style.
AT- What’s your regular comfort meal?
SD- Comfort food to me must be should be both wholesome and pleasing to the palate. My favorites include a fresh, lightly dressed Caesar Salad, a comforting bowl of Japanese-style Udon Noodle Soup, a hearty Club Sandwich, a piquant Nasi Goreng and many others.
AT- If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick and where would you want it to be located?
SD- After having worked in several international hotel kitchens overseas, I truly believe that India’s diversity, culture and food rituals are unparalleled. The real depth of Indian cuisine lies in the origins. I would love to explore and develop our regional, indigenous cuisines further. I love patronizing dishes that are steeped in tradition and have local, authentic flavours. Kolkata, for instance, is one of my most favourite cities and I love it for its food history.
AT- When you’re at home or someone else cooks for you, do people feel pressured to cook you something fancy because you’re a big a celebrity chef yourself?
SD- As mentioned, my favourite chef is my dear wife! Besides, I am a very easy-going person at heart so I don’t think that those who cook for me feel pressurized to do so. Cooking is an art and to me food that is cooked with love and passion, is reflected on the plate on which it is served.
AT- Mention one project which is very close to your heart?
SD- I have spent 25 enriching years in the industry and have had several memorable moments especially during hotel and restaurant pre-openings. The one opportunity that I am truly glad that I was a part of was the re-launch of ‘Strait’s Kitchen’, Singapore in 2006. I curated the entire re-launch from the concept to the setup, display cooking style etc.
Chef Amit Dash has been delighting the patrons with his mouth-watering repertoire for over a decade. His avante garde creations reflect the freshness of modern cooking replete with vibrant colours and a distinct burst of Indian flavors. Chef Dash began his culinary career in Chennai as a Hotel operations trainee at hotel ITC Park Sheraton Towers, he has been a passionate customer champion with his genuine enthusiasm and undeniable talent. Chef Amit Dash worked his way up in the kitchen and has perfected his art in many prestigious hotels such as Courtyard by Marriott (Mumbai), Taj Connemara (Chennai) and ITC Hotel Park Sheraton Towers (Chennai). With an extensive experience in planning, supervising and managing the entire kitchen operations including procurement and maintenance of inventory levels for smooth functioning of all operations, he has sought out challenging and fast paced opportunities so that he could quickly learn new techniques. He has undergone rigorous training under the renowned Indian chef Imtiaz Qureshi and broaden his knowledge on authentic Awadhi recipes. A Gold medalist in Authentic Indian Regional Cuisine Contest by the Indian Federation of Culinary Association at the Chennai trade center in the cleanliness and hygiene category, he is a master of his trade and a passionate customer champion.
In an exclusive interview with Amogh Tiwari from Salt and Sandals, Chef Amit Dash answers a few rapid fire questions. In accordance with his style of cooking, his answers are crisp and to the point.
Know Thy Masters Chef Amit Dash
Amogh Tiwari (AT): What drives you to be in this industry?
Amit Dash (AD): I have always been a food lover. Being a Chef is a very creative & interesting job which is the main reason for me to be in this industry. My journey since the beginning has been quite wonderful with great learning and creative experiments and the exposure received has been immense.
AT: Where do you draw you inspiration from?
Amit Dash : Inspiration comes from everything you’re surrounded with, be it the people you work with or the environment that you live in. I draw my inspiration from positive people and their wonderful stories of home, love and food because that in turn reflects in my food as well.
AT: What would be your advice to upcoming Chefs?
Amit Dash :Success is synonym to hard work. Anyone beginning his career in the kitchen needs to value quality, creativity and above all have passion for food.
AT: What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
Amit Dash: The most essential item in my kitchen would be my knife which was gifted to me by my mentor and is of immense value to me.
AT: What do you cook at home that you never cook at the Hotel?
AD: While at home, I relish simple flavors- hence ‘tadke wali dal’ with ‘Jeera rice’ and ‘raita’ is what I crave after a long day at work.
AT: In today’s struggling economy, what steps have you taken to continue to attract consumers in??
AD:As a team we believe in innovation and we regularly challenge ourselves on our creativity. The world of food is ever evolving and keeping an eye on trends as well as curating the passion we have keeps us going. This is in turn wins us loyalty and love from our guests. We also challenge ourselves to engage with the customers of the future and we recently hosted the second edition for Kids Master Class. This saw dozens of talented children turn up for the ten classes that were planned for these kids between the ages of 7-15 years.
We enjoy building new food concepts and tailor making promotions that our guests keep looking forward to.
AT: If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick and where would you want it to be located?
AD: For my restaurant, I would love for it to be situated in an open space, surrounded by trees, lush greenery and beautiful mood lighting. The restaurant would serve culinary specials from across the world; however with my own secret twist. I enjoy experimenting on cuisines and it’s amazing to see what a few sprinkles of spices and seasonings can do. The presentation would be rustic and simple.
AT: When you’re at home or someone else cooks for you, do people feel pressured to cook you something fancy because you’re a big a chef yourself?
AD: During get-togethers or family evenings the atmosphere is of love; laughter and togetherness and since my family relishes home cooked food that is what we serve. Whilst there is no pressure on me to cook something special every time; I do enjoy making one dish that keeps everyone excited and looking out for our next evening together.
AT: Mention one project which is very close to your heart?
AD:I have recently been involved in the design, décor and menu for a new restaurant to be launched at my hotel. ‘The Courtyard Grill’ is very much in line with my dream restaurant and having worked on every stage of its journey – right from the flooring, to décor, music and lighting I am truly passionate about making this restaurant a success, The menu too is very close to my heart and we have spent time researching and then experimented with getting the right flavors for each dish. The final menu has a selection of grills, steaks and kebabs made from the finest ingredients along with homemade marinades, chutneys and relishes. There has been great feedback received from our guests which in turn is great motivation for me as well as the team.
There has been a season of changes at the Hyatt Regency Delhi as it reinvents itself this year with some wonderful new menus. Chef Ivan Chieregatti now takes over as the new Executive Chef. He brings with him more than 20 years of rich experience of culinary & cultures. Chef Ivan’s professional career began after he obtained a Diploma in Culinary and Kitchen Management from the Excelsior Della Valle, Ponte di Legano in Italy and a higher degree in Tourism and Management from the Bramante Institute in Milan, Italy. He has extensive experience in the world of culinary arts, having worked with a number of leading hotel chains worldwide, including Hilton, Kempinski, the Jumeirah, Hyatt Regency Dubai, Grand Hyatt Amman amongst many other renowned brands. Prior to joining Hyatt Regency Delhi, Chef last assignment was with the New World Manila Bay Hotel as an Executive Chef. A chef who has cooked for celebrities like Rolling Stone, Mariah Carey, Joe Coker, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Lenny Craviz, Elthon Jhon, Hugh Grant, Mike Tyson, Mika Hakkinen, Martina Navratilova, Roger Federer, Michael Schumacher, we sit down with him over his new menu at La Piazza to listen to his culinary journey.
Salt and Sandals: What drives you to be in the food and beverage industry?
Chef Ivan Chieregatti: Maybe it was in my DNA, you should consider that my first cooking experience alone, had happen when I was 8 year old, I was waiting my parents to come home during a very huge snow storm in Milan, I just prepared a soup and set the table for my parents, with a set of dishes and tablecloth kept from my mom for special occasions only, the creativity touch for the soup was just a pinch of dry oregano and candles in the tables. But the truth is that I discover the hospitality world when I was study, I start to work in Switzerland during summer season to pay my school and on doing this, I discovered the opportunity and potentiality of this job and world. Now I am doing this for living.
SnS: Where do you draw you inspiration from?
IC: I am a very good eater. I eat for the pleasure of eating and testing more than do it because I need to. I believe that inspiration is combination of techniques, bases and knowledge. Travel to different countries and try new spices, products will certainly assist on this process and give an important mindedness. We shall know the basics in order to create new combinations and approaches into the food. I always say that we must first know how to walk before you think to run.
SnS: What would be your advice to upcoming chefs?
IC: You see, today it has become very trendy to be a cook or chef. Maybe some talent show can delude the new generation on offering a dream job. But the reality is that this is a very hard work. Today, many Chefs speak 3 or 4 languages. You have to keep up and be always updating on new trends, techniques. It’s a continuous learning process. But I’ll admit that this is a fantastic and amazing profession which will give you the opportunity to meet a lot people, discover new cultures and express yourself.
SnS: What is the most essential item in your kitchen?
IC: A long wooden spoon and a large non stick pan. Than for sure 3 types of extra virgin olive oil and 3 different kinds of salt. It’s very interesting to discover how salt can modify test and texture of a product.
SnS: What do you cook at home that you never cook at your restaurant?
IC: It’s called “Pollo della nonna”. This is an old recipe of chicken leg that my grandmother was use to do it for me when I was a child, simple but so delicious served with zucchini. I also like to prepare spaghetti with smoked salmon sometime.
SnS: What are 3 tips for running a successful kitchen?
IC: A good start can be techniques, products, adaptability and flexibility on the market, but not necessary in this order.
SnS: What’s your regular comfort meal?
SnS: If you were to open a new restaurant, what style of food would you pick and where would you want it to be located?
IC: For sure I will consider an Italian restaurant where you can eat nice and authentic dishes. It is what we are currently doing in La Piazza with the new menu. Unfortunately the progress sometimes leads to a loss of traditions and cultures, think about how we was ate 50 years ago and where we are now. From braised food we switched to molecular cooking. Interesting, a lot, but at what price? What we are losing or forgetting?
SnS: When you’re at home or someone else cooks for you, do people feel pressured to cook you something fancy because you’re a big chef yourself?
IC: I guess if someone else shall cooks for me for the first time, probably he/she will feel a bit of pressured but soon they will realize that I have a really easy going approach. The problem is when friends want to invite me out for dinner, in a restaurant I have different expectations, so they give up.
SnS: Mention one project which is very close to your heart?
IC: Yes there is a CSR activity which my wife started. At least once a year we prepare and bring food to the most needy children in a school, normally cooked at home. We generally bring pasta with meat, fried rice and spring rolls, dessert, milk and orange juice with candy and chocolates usually for 30 children between 3 and 6 years old. We have started to do this in Philippines in the region of Bataan where my wife is from and we will continue to do it in the foreseeable future for the same institution.