Possibly one of the most renowned names in Asian cuisine in the culinary circles in India, Chef Ashish Singh is the most recent driving force behind the success story of Pan Asian, ITC Grand Chola, Chennai. His intimate knowledge of Japanese culinary art makes him one of the most respected in his field of expertise – recreating a form of cuisine that is not only old, but also ever-evolving and ultra sensitive.
Chef Ashish Singh started his professional journey from Asian hotels where he worked for three years with various Japanese sensei’s imbibing himself with technical skills and the deep mystery of Japanese cuisine. His culinary journey took him to ITC Maratha Mumbai, where he was instrumental in creating the first live sushi bar for ITC Hotels. A well travelled chef, he then practised his art at the ITC Maurya in Delhi.
His epicurean adventure reached new heights during his stint in Singapore where he expanded his repertoire of ingredients and techniques making him a veritable warehouse of Japanese secrets. On his return, he was instrumental in crafting the menu for My Humble House and its successful opening. After journeying far and wide he is now at the ITC Grand Chola, Chennai heading the kitchen brigade at Pan Asian, which continues to thrive under his guidance.
Molecular gastronomy was a rage around 5 years ago. How do you see the trend progressing now?
Although this is a trend that came into vogue some years ago, it is still developing. It started out being used in oriental cuisines but as the trend is developing in India people are getting more aware and experimenting with it in different types of cuisines. People in India are still learning to accept this technique of cooking as there is a lot to experiment with.
Do you still follow this method in your kitchen?
Yes of course, it helps in making dishes more appealing to the eye. Molecular Gastronomy is not a way of cooking but it is a way of adding theatre to an already existing dish to give it that wow factor. It focuses more on the presentation of the dish rather than the actual cooking.
How did you develop an interest in this culinary technique?
My interest in molecular gastronomy began when I was in Tokyo last year learning about the Japanese style of cooking. I noticed that the kitchen had a section where they were using this technique and was intrigued. I then stayed back to learn the skills properly and perfected them before returning home to India.
What is different from your kitchen and the kitchen of other well-known chefs?
Asian cooking is always progressive; we serve Japanese, Thai, Malaysian, Korean and Chinese cuisines here at the restaurant. We follow the authentic style of cooking. We also work on authentic presentation for each dish; we try to keep it as rustic in flavour as we can with a modern touch to how it looks. All our ingredients are outsourced and imported from these countries therefore making the food authentic. We also have a studio kitchen with an experimental menu.
I sit down every once in a while, with my team, and brainstorm about various ways to use skills learnt about molecular gastronomy to experiment and make food interesting to the eye, as well as to the palate.
Could you describe some of the best dishes you have created?
There isn’t a best dish, I would say, but more a particular ingredient. I have really enjoyed working with sea urchins. In Japan they are a delicacy and there is a lot you can do with them. Some of the dishes I have created using this unique sea food, I think are my best.
How important is it to evolve in the food business? Do you think too much modernity and evolution dampens the authentic taste of food?
There is definitely modernization in the food industry and it does affect the authenticity of the food. But I feel there are ways to merge the two. For example molecular gastronomy is not a way of cooking but it is a way of adding drama to an already existing dish. It focuses more on presentation, but alters taste only marginally. This is one way you can make the two sides of this spectrum meet.
What are the new flavours/ingredients that one is experimenting with in India today. Can you pin-point any one or two items or ingredients or is it a trend that one usually follows?
I work largely with seafood and I am very keen to find various kinds of fish or any seafood that are in season. I get them imported from specific regions. I have noticed that chefs across the city and country have been experimenting with newer and different sea food like sea bass, sea urchins and so on.
What is Chef Ashish Singh known for?
When I cook I believe I put my soul into it. I don’t believe a dish can be created alone; it requires the assistance of my team, they all understand the vision I have and help me create it. I am open about the various things that go into my dish and more than happy to take suggestions from my team.
A message for young aspiring chefs?
One thing they should know is that there are no short cuts in life and in the kitchen. You need to get your basics absolutely perfect before you can reach any higher levels of cooking.
Hard work always pays off.