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Features

Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi adds some ‘namak shamak’ to our munch map

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What: Dhadoom-Flavours & Fun
Where: 29/B Allenby Road, Bhowanipore
When: 11am to 11pm
Meal for one: Rs 200

                                                   Fries are served in dishes shaped like trucks!

A tie-up with Yellow Tie Hospitality brings chef Harpal Singh Sokhi back to Calcutta and he couldn’t be happier. This partnership began from Amritsar and Jalandhar and he has now opened his first Calcutta outlet on Allenby Road in Bhowanipore. In town for the launch of his quick-service restaurant (QSR) Dhadoom-Flavours & Fun, he sat down with t2 for a chat.

What is the concept behind Dhadoom?

The concept came to me when I was travelling in Canada and I came across butter chicken poutine (French fries topped with cheese curd and gravy). We opened Dhadoom in Mumbai last November and we now have 12 such restaurants across the country. This is the 13th store and the first one in eastern India. Six more are in the pipeline, to be launched in the next 45 days.

‘Dhadoom’ is the sound of explosion and that is exactly what I want my customers to feel in every bite! The space itself is a burst of colours, which is exactly how I am in real life, and that had to come out in the decor and the food.

You became an executive chef at the very young age of 27. Tell us about your journey. 

My journey began in Bhubaneswar as a trainee cook at Hotel Oberoi after college. I even worked backwards and joined a Hyderabadi restaurant as an executive chef. At that time, working in a restaurant was taboo but my experience there was wonderful and enriching.

Chowpatty Chatpata and Oreo Pakoda (below)

You have spoken about Ayurveda in your cooking. Could you tell us a little about this?

People are busy running off to learn international cuisines and ape the West. My mom telling me to not use ginger in tea during summer sparked off the fire to know the finer points of spices and herbs. I even worked with a doctor to learn more about the nutritive elements of Indian healthy produce. We don’t even need to explore anything that has been imported. We are running after the West to sprinkle “micro-greens” on our salads, instead of herbs like Brahmi and Ashwagandha.

What’s your take on the new, quick-format videos?

The ingredients that they use are so easily available in the kitchens of the West, while an Indian will have to go scrambling around trying to find those same ingredients. This challenge ensures people stop enjoying the process of cooking. So when I got the opportunity of working on television and reaching out to the masses, bringing in humour and fun into the kitchen was the obvious route to take. That is precisely how the iconic “namak shamak” was born!

You have a massive following on YouTube as well. What do you think of digital content?

I have a young daughter at home who tells me the tropes of the digital world, like what is popular on Netflix and what kind of series I should create. YouTube had to pursue me to seriously create content for them. We have five lakh subscribers already and I hope to touch a million within a year. It took us a while to realise that television is now passe and digital is the way forward.

Harpal Singh Sokhi at the launch of Dhadoom-Flavours & Fun

Your favourite restaurant?

I was doing a show called Desh da Swaad where I drove a food truck that led me to Jaipur, straight inside Amer palace where I came across 1135 A.D. From the decor, the glasswork, the replicas to the recipes, everything is straight out of the royal kitchens and the food tastes surreal.

Which chef would you like to collaborate with in the future?

Ainsley Harriott and Emeril Lagasse are two chefs I admire as they, too, bring in a lot of humour into their cooking, which is exactly my genre.

What is your favourite food destination in the world? We have a feeling you will say India!

(Laughs) Hands down! No other country comes close. We haven’t explored everything yet, like the Northeast or Bengal. Look at the hilsa! The rest of the country doesn’t  know about this delicacy, let alone the world. I am a very desi chef and I want the country to explore within itself.

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