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Features

Cooking with alchemy

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Chef Hari Nayak talks about how Indian food is perceived abroad and the flexible definition of ‘authentic’ cuisine

Hari Nayak’s name is associated with a fair share of restaurants and is found on many book covers. A well-known proponent of Indian food in the US, Nayak has tweaked our country’s cuisine for Western sensibilities and delivered it to tables through his restaurants, recipes and packed meals. He is now set for a homecoming of sorts, with the opening of the Alchemy restaurant, located on the 10th floor of Chancery Pavilion, Residency Road.

Nayak, who has been charged with helping convert the space, which offers a spectacular view of Central Bengaluru, says the restaurant, which is set to open early June, will present patrons with Indian food with a global twist. “Though my professional training has been in Western kitchens, I love to cook Indian food because I am from here. I take Indian cuisine and use globally available ingredients,” says Nayak, elaborating that he does not subscribe to the notion that Indian food should always be authentic. “What is authentic today?,” he asks, in the midst of explaining how he mixed chicken sukka and Korean bulgogi, using an appam as a container and stuffing it with lettuce and chicken mince with a topping of glass noodles, “chillies and potatoes, which are a staple of our cuisine, were not originally found here and even the biriyani is Persian. A second generation Indian in the West may cook Indian food differently, is that not authentic? For me, authenticity is based on time. What I cook could be authentic 20 years from now. Meanwhile, I am okay with the word fusion, because that is what the world is these days.”

He goes on to mention that the cuisine of the country is often stereotyped abroad as just being makhnis, butter chickens, naan, and lassi. “Indian chefs abroad are trying to educate people that there is more to our food than that,” he says, adding that he likes to initiate people to the wider world of Indian food by using coconut-milk based gravies, like a Kerala-style fish moilee, or by using familiar ingredients like Brussel sprouts and sweet potatoes and making a simple stir fry. “People in the West are used to having their meals de-constructed into protein, vegetables and starch. When you present Indian food in that form, the adoption becomes faster. And once you are hooked to Indian food, there is no going back.”

Nayak is using a similar strategy in the reverse for his Bengaluru patrons, as evidenced by kale, quinoa and wild mushroom-based tikkis. “Indians are generally well-versed about global cuisine, as the young generation is well-travelled and more adventurous with food. The popularity of social media and shows like MasterChef have also helped ensure that you cannot fool customers here by saying you are using some ingredient and then putting in something else, which I think is a good thing.”

Nayak’s focus now is to get Alchemy up and running and bring a slice of the global taste with Indian sensibilities to the table. Those Indian sensibilities are the core of his culinary experience and even as he decides on a cheesecake for dessert, the flavour is provided by our own Mysore pak.

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