Mumbai: Culinary expert Shikha Nath on nuances of curating a complete culinary experience, retaining authentic taste while experimenting with cuisine

'Tastes have evolved, but Indian cuisine is there to stay', says culinary expert Shikha Nath who specialises in curating Indian and regional food experiences at Copper Chimney and Bombay Brasserie

Priyanka ChandaniUpdated: Saturday, December 17, 2022, 12:55 PM IST
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Mrs Shikha Nath |

Shikha Nath, the Culinary Director, Copper Chimney proudly introduces herself as Mrs Shikha Nath, when we meet her at the Worli-based plush restaurant during its 50th-year celebration. The restaurant was a favourite with stars like Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand. After a brief meeting, we were served the restaurant's specially curated anniversary Autograph Menu curated by Mrs Nath. The delicious starters and large plates took us on an imaginary flight to undivided North India in 1947.

From Raan Peshawari, and Lahori Chicken to Pestoni Chicken Yakhni Pulao and Himalayan Gucci Pulao, the toothsome food had the taste of every region intact. We still salivate over the taste of Kadak Roomali, Subz Akhrot ki Seekh, and Tawa Vegetable Biryani. The taste of saffron and spices-infused rice garnished with a lot of butter made us take away our remaining portion and eat that the next day. We still can't figure out the spices, for they have been an essential part of Copper Chimney's food for 50 years.

Raan Peshawari

Raan Peshawari |

Pestoni Chicken Yakhani Pulao

Pestoni Chicken Yakhani Pulao |

Subj Akhroti Seek

Subj Akhroti Seek |

"It is not easy to keep authenticity and consistency intact when the culinary world is evolving with the invasion of international food," said Mrs Nath, whose ideas and contributions have been crucial in curating a complete culinary experience at the restaurant. She has been in the business for over 25 years and has a strong inclination for Indian food, which made her curate a special menu at Bombay Brasserie, specialising in regional food with a tweak. We spoke to Mrs Nath about the nuances of the culinary business, and what it takes to please different taste buds as a culinary expert.

How difficult is it for you to ensure that you meet everyone's taste buds?

That's the toughest question! It takes a minute to say that the food isn't good. It's like a home where someone will like the food and someone will not. What makes a brand sustain with the taste is the nuances of the food, judicial spicing and details in the food. The way we cook is very different from how others cook. So, somehow, our appeal to the taste is very different. We are just following the techniques and the original recipes that have been handed over to the generations. That's something that has helped us maintain the consistency, quality and taste which has universal appeal. When you are planning a menu, you think of things that will appeal to everybody. You try to please as many people as you can. But it's not easy to please everybody. Every region has different requirements and every community has different tastes and requirements, so it's the old techniques of cooking that help us.

Would you like to take us through the process of curating a complete culinary experience?

We have a core food and that has never changed in our menu. We follow the same recipes and ingredients and quantities. We retain the essence of our brand and culinary region of the food. We stay undivided North-India food (Peshawar to Delhi and Afghanistan). When we are curating the food we stick to that region.

Does curating a region-specific food make a culinary expert's job easy?

I think my in-depth knowledge of Indian cuisine sets me apart. Having worked with my Ustad (chef) who I have worked with for over 25 years has helped me build my expertise further. It's tough being a culinary expert and pleasing everybody. But I have managed that so far. It's something that is within me. I have a passion for food, Indian cuisine and culinary which is helping me make many people happy.

Himalayan Gucci Pulao

Himalayan Gucci Pulao |

Chote Aloo Achari

Chote Aloo Achari |

How do you ensure that the final dish tastes the same as you perceived while curating it?

We have a very intensive training program. Everybody is trained thoroughly. We have people working with us for over three decades, and that helps me build newer blood in. We train them and share our secret recipes with them. What we have also done is that we use a custom blend of spices which helps us maintain the consistency of taste.

How do you see culinary business has evolved over the years?

The tastes have evolved, but I definitely feel that Indian cuisine is there to stay. You want to eat other food but your core taste is Indian cuisine. Indian cuisine is healthy and it is strange that despite so many culinary changes, Indian food remains the same and we have been selling it since 1972.

What are the changes in Indian cuisine that we may see in the next five years?

I think Indian cuisine is there to remain. The grills have a great potential to grow because youngsters enjoy them. And so as Tandoor. Slow cooking will also be popular with food marinated for hours. Biryani, Naan and Makhni dal are there to remain.

What is your take on classic vs modern cuisine? How do you balance it?

We don't really need to modernise Indian food, you may place it with more style. I believe we should retain the proprietary food. I don't believe in the fusion of Indian food. Instead, I feel there's a huge potential for regional food. You can combine regional food from different parts of the country and tweak it to suit today's palate.

Baked Dooda

Baked Dooda |

Kashmiri Soda

Kashmiri Soda |

The food industry is becoming more sustainable. How do you incorporate sustainability in your culinary curation?

I believe in sustainability and I do take care of it. I ensure to source the food and ingredients from farms which are sustainable and follow environment-conscious practices. In Indian food, there isn't too much waste because you can tweak the dish and prepare a new dish out of your remaining food.

How important is it for you to be creative when you are creating a menu and overall culinary experience?

Creativity is the core of culinary. I try to strike a balance between taste and experience. When there are so many tastes you have to match and then there is a core of the brand, you at times want to give priority to your brand's authentic taste and that helps create a fine menu which has the brand's value intact.

What is your favourite food?

Paneer Masala, Dal and Butter Naan from Copper Chimney, and Bombay Lunch Home- regional curry served with coconut rice, served on banana leaf at Bombay Brasserie.

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