Q: Chef, how did you discover your passion for being in the kitchen?
My experience was very different. I was more into dancing when I was growing up, and I was part of a band that my friends used to have. I moved out of home when I was 15, and from that age I never depended on anyone. I was a dropout because of the band. We were performing a show in a hotel in Hyderabad, and the venue was right next to the kitchen. I was smelling the aroma and air of beautiful food, and I said, “Oh my gosh, this is so incredible!”
My eldest brother was a chef. My parents were worried about me. They were like, “What is this guy? He doesn’t want to go to school. He doesn’t want to go to college.” I was very careless. I didn’t really worry too much. I said, “Take it as it comes.” I started liking cooking, food, and serving people. There was no grandmother inspiration or mother inspiration. I’m a self made person. I started working as an apprentice for some of the big hotel chains. Then, I had the opportunity to go to the U.S. at the age of 18 and ended up in Manhattan. There I started working for some of the best restaurants, peeling onions, and doing behind-the-scenes work. It was all old-school style.
Q: What does the journey look like for someone who is trying to be a world-famous chef?
Back in the day, not every chef went to college. I didn’t go to college to begin with. After working in New York, I made some money, and then I thought about going to college. I moved to India for six months, worked for one of the top hotel chains, and wanted to be at the management level, but people would say, “No, you don’t have a degree, so you can’t be a manager”. I thought that was discrimination, but while having tea with a cousin of mine, looking at a newspaper, I saw something about study abroad in Australia. So I packed my bag sand moved to Australia. There I finished my hotel management degree right off the bat. I worked for a good restaurant there, and then I moved back to the U.S. again. That’s when I really started.
Q: What kind of attitude did youhave in order to create successfor yourself?
From day one, I wanted to be a perfectionist in everything that I did. I don’t waste my time. If I do something, I’ll do it perfectly, otherwise I’ll say, “I don’t think this is for me” or “I’m not ready for this.” I don’t experiment with things, except recipes. That’s how I started working for some great chefs.
I had an opportunity to open my own restaurant in Milwaukee when I was a young guy, probably 29 or 30. It was called Saffron Bistro, with a lot of European influence, and it was rated one of the best restaurants in the world by Bon Appetit Magazine. My restaurant was a small hole in the wall, no bar, just tables and the food, some wines.
From there, it just kept growing, growing, growing. I appeared on television with other chefs, I was on the cover of a lot of magazines in New York and Milwaukee, and then I moved to India again. I came with my family here and opened a restaurant in Hyderabad. But the mentality didn’t suit me, so I packed my bags and moved back to the U.S. again. I opened a beautiful restaurant in Dallas called Northwest Frontier Cuisine. I prepared a lot of kebabs and barbequed food. My restaurant was once again rated one of the top restaurants in Dallas. I was the first Indian person to do that.
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