It is said that one’s childhood influences mould the course of an individual’s life. Chef Ashay Dhopatkar inherited a rich legacy from his parents – a passion for food and the culinary arts. Growing up in Mumbai, India he was at the table when his parents had regular dinners for family and friends. And he helped as they spent whole days planning, shopping and preparing these feasts. Home was a place where cookbooks took up more shelf space than novels and cooking shows took precedence over TV serials.
His was a family that travelled the world on their plates. His father took him to new restaurants every week and Ashay never missed a chance to peek into the kitchen and admire his idols – the chefs. His mom taught different cooking classes at home and he was allowed to help out. That left Ashay with two things – a love of European cuisine and the determination to learn to be a chef.
Beginning his education at the Institute of Hotel Management in Goa in 2003, he continued his education in 2006 at the IHMES Hotel Institute in the Isle of Man, UK, where he also apprenticed with Manx chefs. To learn from the field, Ashay apprenticed as a commis chef at the Riverbank Park Plaza, Vauxhall, London while he did his Culinary Arts Diploma. After completing it, he was chosen by the Austrian Michelin star Chef Herbert Berger to work at No. 1 Lombard Street, London. He also worked with British culinary giants like 3 Michelin star and OBE Chef Raymond Blanc, 2 Michelin star Chef Shane Osborne and 2 Michelin star Chef John Campbell. Ashay then joined Chef Tom Hempstead at the Papillion Brasserie in Chelsea, London. Chef Ashay got an opportunity to work with the celebrated Chef Gordon Ramsay at the reputed Savoy Grill. After that he joined the renowned British Chef Mark Hix at the Tramshed in Shoreditch, in 2012.
As added to his wealth of knowledge and experience under the guidance of these culinary icons, Ashay’s own individuality and food philosophy came to the fore. Here is a freewheeling chat with Ashay…
Why did you choose to become a chef?
Food always excited me. When my dad took me to old British cafes and restaurants in Colaba.. I always managed to sneak into kitchens and stand in awe watching people cook!
You have trained and worked with several world-renowned chefs. What is the most important thing you have learnt from each one?
From Chef Herbert Berger I learned that there no shortcuts to cooking .. ! from Chef Mark Hix I learned the importance of sourcing local food and sustainability. From Chef Gordom Ramsey I learned how there is no substitute for hard work and discipline in a professional kitchen
How would you describe your ‘Style of Cooking’?
My food can be described as modern European food with classic French techniques using local sustainable produce!
Which cuisine do you like cooking the most? And eating?
The cuisine I like cooking the most is French because of the complex techniques which always amaze me. I enjoy eating all kinds of food but Simple British & Indian Home food are my favourite choices
What are the ingredients that are must-haves in your kitchen? Why?
A good quality mustard like Tewkesbury or Dijon and a good amount of unsalted butter. I have a weakness for all kinds of mustards and I can’t imagine life on Earth without butter !!
What’s the first thing you do when you enter your kitchen for the day?
I check for the cleanliness .. if someone’s forgotten to clean something I make sure the entire place is spotless before we begin work!
What do you love most about your job?
Kitchen is my personal space , when I enter the kitchen all my worries and problems vanish .. I feel the same happiness as I felt on my first day at the Michelin star Restaurant No.1 Lombard street!
Any gastronomy memories from your travels?
I once had a meal cooked by a French chef from Marseille in a Safari lodge in Africa.. the food that was served in the middle of that jungle was worth a Michelin star or two with freshly made wild boar sausages and cassava Mousseline!!
Any chef you admire?
I admire all the chefs I trained under .. Chef Herbert Berger Chef Mark Hix, but I’ve always been a die-hard fan of Chef Marco Pierre White like every other chef of my generation. He’s a living legend.
One thing you want to learn to cook? And from whom?
Crab curry from my Mother.. I’ve tried .. but it just never turns out like hers..internationally, I’d do anything to learn the poulet de bresse cooked in pig’s bladder by chef Paul Bocuse!
Any advice for aspiring chefs?
Be ready to make sacrifices .. take risks and keep experimenting.
Text by Aarti Kapur Singh