Rohit Rao is a chef par excellence. He has studied how to become one at the Pacific International Hotel Management School at New Plymouth and Manukau Institute of Technology, Auckland and at the Auckland University of Technology. He currently works in New Zealand with a celebrity Italian restaurant as Chef de Partie and in the near future is going to be joining a multi cuisine Asian restaurant as a sous chef. Very soon, he is going to be returning to India to set up his own specialty restaurant in Bangalore.
VP: What lies behind your decision to become a chef? How did your familyreact?
Rohit Rao: I always loved cooking. It’s like magic. You take different ingredients and foodstuff which don’t taste good at all by themselves, put them into a pan, apply heat, cook it and out comes something really tasty… I found that utterly fascinating!
Initially my parents didn’t like the idea of me becoming a chef since we already own restaurants. There are people cooking for us, and here I was learning to cook for others. They didn’t understand and realise the importance of a chef in today’s world. But, by and by they have accepted it now and are quite proud of me in their own way.
VP. What are the prospects for someone who wants to be a chef both in India and abroad?
RR: The prospects are quite good. It depends on what type of cuisine one is interested in and what the person is good at; culinary or pastry side? Also fast thinking and speed is important. Tandoori chefs especially are very much in demand in the West.
VP. Other than the decorating of the food, is there a big difference between how food is cooked by someone who has studied to be a chef and an amateur?
RR: Definitely there are a lot of differences. A chef can create a gastronomic experience; an amateur can only cook the food.
Basic fundamentals like time, texture, temperature, degree of cooking for different products; these things vary tremendously. It sounds simple but actually take months of training to get them just right. Small mistakes can ruin the whole dish. When you are studying to be a professional chef you are taught to look beyond cooking a dish. Nutritional value of food is also given importance.
VP: Since you are married, so who cooks at home?
RR: At home my wife cooks on my working days. She cooks traditional Indian or South Indian food, and yes it’s very good! Since she loves my cooking too, so we both cook.
VP: Any other advice you would like to give to the budding chefs?
RR: Passion for food is very, very important if you want to become a chef. Anybody can become a cook but only a select few can become great chefs.
VP: Please share with us some tips for cooking simple, everyday food, that would bring an entirely new flavour to it.
RR: Always use fresh ingredients, fresh seasonal produce. Use your imagination and don’t be scared to create your own food. Do some experiments. Don’t soak or overcook vegetables. Don’t make any dish too complex by adding lot of flavours in a dish, for example 2-3 types of herbs or spices in a single dish. Your tongue won’t be able to make out the individual flavours and the unique taste that the herb or spice would have imparted to the food will be lost.
VP: Can you give us one of your favourite recipes? Please make it simple.
Sesame Peanut Noodle Salad
• 1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
• 1/4 cup soy sauce
• 1/3 cup warm water
• 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
• 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
• 2 garlic cloves
• 2 teaspoons honey
• 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
• 2 tablespoons brown sugar
• 1 lb spaghetti
• 1 yellow capsicum
• 1 red capsicum
• 4 spring onions
• 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
• Small bunch of bean sprouts
• Salt to taste
Place peanut butter, soy sauce, warm water, garlic, ginger, honey, sesame oil, sugar and red pepper flakes in food processor (or blender) and blend till smooth. This dressing can now be stored in sealed container in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Cook spaghetti in lightly salted water till desired doneness. While pasta is cooking, cut yellow and red capsicums into thin strips. Cut spring onions into thin slices.
When pasta is ready, rinse it under cold tap water until it is cooled to slightly below room temperature. Drain. Toss together with dressing, peppers, scallions, bean sprouts and sesame seeds and serve within an hour.