‘It’s not about being a celebrity chef; it’s about being a chef first’ - Anahita Dhondy

July 21, 2018

Young celebrity chef Anahita Dhondy at SodaBottleOpenerWala comes from an influencer generation that’s often criticised for being publicity-driven. At 27, she was the Chef Manager (now Chef Partner), SodaBottleOpenerWala, Cyber Hub. She has won The Young Chef award, Times Food Award and the hospitality sector’s ‘Indian of the Year’ title, and also has a couple of TEDx talks in India under her belt. YourStory speaks to her about what it takes to be a young chef in India.

Anahita Navroze Dhondy

Why food? “My mother spoilt us with interesting food on the table,” says Anahita. “When I was growing up, she made Greek salad, souffle, Spanish cuisine etc., for our everyday meals. And that stayed with me. Plus, when you explore food, you find that it is evolving and there is a lot to create. You have different vegetables, meat cuts and so many other trends to play with. I don’t think I would have explored so much if my subject wasn’t food.”

Anahita Navroze Dhondy is an alumnus of Institute of Hotel Management, Aurangabad, and Le Cordon Bleu, London. In London, she learnt pastry-making and baking, but she often felt that Indian food was more comforting. “I would come back and cook something Indian and that was so satisfying. I feel young Indian chefs don’t realise India’s potential,” she says.

Whether it’s Orissa or Ludhiana, Anahita makes it a point to look for simple recipes from the region. “We should be proud of our simple Indian recipes,” she adds. Recently, at Fatehpur, she also taught a bunch of young girls to make cupcakes. Her Instagram post talks about encouraging children to cook so that they become future pastry chefs.
Anahita loves to encourage children to bake and cook

“There weren’t many role models in India while I was starting out. But I remember the principal of my culinary school telling us that as chefs, we would miss all the festivals with our families and would spend long hours at work. He told us it would be a hard life. This gave me an insight into the career and I was determined to succeed,” she says.

Early in her career, she realised she wanted to cook her Parsi cuisine, something that her mother taught her. By 23, she became a head chef at SodaBottleOpenerWala and, soon, she became a celebrity chef, with TV shows, interviews behind her.

Anahita is one of the most creative chefs in the country

But when an aspiring culinary student wants to become a ‘celebrity’ chef, she knows that this is not the way to become a successful chef. 

“You have to intern - see if you like the job. It’s not as glamorous as it is made out to be. You can’t simply walk in, sprinkle and garnish. You have to love your work and put in the hours. And even after all that, there is no guarantee that you will be a celebrity chef.”

“The way to become stronger as a chef is to learn every day,” said Anahita, at a hospitality convention in 2016. “And you could learn from your team as well. At SodaBottleOpenerWala, I taught them a couple of techniques and they showed me a couple of tricks of their own. They didn’t learn these methods from a book, they learnt it from experience. This process of learning from each other will make your journey stronger,” she adds.

 

Anahita Dhondy’s special summer recipe:

We were at the Smaka pa Stockholm (Taste of Stockholm) stage, and we had 15mins to cook something. It had to be from our native place or something local! I decided to champion millets. What are millets? While most Indian do know what millets are, I'll still repeat the answer for the others to know its importance.

Millets are a type of grain, the common examples being ragi, buckwheat, sorghum (jowar), bajrakodo millet, foxtail millet, amaranth and many more. They are gluten-free, high on protein and keep you full for longer periods of time. They are also environmentally friendly as they use 1/10th the amount of water used for rice. And they have a distinct earthiness which, as a chef, I love playing with.

Warm seasonal millet salad recipe:

Warm millet salad

Ingredients:

For the millets:

Kodo millets – 500 gm (you can use buckwheat or foxtail)

Olive oil or any local oil – 3 tbsp

Onions – 2 large

Tomatoes – 4 large and some cherry tomatoes

Green chilies - depending on how spicy you want it

Ginger garlic paste - 1tbsp

Coriander stems/leaves - a handful

Vegetables for the salad:

You can chop up anything you like or have in the fridge. In my mystery basket I had the following:

Cucumber - 2

Rhubarb - 1/2 stick

Bell peppers - 3

Red radish - 10

Spring onion - 2-3

Dressing:

Lemon juice from 5-6 lemons (small ones if large then 2)

Olive oil - 10tbsp

Red chilli - 4

Mint - 1tbsp

Coriander - 2tbsp

Salt and pepper

Garnish:

Lemon wedges, chillies, amaranth pops and black rice pops

Method:

1. Wash the millets a minimum of three times as it removes its bitterness.

2. In a pot add the millets and double the amount of water

3. Once cooked (about 15-20mins) remove and spread out in a big tray. Pour some olive oil and mix (preventing from sticking)

4. Finely chop all the vegetables that you want to add. Keep aside

5. Slice the onions and tomatoes, green chillies and cook with the masala. Add the warm mixture.

 

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