Quick-fix meals are no solution to good food: Chef Arun Tyagi, Culinary Director, Trial Box

October 12, 2018

Chef Arun Tyagi talks about the Trial Box, a food delivery enterprise, explains why Indian cuisine should not be standardised, and what makes a good curry.

Food, they say, is the ingredient that binds us all together. Chef Arun Tyagi, who worked extensively in several hotels like the ITC Hotels, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces and Radisson, believes so. Now Culinary Director at The Trial Box, a lifestyle food delivery enterprise, he speaks to YourStory Weekender about the beauty of Indian cooking and how to cook up a great meal in your kitchen.

Arun Tyagi

Can you tell us about yourself?

The lure of good food drove me to take up cooking and the passion only strengthened over time.

I am a professionally trained chef with a career spanning 30 years, leading kitchens in some of the best 5-star hotels in the country. I joined the industry as a young hotel management graduate, and my greatest teachers have been the guests whom my teams and I have cooked for.

Can you tell us about The Trial Box?

The Trial Box is a lifestyle food delivery concept. It is a place that caters to the needs of the upwardly mobile generation of party foods and individual meals. It stands for food innovation with international quality packaging in boxes that are so elegantly designed that one need not shift food to plates and platters for a party. Food can be served in the same boxes.

What kind of food is created for picnics/events and get-togethers?

Our menu consists of a variety of finger foods. Bite- sized, perfect for events and get-togethers. There are creatively produced tacos, chips and dips, bite-sized foods that can be rolled in mini pancakes or filled in healthy baos to create a gastronomical delight.

Creatively made foods are a gastronomical delight

Do you feel that Indian cuisine needs to be standardised?

I don't think Indian cooking needs to be standardised. It will only make it more boring. We have hundreds of flavours in India which is the largest in any country in the world. We should explore these flavours and create a blend of tastes that people will enjoy.

Can you give us some tips on how to make a good curry?

"Curry" is an unfortunate simplifying of the robust and abundant Indian gravies. "Curry" is usually referred to any gravy. A good curry should have a balanced taste. A balance of spice, sourness or sweetness, meat or vegetable flavour, and salt. It should have the perfect thickness with regards to the accompanying starch or bread. Curries in Indian cuisine are usually categorised under gravies like qorma, white gravy, yellow gravy, tomato gravy, brown gravy etc.

So a ‘Kashmiri Roganjosh’ with its thin gravy, a pepper chicken with its thick gravy, and a ‘Makhani’ with its medium gravy all can be called a curry.  Yet they are all different in taste, texture, thickness and looks. The only curry India has is the personalised home-style gravy which varies from home to home and mother to daughter. The rest are all dishes with classical names.

What is your opinion on the current wave of cooking programmes? Has it inspired people to cook more or look for more cuisine options?

The explosion in cooking programmes has exposed people to more flavours, tastes, and styles. They are interested not only in Indian flavours but also international tastes. People now appreciate the strengths of regional cuisine more. Dining tables in many homes have become more interesting with people trying out new flavours and cuisines with their families. There is now a much larger choice for dining at home or outside.

Can you give us some tips on how to cook well?

If one wants to cook well, one needs to cook from the heart. It is about enjoying the process of cooking. Remember to take pains with various stages of the cooking process. It starts from choosing the right ingredients and going through the entire cooking process in detail. Quick-fix meals are no solution to good food.

What advice would you give an amateur cook?

Plan your cooking. Get all the ingredients in place first. Spend time cooking the dish and notice changes to ingredients while cooking. Be bold to try new flavours and combination of ingredients.

What are two of the biggest mistakes that Indian cooks make?

One of the main mistakes that Indian cooks is that they want to cook fast. But Indian food is all about slow cooking. It is about the even browning of the onions and every stage till where the masala should be cooked determines the taste of the final dish.

The second mistake cooks make is that they close their minds to learning new techniques and new flavours, and as a result they stagnate in a few years. Food styles are constantly changing. People are exposed to all kinds of flavours; commercial food places are expected to keep pace with changes otherwise others who will overtake you soon.

What are your views on bread? Why it is so important and versatile?

India is a land of so many regions. Each region has its own climatic conditions. This gives birth to a variety of grains, vegetables, meats etc. The climatic conditions also determine the foods of the region. This gives rise to the mainstay of Indian food: rice or bread. We are a land of more than a 100 bread varieties that use different ingredients. Most of these breads are very regional in nature and have not been exposed to the country at large.

It is important to retain these recipes. Otherwise like so many generations of dishes that we have forgotten, we will forget these too.

What do you love most about the world of food?

The look of satisfaction that a well-fed stomach leads to drives us continuously to cook good food.

What is your opinion of the many food apps now easily available? Do you think it will take away from the desire to cook?

With changing lifestyles there is bound to be change in eating styles as well. But that should not take away from commercial food outlets to produce new foods cooked with passion. It’s not about only cooking at home. It’s about good food being available. Home or outside.

What does good food and good cooking mean to you?

Good food and good cooking is at the core of a person’s well-being of a person. Food is an event that happens throughout the day in everyone’s life, every day, in some form or the other. How happy that event turns out to be is the real reason we need good food. An early evening casual snack or an extended fine-dine dinner - both are events and create happiness for the human being.

What would you say is your soul food and which cuisine do you love best?

A perfect meal is about good food, in a comfortable environment and in loving company. That’s why they say home food is the best. You are in the loving company of your family and in the comfort of your home, having food cooked with love and patience. There are so many meals that one has, but the tastes that linger in one’s mind are the favourite food memories. They could be from exploring the street foods to having an extended fine-dining meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant.

What is the mind-set around cooking that has to change in our country?

As a country we need to learn to appreciate our regional cuisine more. We have a great history of food; we need to learn that history and pass it to our next generation so that our great cuisine is not forgotten over generations.

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