On meeting Ranveer Brar, it’s hard to imagine that this stylish (he's established a reputation in the country for his sharp dressing) chef hails from humble beginnings: The Punjabi lad’s first experience with cooking was at a Gurudwara’s langar at the age of six, and has gathered most of his culinary education from the old streets in Lucknow. In recent years, Chef Brar has gone on to host five TV shows, is a judge on MasterChef India Season 4, and even launched his own restaurant in Boston.
Yet he has not forgotten his roots, and continues to explore and fuse them with modern cooking styles – something he claims is his true signature style. “My first lesson in bulk cooking was at the langar at Hudson Lines, Lucknow Cantt.,” he remembers. “My grandfather was an ex-army man, and felt at home with the other ex-servicemen, I’d accompany him every Sunday, but would often get bored…until I stumbled upon the kitchens at the back.”
Chef Brar found the best possible way to keep himself busy – he would cut salad, and by the age of nine was making meethe chawal (sweet rice). In fact his sweet rice became so popular at a smaller gurudwara in his neighbourhood, the gyan ji (priest) asked for his recipe (preferring it over his wife's cooking), and his help every weekend instead.
“Not only did I learn how to cook for a large crew (a valuable lesson for any chef) I also understood the importance of a clean kitchen. What also struck me as weird, now that I look back on it, was that no one ever tasted the food, but it still came out consistently tasty - it lead me to believe that there is huge intangible side to cooking.”
Brar’s family was strongly opposed to the idea of a career as a chef.
“It was below our dignity to have a cook in the family. Hence the idea faced outright rejection and was dismissed as another teen infatuation,” says Brar. Instead of giving up, he started working as an apprentice for one of the oldest kebab vendors in Lucknow, and spent six months just drying charcoal, grinding spices, and “bhunoing nihari” (frying Nihari). He also frequented old kaarigars and spent a lot of time exploring Awadhi cuisine. "This time spent eventually made my parents realize that I was married to the profession, and they agreed to send me to culinary school," says Brar, smiling at the memory.
Brar was placed in Goa, where he finally started living his dream, but never forgot his roots: he would spend time with the locals, and days on trawlers, fishing boats and fish markets to “absorb the essence of culture to represent it accurately on a plate.”
It was here that he really developed a versatile signature that allowed him to launch a series of restaurants for reputed hotels - Morisco (a seafood restaurant), II Camino (Italian) and Fishtail in Goa, Machan, Ricks, and Kafe Fontana in Delhi. Insatiable in his quest to explore different foods, Brar also opened Sevilla for Claridges – a restaurant he claims is still the best Spanish restaurant in Delhi. Finally Brar moved to Boston to open Banq – a French Asian resto that won the best new restaurant in the world award by Wallpaper magazine.
Eventually though, he made it back to India to explore traditional cooking secrets. He plans to open more eateries in Boston and Mumbai, but also pushes to creativity beyond cooking: also an artist and sculptor, he thinks it is important as a chef, to express via whatever means possible. Finally, he loves watching his young son, Ishan evolve easily and smoothly as a chef without any of the struggle he faced to find his true calling.
Here are three of his signature recipes inspired from his days as an apprentice with old kebab vendors in Lucknow
- Jaiutuni Butter Chicken (a healthier version of butter chicken with olives)Courtesy Ranveer Brar
- Lucknawi mutton biryaniCourtesy Ranveer Brar
- Dorra KebabCourtesy Ranveer Brar