A journey driven by passion garnered with a perfect blend of great taste, a creative mind to develop new food concepts and dishes, love for cooking, patience and a willingness to travel in order to learn more, has made Chef Vikas Seth what he is today. This IHM Mumbai Alumnus was born into a culturally-rich family in Amritsar, blessed with the acumen of a culinary innovation and the palate of a well-eaten gourmand. He believes that learning is a never ending process which has evolved him as a person and as a true professional.
Here’s delving a little deeper into the journey of Chef Vikas Seth as we interview him here.
What is your role at Embassy Group and how has your experience been so far?
I am the Chef and Culinary Director at Embassy Leisure Entertainment and Projects LLP (Embassy Group). We handle multiple brands such as Sanchez Restaurante & Cantina, Sriracha – Contemporary Pan Asian Dining, Eat – Food Truck, Eden Café @ Embassy Springs, BLVD Club @ Embassy Boulevard, Café @ Embassy Pristine and Embassy Leisure Outdoor Catering.
The experience here has been really good. I spent a lot of time developing new concepts and new dishes which are really exciting and engaging. It is really great to work with amazing talented and humble Bangaloreans. Love the climate here too!
What has inspired you to become a Chef?
I was born in Amritsar and Amritsari food is in my blood. I believe I was destined to become a Chef. Though, I never thought of becoming a chef till I joined the IHMCTAN (Dadar Catering College). In school, it was very clear that I will be joining my father’s business in Amritsar but due to certain circumstances, my family moved to Mumbai. I then got the opportunity to join Dadar Catering College. It was my mentor, the Legendary Chef Vernon Coelho who helped me decide in taking this up as my profession.
Share some interesting facts that you would want others / fellow Chefs to know about your experience in this journey that could inspire them.
During an industrial training in Taj Mahal Palace & Towers, Mumbai, I got fascinated with the front office along with the food and beverage service more than the kitchen. The working environment in the kitchen was challenging time wise and we were given the task of cleaning basic vegetables the whole day or doing some kind of equipment cleaning. So, I was not sure if this was what chefs are supposed to do the whole day. Where as in the case of F&B service and Front office, the space and environment was more comfortable.
But, the fact that the love for cooking and tasting new dishes had already made home in my heart, I finally decided to stick with the kitchen even after facing numerous hardships. I believe it was in the kitchen where the rest of my life was written.
What’s your philosophy on food and cooking?
My philosophy on food and cooking has been simple. “Be true to the cuisine you are preparing. Use as much local ingredients as possible. Cook dil se!”
What challenges have you faced to reach this position in your life?
After schooling I came to Mumbai and faced a lot of challenges adjusting to living in Dombivali. I then joined Dadar Catering College. Speaking in English was then a challenge, so I took an English Public Speaking course and then joined Taj Mahal Palace & Towers, Mumbai as a Chef Trainee. During this period, I did a lot of Mumbai local train travel on a daily basis which was almost 4 hours a day. After 3 years of working with Taj, I got an opportunity to work on the Cruise Liner in USA for 5 years.
I returned home to get married and had taken up a job in Bermuda. I had planned to move there with my wife, but 9/11 happened and things changed. When I was on my honeymoon, I was recruited via a telephonic interview post which I joined Rain Bar + Eatery, Juhu, Mumbai as Executive Chef in December 2001. After five years, I moved to be part of a new start up called Dish Hospitality Pvt Ltd, as the Corporate Executive Chef. Started with Aurus, Home by the sea, Juhu, Mumbai in 2006, headed the kitchen team for multiple brands under Dish Hospitality, namely; Aurus, The Tasty Tangles, Sancho’s, Singkong, Cinnabon, L’essence Foods, Nashta Chai, Nido and Dish Central Kitchen & Bakery. In 2015, I headed the kitchen brigade of Clé – Dubai in Dubai for almost a year. And in June 2016, I came back to India and joined Embassy Leisure as Chef and Culinary Director.
Would you like to share anything interesting with us?
This year I got the opportunity to visit Mexico again. I went to Oaxaca on a culinary trip along with renowned Mexican Chef Iliana de la Vega. Oaxaca is like Amritsar of Mexico, food mecca. The following morning in Oaxaca, I happened to meet legendary Diana Kennedy during breakfast at the hotel where I was staying.
For many who haven’t visited Mexico, this name may not ring a bell, but for chefs, especially for someone like me, Mexico has been a living, breathing culinary institution that stuns you with its taste, textures and soul free music each time you visit it. And spearheading the tradition are legends who not only are the most impressive culinary ambassadors of Mexico, but each a fascinating connect between the Mexican of the Yore, the Present and the future. Chef Diana Kennedy is one such example. At the ripe age of 93, she continues to inspire the new generation with her culinary classes to not only love their cuisine, but take pride in it. She is considered Julia Child of Mexican food.
What trends do you foresee in the near future that would change the way the culinary world operates?
Glocal Cooking i.e. using local ingredients to create global cuisine experiences. Also, Regional cuisines are getting popular along with home chefs creating awesome experiences for guests. Well being / health /Ayurveda cuisine will be another one which will get popular.
Tell us something about the books that you have written. Are they any more books that you have lined up?
I have recently done a book on my new brands Sanchez Restaurante & Cantina and Sriracha Contemporary Pan Asian Dining. This unique twin cover book captures the true spirit of our two restaurants Sanchez & Sriracha! This book goes beyond just describing a dish. It delves into the journey of what makes a chef - the spirit, the travel, the food - and mostly the inspiration to go beyond.
The early book I had written was ‘ The Modern Indian Odyssey ’ which was based on the special modern Indian sit down I had organised for a very high level foreign delegation visiting India. The book gives history of the dishes and my take on each dish served on the table. Both the books are for private circulation.
I want to work next on my travel book which will talk about the destinations I have visited and special recipes from those regions.
What is your specialty?
I have been cooking Mexican food from the past 10 years and that is my specialty. I equally love Asian, European and Indian Cuisines which also happen to be my other specialties!
What is your favorite restaurant?
Eleven Madison Park, New York, world’s number 1. I happened to visit this place this year.
What’s that one dish that brings a smile to your face?
Rajma Chawal :)
What’s your favorite cuisine and why?
My favorite is Mexican Cuisine as I have worked with number of Mexican Chefs and travelled to Mexico a number of times.
Your Signature Dish that would like customers to try?
Guacamole: The velvety dip made of fresh avocado and love. Guacamole is made live, on the table using the traditional lava stone carved Mojacates with options ranging from traditional, charred pineapple, smokey chipotle charred corn and black beans.
Tamales: We follow the Aztec style, where the tamale is served cocooned in a corn husk. The wide variety of fillings range from smokey chipotle chicken to epazote mushrooms, dressed with melted cheese and drizzled with ranchero sauce. Served with refried beans and Mexican rice.
Oriental Shrimp Nest: This is my twice International award winning dish; first at the European Seafood Exposition in Brussels and then at Boston Seafood Show. My signature recipe where premium quality shrimps are tossed in spiced oyster sauce and cilantro till all flavours are incorporated well. This mix is then skewed on the sugarcane stick quilted with shredded filo pastry, deep fried and served on a gooey bed of sweet-chili dipping sauce in short glasses. The best part of this dish is the amazing taste of the well-seasoned shrimp with filo pastry crunch. The centre of the sugarcane stick is for a sweet chew.
Wild Mushroom Purple Dumplings:
Quilted in natural purple skin made of red cabbage juice, wheat and potato starch, it is a scrumptious treat of a mélange of mushrooms, shitake, oyster and button mushroom. We serve it with a chili soy dip.
Steamed Open Buns - We follow the traditional recipe to make the buns. Each bun is smeared with hoisin sauce, the filling, spring onions and pickled cucumber.
Would you like to give a message to other aspiring Chefs?
Think positive, have patience as this profession is rewarding for sure. Just give some time and have faith in your faith!
Your thoughts on Your Chef Story.
While answering so many question about myself I remembered so many old pleasant memories which shaped me into the person I am today!!!