Chef Pablo Naranjo Agular, currently the Head Chef at Le 15 Café, Colaba has created quite a stir in the city. He is someone whose life is completely driven by the passion for food. If he’s not busy working, he spends his time relishing his favourite dishes. “I like to say that I don't live my life... I taste my life,” says Pablo. A warm smile with a fine blend of creativity to come up with different recipes every week and a new twist in every dish has won hearts of many foodies around the city. With his recent tie up with the Pastry Queen Pooja Dhingra, Founder of Le 15 Patisserie, they both make the perfect sweet and salty combo for her recently launched Le 15 Café, Colaba.
Get to know more about the charming Chef Pablo Naranjo Agular as he gets interviewed here.
What has inspired you to be a chef?
I was born and raised in Colombia, son of a Colombian father and a Hungarian mother. This kind of mix isn't very common, but I was lucky enough to have both my families in the beautiful city of Bogotá. As a family we used to have a Saturday lunch in my Colombian grandmother’s home and on Sundays the same event took place at my Hungarian grandma’s place. This is the moment where I became obsessed, not only with food, but with the feeling we can add to it and the beautiful moment that is created around a table. This is the reason I wanted to become a chef. At the age of 18, I left my home and moved to France in order to become a chef.
How did you start your career in the culinary space?
My parents gave me their 100% support on my decision and they've always said that they wanted to give my sister and me our education... but when I decided to go to France, my dad told me, “I'll give you the first push (paid plane ticket and French lessons for 9 months) but if you want to stay there and learn, you will have to find a way of earning your living" and with a small smile he added, “I can't afford paying for your beers in Euros”. At that moment I understood, that I had an amazing chance and it only depended on me to make it possible. So, it wasn't easy but I worked as much as I could and managed to become a chef.
What inspired you to come to India and how do feel working here in the busy city of Mumbai?
During my training at the Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, I met Pooja Dhingra. We never shared a class as she was training in pastry and I was in cuisine. We met one afternoon when she went out to have a drink and a quick bite with her class mates at the cafe I used to work at after school. At that moment, I saw them reaching out for their LCB uniforms and I went out of the kitchen to meet them. From thereon, we became really good friends. After a few years, one day Pooja gave me a call as she wanted some help with a new project she had in mind and that’s what got me to India for only two months then to help her set up the ‘Le 15 Café and surprisingly I'm still here.
I think that when you move to a city like Mumbai everything is quite a challenge, and the only way to overcome all of it is just to do things with a pure intention. You have to be sure of what you want and how you want it, and never stop till you get it.
But that’s what being a chef is like. Every day is like a race against the clock with new obstacles and challenges ...that’s our breakfast! Our life isn't as glamorous as it looks, but the crazy thing about it is that, I really enjoy it. When I get inspired and start cooking in my kitchen, I forget to eat lunch and dinner or even to drink water. I know it isn't a very healthy habit, but when I'm at it nothing else matters.
When working on the new menu at Le 15 Patisserie, did you face any challenges in the beginning and how did you overcome them?
It's been a year and a half, but ever since I came here, my life started to change. The opening plan got delayed by a month so I had to stay longer, and then started enjoying the struggle and the beautiful chaos present in Mumbai. I realized how spoilt I was as a chef after living in Paris for 10 years. Coming to Mumbai and cooking here became a huge challenge that I wanted to defeat. In the middle of all this, I fell in love with the Indian culture, food and the people and that's why I'm still here. And yes as crazy as it might sound for a lot of people... I left Paris for Mumbai. :)
What is the most prestigious award won by you?
My most precious award is the smile of a happy customer... I do this work to make people happy!
Do have any role models who inspire you and why?
Role models.... I have a lot! Of course I'm incredibly inspired by both my grandmothers as they are the most amazing chefs I've met.
What are your signature dishes that you would like your customers to try out when they visit Le 15 Cafe?
Every week I create a new recipe and I sell it just for 7 days. I always put my heart in the plate so it's very difficult to pick my signature dish. I love all the food on my menu otherwise it wouldn't be there. However, there are a few dishes one could try on their next visit to Le 15 Cafe in Colaba.
What is the one advice you would give other aspiring chefs?
If I had to give an advice to anyone who is aspiring to become a chef, it's a very simple advice but quite hard to accomplish. It's to never get tired... you have to be hungry for everything: food, experience, creativity, techniques and aspiring to be perfect. The path is hard and tough, but if you accept that before starting, nothing can stop you.
- Is there any new trend according to you that could shape the future of dining?I just try to cook as local as I can. I believe that's where the world is going. I understand that eating seasonal local products is much better in taste, for health and even for the environment.
What are your thoughts on yourchefstory.com?
Yourchefstory.com is the place where chefs become something else than chefs. People need to know that we aren't just people working inside 4 walls at super high temperatures and running to serve you good food... every single dish and a chef has their own story and we all share it on a plate.