Dondon Cadavida – Japanese Master Chef at The Lodhi, New Delhi
Dondon Cadavida has a long journey with a lot of hard work behind him. But he did it. From Kitchen Helper to Master Chef! When the student becomes the master. Now Dondon is working as a Japanese Master Chef at The Lodhi in New Delhi.
A chef portrait of Dondon Cadavida
Dondon, do you remember the day you decided to become a chef?
Yes, I remember. When I graduated and worked as a technician, I always ate at the fast food restaurant. I then tried to be a part of this restaurant and applied. I became a member of the kitchen crew, was just a kitchen helper and loved it. I loved helping and learning from the cooks – many basic techniques such as chopping onions, cutting vegetables or how to cook in a wok, but also how to prepare sushi.
I quickly learned how to cook like a pro and continued working in the restaurant. Many daily challenges helped me to always improve my skills.
Did you also attend a school to learn how to cook?
I’ve always dreamed of studying at a culinary school, but I never had the budget. So I read a lot of articles and follow the chefs who are an example to me. Some things you can teach yourself. I always try to cook and try some recipes with great food pictures in magazines or blogs. So you learn a lot of new things and expand your cooking skills.
The Japanese cuisine and especially sushi are your love: Why?
Actually, I love every kind of cuisine, but traditional Japanese cuisine, I love the most. How they prepare and slice fish meat with their bare hands and special utensils – but not just fish. Everything is very fresh and a lot even alive. I like their passion for making perfect sushi, but also other areas of the kitchen like frying, tempura, grilling or robatayaki, teppanyaki and much more. Everywhere you can see unique techniques and incredible skills.
After so many years of experience in Japanese cuisine – even in different countries – how would you describe your culinary line today?
Proudly i can say that i have very good skills and technique for that fashion, thank you for my hard work especially to all masters chef i work with, now every time i see wrong method of preparing or cooking food i can tell and teach them what is the right and good one plus techniques and tips how to do it,
I can proudly say that I have acquired very good skills and techniques in this area. That’s thanks for all the hard work – especially the collaboration with many master chefs helped me to got me there. Now, every time I see an incorrect method of preparing or cooking meals, I can help with tips and tricks and teach the techniques that exist.
Very amusing! Like when the student becomes a master. What is your master dish?
Hmmm, master dish? Creating and designing a new dish is always something special for me. I spend a lot of time, effort and focus on all aspects of the dish, especially what ingredients I need. I always dream that I have all the ingredients in the world available to create even more dishes and also to create a unique taste for the right season. I mean, from any dish to claim that is my master dish or signature dish.
I like making delicious Nappa Haku Sai (cabbage sushi rolls). Watch our step-by-step video on how to make delicious cabbage sushi rolls with edible Kiko flowers and fresh veg.
What’s the weirdest food combination you’ve ever created?
Aburi or slightly searing lamb lean sit on a bed of pink block of himalayan rock salt.
Sounds weird! Can you share one of your cooking tricks with us?
The best trick is always to ask the cook how he did it and also to do some self-study about the dish. Sure, you can cook it by recipe and you will achieve 80%, but the trick is to taste it, watch the cook prepare it, and you should always be alert to study every movement and technique of the chef who is preparing the dish. Ask how and why he/she did this or that. To ask your superior, head chefs or master chefs is always the best way. After that comes trying the dishes by yourself.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu at the JW Marriott in Mumbai?
Hamachi maki rolls with black couscous truffle sauce together with slice of black truffle on top and tamari soy sauce mixed in yoshu koshu pickled with Japanese homemade mayonnaise.
Japanese Edamame tofu in black bean spicy sauce with crisp lotus root and shimeji mushroom, baby bok choy.
In 2007 you worked as Sushi Head Chef at the Tokyo on The Rocks in Dubai. There is a big competition in Dubai. How did you make your menus, your sushi, stand out from the other sushi restaurants in Dubai?
At that time there were already menus and the restaurant had four kitchens: Filipino, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. The challenge is how to free yourself from mere preparing dishes. Some dishes that I prepare are certainly basics. But the way of presenting is different. I serve with a lot of creativity and give the plates new looks. I am doing Shabu Shabu style and involve the guests by cooking on the hot induction plate in the middle of their tables. I also explain how to prepare the soups and how to grill or steam the food.
In 2008 you moved to the famous ZUMA restaurant in Dubai as part of the pre-opening team. What was your most valuable experience at that time?
I remember the three-month training, oh yes! There I learned exactly what I was looking for. I learned profound, deep techniques and it improved everything I had learned so far – from the basics of a beginner to the skills of a professional chef. From then on I can say that I started being a very good chef. I thank everyone with whom I was allowed to work there.
In 2013, you arrived in India – as a Japanese master chef at the newly opened ICT Hotel in New Delhi. The first time as a chef in India: What was your impression?
My first impression was ordinary, normal. But I had to check the market for Japanese food especially sushi. As always, I wanted to give the best of the best as it was the first time I had worked in India. I visited some Japanese restaurants to meet some of their best suppliers and get to know them. Then I started to implement what the hotel had planned. I started with a sushi class until in the end I was even a part of the annual chef competition IFCA.
Indian cuisine is unique and full of different spices. Do you see any way to create an Indian-Japanese fusion dish? And if so, what could it be?
Indian japanese fusion? its a big No, since the restaurant is a Asian cuisine i can cooked for them fusion style or some little request is fine but not in japanese sushi, makng the food about their recipe and right way of manner in cooking is always the best of serving food in the plates, customer need to understand what cuisine they want to eat,
Indian-Japanese fusion? That’s a big No. If the restaurant stands for Asian cuisine, I can create some fusion dishes. That’s fine. But not for Japanese sushi. The preparation of the food works here according to well-tried traditions and always with the necessary respect. Guests must be clear about what they want to eat.
In what sense is the expectation of Japanese food different in India?
In delhi japanese food not much people like to eat compare to mumbai that everyday have a busy our for sushi and maki roll, and a lot of catering and party held in our restaurant
In Delhi there are not much people eating a lot of Japanese food. But in Mumbai, there is a busy hour every day for sushi and maki rolls. There is also a lot of catering and many celebrations are held in our restaurant.
For the preparation of your sushi in India – do you have access to unique types of fish that exist only in India?
Actually, I never use fish from India. All my fish and many of my ingredients come from Japan – fish, vegetables, spices and bottled sauces. Only one fish I use locally – namely “Bombay duck fish”. A very famous fish in India and it has a very good taste. I cooked fry with salmon tartar spicy mayo and black truffle caviar on the top sit in crisp salty deep fried konbu leaf.
Is Japan still “calling” you to spend some time there? Perhaps to make a culinary journey through the country?
That would be great! I wish I could learn more techniques and tips, traveling and getting to know Japan, and try all the new ingredients.
Thank you, Dondon!
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