Swaminandan Swaminandan – Executive Chef Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, New Delhi
Swaminandan Swaminandan wanted to become an Indian Army officer, but fate had something else in store for him. Today Chef Swaminandan works as Executive Chef at the Crowne Plaza in New Delhi.
He speaks about Indian cuisine, his experience abroad in London and the Middle East and why he considers his style of cooking as kind of freestyle.
Swaminandan Swaminandan – Becoming a Chef by accident
Chef Swaminandan, today you are Executive Chef in New Delhi with many international gastronomic experiences. How did it all start? Why did you become a chef?
I became a chef by an accident than a choice. I wanted to be a commissioned officer in the Indian Army but destiny had something else stored for me. I landed in National Institute of Hotel Management, Mumbai. I was inspired by chef faculty Vernon Coelho and decided to become a chef. 15 years down the line I don’t regret it a bit.
Which culinary school did you attend first?
Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Mumbai – I learned all the basics of kitchen.
WMI, Gurrugram – Advanced culinary training is each section of kitchens and then I underwent rigorous training under the choice of my cuisine and kitchen.
After several years as a chef in India, you moved to London, where you worked for several years as a chef in various interesting restaurants. How did this time in London shape you to this day as a chef?
Food is all about both Art and Science. I firmly believe that both Art and Science can’t evolve without freedom, without critical thinking, without working with talented people who are not afraid of failing. London provided me with the opportunity to work with absolutely talented people who had the madness of perfection. London also provided me the opportunity to work with Michelin star restaurants. Those were the best years of my both professional and personal life. London stint saw me participating in MasterChef UK professional series. Those years were huge learning curves.
As an Executive Chef you have also gained experience in the Middle East (Kuwait and Doha). Could you get in contact with local cuisine there?
Middle East was indeed a brilliant place for me to explore the local food. I was amazed to see the similarity and influences of Indian spices and cooking methods with subtle differences as well. I was lucky to work with Danish Bakery in Kuwait which was run by a Denish lady married to a Kuwaiti. The local food served in the outlets were exactly like home cooked meals i.e chicken majboj, fatayer, marag bamia, etc. In Qatar, I was fortunate enough to be invited to my colleague’s home to see and learn Qatari food which is very similar to Kuwaiti food but again Qatari food has its own distinctive features.
How would you describe your own culinary style today after so many different experiences?
After 15 years behind the stoves and traveling and working in many countries I have enriched myself with so many unique culinary trends and facts. Today I would term my culinary style as freestyle; which comprises the wisdom and knowledge of various cuisines. By saying freestyle it doesn’t mean fusion cooking but rather it means understanding the usages of ingredients to its best value with the soul of either one or two cultures mixed homogeneously.
Which specialties do you serve as Executive Chef at the Crowne Plaza in New Delhi?
We do the following at CP New Delhi:
Indian cuisine is known from a traditional perspective. How would you describe modern Indian cuisine?
Indian kitchen is well rooted in its regional traditions and it draws inspiration from more than 5000 years of continuous documented history in form of Ved, Upanishad etc. After 1994 many Indian chefs started revamping traditional Indian food and now Modern Indian food is widely accepted across the world. Evolution is cosmic law and it applies to food as well. Modern Indian food has come a long way and chefs like Gagan Anand and Manish Malhotra features in the top 50 restaurants in the world.
What external influences does Indian cuisine have today? Asia?
Indian food symbolizes the very essence of BharatVarsh – “वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम” – The whole world is one family. Indian food has exchanged dialogues since time immemorial majority through trade with South East Asia, Middle East and as far as Europe. Where India made the world a more fragrant place with its spices, India received a lot of nature’s bounty for all corners of the world be it potato, chili, tomato, Samosa, Jalebi, Tempura, sugar etc. The most astonishing part is that we made these influences such an integral part of our own daily life that these yesteryears influences with Indian version now influences the rest of the world.
Fusion cuisine: Which type/direction of fusion suits Indian cuisine best?
I would rather use word inspired than fusion; as the soul and essence are still intact. Indian food is extremely well paired and mixed with flavourful cuisines like Chinese, Thai etc.
Which of the lesser-known spices do you use when cooking?
Long pepper, yellow chili powder, sandalwood, vetiver roots, betel roots, stone fungus, edible gum, fenugreek seeds, star anise, black cardamom, licorice, edible camphor, dried wild celery fruit, lakadong turmeric, Malabar tamarind, kokum, ratanjot, etc. the list is pretty long.
And which lesser-known vegetables?
Dried lotus seeds, camachile, star fruit, badhal (wild variety of Jackfruit), sem, red spinach, varieties of yam, colocasia, colocasia leaves etc.
What are some of your special cooking techniques?
Sous vide, Dum cooking, Tandoor, Pan Seared.
If you had time to publish an Indian culinary book, what would it be about?
Lost wisdom of spices, vegetables, fruits and cooking techniques from Indian subcontinent.
Are there any places in the world where you would like to work as a chef someday?
French Laundry, California and Sukiyabashi Jiro, Tokyo.
Thank you so much for your time, Chef Swaminandan!
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