It takes a lot of courage to force a dramatic overhaul of the restaurants in Hotel Annapurna, one of Nepal’s most venerable establishments. To commemorate 50 years of excellence as one of Nepal’s premier hotels, the management has brought in one of the best chefs in India. He is none other than chef Aga Thammar Murthuza.With over 20 years of culinary experience, he has been there and done that. Now he’s here in Nepal as Executive Chef of Hotel Annapurna.
I meet him on a warm afternoon at The Coffee Shop to talk about life and cooking over a cup of black coffee.
Q: A short introduction about yourself.
Chef: My name is Aga Thammar Murthuza and I’m from Bangalore, India and have been working as an executive chef for the past decade for major organizations in India and abroad. I have been working in the culinary field for close to two decades.
Q: Were your adamant about being a chef from a young age?
Chef: From an early age, I was always interested in cooking. Even though there was pressure from my family to follow in my sibling’s footsteps of becoming engineers and doctors, I knew that I wanted to be a chef. My uncle, a chef at the India Tourism Development Corporation was crucial in shaping my mind as a chef.
Q: Any incident that inspired you to pursue a career as a chef?
Chef: In my college years, the Sanjeev Kapoor cooking show was the premiere cookery show. His show was instrumental in bringing recognition to chefs all over India. He was the role model back then for all aspiring chefs. He was hosting a cookery show at the Taj, Bangalore, which I happened to attend and absorb his recipes. Soon, there was an inter college cooking competition where I used his recipes to win and ultimately kick start my career as a chef.
Q: What was the first dish that you made?
Chef: Probably a fried egg. (Laughs)
Q: How do you identify yourself as a chef?
Chef: I see myself as a jack of all trades, master of none. As an executive chef, you have to have experience in all the various cuisines available. I am comfortable with Indian cuisine but I’m moving towards Continental and ultimately, fusing the east and the west in my cooking.
Q: Do you have a signature dish?
Chef: I don’t have a signature dish per se, but I try to do a lot of fusion with Indian and you’ll be trying out two dishes later. A chicken dish and a dessert.
Q: What changes will you be implementing here?
Chef: I will be revamping the entire menu for the three restaurants here in Hotel Annapurna. For The Coffee Shop, I’ll be introducing a global cuisine in the menu. Over the next few days, I’ll be concentrating on making new menus.
Q: How’s Kathmandu treating you so far?
Chef: The climate is good as of now, when I landed it was chilly compared to Bangalore.
Q: What do chefs usually eat?
Chef: So far, momo. But I usually eat biriyani, Cajun fried chicken and sometimes, salads.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
Chef: Here, I like to hit the bed as I’m still getting used to Kathmandu but I like playing table tennis, going out to explore and seeing new things. If I’m in a new place, I try to immerse myself in the local food culture.
Q: Taking pictures of food before eating, good or bad?
Chef: There are two ways to look at it. One is for safety and the other is if the presentation is attractive.
Q: When do you feel most happy as a chef?
Chef: When the plate comes back empty, knowing that the guest had a fulfilling meal.
Q: How do you deal with a customer who is unhappy with your dish?
Chef: That’s a big challenge for me personally. I try to understand why the guest is unhappy with the food by talking to him/her and getting their feedback. Since the damage is already done, I try to rectify the mistake so that future guests will not have the same complaint. It’s a difficult task but I really appreciate genuine feedback from guests even if it means starting from the basics with the dish.
Q: Is a Michelin star written in the stars for you?
Chef: Hopefully in the future. That’s still a long way to go as it’s a sign that you are at the top of the culinary world. It’s a motivational factor for chefs.
Q: Quality or quantity?
Chef: Quality. That’s what keeps the guests coming back for more. I can’t stress the importance of quality enough.
Q: Do you have a secret to finding inspiration?
Chef: It’s a combination of researching online and brainstorming with my colleagues. I try to get inputs from all over to extract the authenticity of a dish.
Q: Any underrated advice to budding chefs?
Chef: Be authentic and simple.
Q: What’s the inspiration behind this dish?
Chef: Chocolate is loved by people of all ages and I was in the kitchen trying out new recipes when I got the idea to mix the east and west. A fellow chef was making chocolate mousse which I borrowed a little bit, set the mouse, layered it with Rasmalai followed by another layer of chocolate mousse. I garnished it with chocolate sauce, fruit puree, dust of cocoa powder and voilà, the Chocolate Rasmalai Mousse was born.
- Gelatin 8 g
- Chocolate 500 g
- Whipped cream 500 g
- Rasmalai 800 g
- Condensed milk 100 g
- Pistachio 20 g
- Add little warm water to the gelatin and allow to soak for 2 minutes.
- Boil water and break the chocolate in a separate dry bowl.
- Place the chocolate bowl over the boiling water and melt it till it has no lumps and remove from the double boiler, Do not over heat the chocolate.
- Separately whisk the cream till peak top. Keep aside.
- Melt the gelatin on the double boiler, using the same method as the chocolate.
- Now fold the chocolate and the cream with light movement with spatula and finally fold the gelatin.
- Take a terrine mold and pipe the chocolate mousse and set it for 15-20 minutes add the rasmalai and again a pipe the chocolate mousse and set it for 2 hours.
- Take a heart shaped cutter and cut it and place it on a plate, garnish it condensed milk pistachio and chocolate.
- Serve chilled.