Meet the chef who will revolutionize the food scene in Kathmandu.
I went to the famed Rox Restaurant and climbed the hallowed steps to the third floor where the new Executive Chef was waiting like a final boss in a game. Meet Santosh Kumar, the new Executive Chef at the Hyatt Regency. Drinking freshly squeezed orange juice with extra pulp I was ready to find out more about him.
Q: Could you introduce yourself?
S: My name is Santosh Kumar and I’m the Executive Chef of the Hyatt Regency. I’ve been working abroad as a chef for thirteen years, mostly for property openings in Dubai and even boutique hotels all over the Middle-East. Finally I’ve landed in Kathmandu and this is a new brand for me and I’m looking forward to bringing new things into the market.
Q: What kind of chef are you?
S: I like to think of myself as a chef who thinks out of the box. I don’t follow the norms and like to experiment with different ingredient combinations. For example, I’ll be making a chicken dish wrapped in bacon and gnocchi stuffed with rice and green peas. It’s a combination that sounds weird but the taste will surprise you. When I cook, the food should be fresh and unique. As a chef, there is no end to learning as you should be learning something new every day.
Q: How did you train as a chef?
S: I started in my second year of college. It was mostly cooking for large events where I had to prepare large quantities of food but I wanted to improve further so I suggested to my professors that we should be doing small intimate events where we can really cook for the guests. They agreed and I started to develop my leadership skills from that point onwards. At the age of 22, I left India to work as a chef in Bahrain. By 25, I had learned everything in the world of banquet foods by working in the different kitchens and even taking additional shifts. It was an unorthodox approach but I’m happy with the result. In the end, I was managing the banquet operations, coffee shop and even room service.
Q: Do you have a philosophy on food?
S: No double plate. That means that when I start plating, I don’t second guess myself and make that plate the best that it can be. I pride myself on making my dishes stand out aesthetically and making the guests go “Wow!” when they look at the food that I put out. The presentation is also a big factor as the eyes can “taste” the food even before you eat it.
Q: What changes have you made so far and what can we expect in the future?
S: It’s been a week since I’ve landed in Kathmandu. It’s my first time here and all is well so far. This is currently a beautiful restaurant with a Mediterranean ambience but I want to remodel it as a rustic Italian restaurant. Eventually, I want to make this restaurant a tourist attraction. I’m involved in the interior decoration as well as I feel that it is an extension of my food. There is a new breakfast menu where fruits are cut and juiced in front of the guests along with waffles, pancakes and toppings. There are even flavored idilis being introduced. This means that the guests get to experience something new every day. Eventually I want to try and introduce sous-vide cooking and molecular gastronomy.
Q: When things are not going right in the kitchen, do you get vocal?
S: Not at all. I don’t raise my voice. I’m basically not very panicky if things go wrong. Most chefs will start shouting and cursing but I believe that this is not the solution to the problem and will instead escalate it. I try to monitor things calmly and try to figure out how to fix a problem when it arises.
Q: What is the most important meal?
S: Breakfast is the most important. The guests start their day with breakfast and if you give them lots of variety in their menu, their day is going to be something different and positive.
Q: Most memorable incident in the kitchen?
S: It was while I was preparing dinner for 3000 people at a banquet in Jumeriah Hotel. My kitchen made everything and sent it off to be delivered. The delivery truck left for the hotel but I heard that the food never made it there. The food carts inside the truck had fallen over when the truck hit a speed hump, resulting in a huge mess. I had just under two hours to prepare another dinner from scratch. But there was a problem. My kitchen staff had already cleaned the kitchen and left, so I was by myself. I called back as many of my kitchen staff as possible but I was still understaffed so I called around to other chefs in the area if they could spare some of their staff. As I was on good terms with chefs from other restaurants, they sent over some help. With the time ticking ever so dangerously, my ragtag group managed to successfully provide dinner to 3000 people.
I look back and that event could have destroyed my reputation but I managed to pull through and will always be grateful for the help I received. It also reinforced my belief that a chef should always have a plan B as things can inevitably go wrong unexpectedly.
Q: Parting advice to young chefs?
S: Do something new every day and never forget your past mistakes.
Fish Trout 200 g
Lemon juice 5 ml
Salt 5 g
Pepper 10 g
Olive oil 165 ml
Crushed potatoes 100 g
Spinach 10 g
Egg yolk 1
Pumpkin 50 g
White wine 50 ml
White chocolate (grated) 20 g
Marinate the fish with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice.
Roll the fish with spinach in the center and cover it with silver foil.
Poach the fish for 10 minutes and remove the wrap.
Heat the butter in skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the roulade on each side for 3 minutes.
Season the crushed potatoes and flash it in the oven.
To make pumpkin ganache, cut the pumpkin in half, remove the seeds and fill with white wine. Flash it in the oven for 20 minutes.
Remove and scoop the pulp, add grated white chocolate and season it.
To make olive hollandaise, put yolk in double boiler, whisk and incorporate olive oil slowly and season it.
Plate the fish with pumpkin ganache and olive hollandaise. Add the crushed potatoes on the side.
Chicken breast with skin 220 g
Mustard paste 5 g
Salt 5 g
Pepper 10 g
Parsley 5 g
Olive oil 15 g
Rice 50 g
Green peas 20 g
Parmesan cheese 15 g
Egg yolk 1
Corn flour 5 g
Potato 75 g
Coriander leaves 5 g
Star anis 3 g
Red wine jus 20 ml
Bacon 30 g
Marinate the chicken with salt, pepper, mustard paste and olive oil and parsley chop.
Place the foil, keep ham slices and keep the chicken breast skin side down. Starting with the smallest end, roll the chicken tightly. Tuck in the ends.
Cook the chicken in water for 10 to 12 minutes and remove the wrap
Heat the butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the roulades on each side for 5 minutes.
To make the gnocchi, buzz the peas and rice into a food processor.
Add a little flour and mix with spoon.
Cut into ½ inch pieces. Very gently roll the pieces off the end of a gnocchi board or a fork.
Boil the gnocchi in a large pot of salty water until they float, then another minute. Drain and set in baking sheet.
Heat the butter in a large sauté pan, add the garlic and gnocchi. Toss to combine.
Make fine juliennes of potato, fry till crispy.
Place the chicken roll, with green pea gnocchi and crispy potato on the side.
Pour the jus on the chicken.