Chef Shamsul Wahid is running a total of six kitchens for two popular restaurant-chains in the city, Smoke House Deli and Social, and yet his demeanor is nothing like the reality TV chefs you encounter on Hell’s kitchen. Sitting down for a quick chat just a day before the opening of Odeon Social, its latest branch, he is busy yet composed and in control of his domain.
When one heads kitchens for two restaurants it is possible that sameness would creep into the dishes prepared in them. “The main concern anywhere is that food must taste good. Both my restaurants are different in a lot of ways. Smoke House has largely a European food menu and we lean towards flavoring from smoke there and Social is another animal all together. Social is a sum of simple things done well,” he says while differentiating the food in his kitchens. On being asked how he makes sure that the quality of the dish is not compromised, he says that you have to have a trustworthy team. “A great group of sous chefs and try as hard as you can to avoid human errors,” he adds.
“We are exponentially better than what we were five years ago and we are improving because a lot of young chefs who have travelled in the country and abroad and learned different styles of cooking are applying it in new and innovative ways.”
With a recent surges in economy the Indian public has now become open to experiences and are willing to spend money in restaurants something, the Chef says, his grandparents were strictly against. “We are exponentially better than what we were five years ago and we are improving because a lot of young chefs who have travelled in the country and abroad and learned different styles of cooking are applying it in new and innovative ways. Though we have a long way to go we seem to be on the right track,” says Chef Wahid talking about the cuisine scene in the country. He believes that there is enough demand for novel ideas in gastronomy in India and that consumers are looking for experiences now as opposed to earlier when all attention was just focused totally on the food. “Talking about gastronomic experiences, food tourism is rising like never before. People are actually travelling to eat, and that brings a lot of great opportunities,” thinks Chef Wahid.
Recently the city has seen a number of new restaurants that serve Indian fusion food and the various state houses also attract a large numbers of foodies who like to savor authentic food from different Indian states. “Delhi has a very cosmopolitan palate, it’s an amalgamation of cultures and hence cuisines. People have friends and relations from all over and they have tasted the food from all those places via those people and they want to try it again and so the demand for regional food has grown in recent times,” he says.
On being asked about the difficulties he faces in altering a western dish to make it a better fit for the Indian pallet or vice versa he says that world over chefs use the Chinese yin-yang theory to resolve this. “It can be quite challenging. You could totally strip a recipe of its originality so it needs to be done with utmost care and calculation though there should be room for intuition also,” he believes. Chef Wahid says that Indian cuisine is a complex and a highly developed cuisine. “Indian chefs who are successfully running their kitchens in western countries are able to do so because of their training in basic Indian cuisine,” he says. “Because our own food is so complex and mature we know what tastes good and how to get there so that helps a lot when you are trying to innovate and personalize a dish,” explains Wahid.
Coming to the event at hand, he says that he was very proud to have a kitchen in CP, a place where he has grown up and place which is a gastronomic mine for him. “I have a soft spot for CP and I am really happy that they are opening a Social here too,” he says. The Odeon Social has been decorated to take diners back to their school days. The tables are the one your teacher would use in a classroom, so are the benches. The walls are covered periodic table charts and there is even a skeleton hanging in a glass rack to remind you of your biology lab.