Celebrity chef Saransh Goila speaks to The Sunday Guardian about his culinary journey, his signature Butter Chicken dish and what makes him a passionate traveller.
Saransh Goila is one of the most popular names in India’s culinary sector, having achieved the feat of being the youngest celebrity chef on the “India’s Top Ten Chefs” list. The 32-year-old has travelled extensively around the world to explore various cuisines and cultures—the discoveries from which are reflected in his food. He has also served as a guest judge on MasterChef Australia. Goila talks about becoming a chef, preserving India’s regional cuisines and his upcoming residency at the famous Carousel restaurant in London.
Q. How did you get passionate about cooking? What fascinates you about culinary arts?
A. My love for cooking began when I was a kid. It’s because my parents would fight over what was there for breakfast and lunch… I could sense food was very important to my family. Our only source of entertainment was cooking and eating, due to financial limitations. A lot of times I’d see my grandpa cook for the family; and that would be our Sunday picnic. So, for me it started out as a hobby, but as I got older, my mom started to see that I was really good at it. I became her sous chef. Now many years later, whether I’m cooking behind the range or in front of the camera, I acknowledge how my hobby turned into passion and then profession. But the real joy still remains in being a cook who can cook a good meal for his loved ones. The ultimate question anyway is: “Is it good? Did it give you pleasure?”
Q. What is your vision for popularising Indian cuisine globally?
A. I run “Sadak Chef”, which is a property I have. I travel all across India to look for local experts who cook dishes that are dying, are unknown or have specific art of cooking that we are unaware of. I want to promote these artists, dishes and cuisines in India and globally. “Sadak Chef” is a true attempt to make sure that regional Indian cuisines do not vanish or die.
Q. You are known for your unique understanding of regional cuisines. How do you think they have evolved in the last decade?
A. I have seen a great evolution in this space in the last decade. When I started the “Sadak Chef” movement in 2012, there were only a handful of people who acknowledged the fact that we needed to look inwards… within our country and regional cuisines. In the last decade, a lot of chefs have opened restaurants that serve regional cuisines, made using regional ingredients. I feel proud to see the younger lot of Indian chefs taking this movement forward. It’s very risky to run a restaurant that is based on regional cuisines and ingredients. One has to educate the consumer about it. But now it has become a trend and currently captures the number one spot. I think it is a great movement and is here to stay. The idea is for everyone to learn that we are here for an experience. Regional fusion is something I find very confusing. There is a very thin line between innovating and taking a classic dish and trying to reinvent it. We all have to be very careful with that.
Q. How did Butter Chicken become your signature dish? Can you talk about opening your own restaurant?
A. I happened to make this recipe accidentally. I wanted to create a dish that tasted like Butter Chicken, but didn’t have chicken because my parents are vegetarian. I introduced smoke directly into the gravy, didn’t use any sugar, addedkasuri methi and tweaked the tomato to dairy ratio 80:20 as opposed to the usual 60:40, so that the flavours would be more complex, without the dish being overly rich and unhealthy. When my friends in Mumbai first ate it, they loved it so much that they started a Twitter hashtag, #GoilaButterChicken. This then became my signature dish, which I started serving through my outlets and pop-ups.
Q. Your food travelogue, India on My Platter, has been appreciated by critics and readers alike. What motivated you to become an author?
A. I always considered recipe books as diamond. There are so many recipe books in the market and with the digital revolution, people now have access to recipes on YouTube, blogs and apps. There are so many ways of getting recipes online. I thought that since I had a knack of telling my travel stories from across the globe, I could share the stories with people. That is when the idea of making a food travelogue hit me. I wanted to make it more experiential. The person reading the book should be able to travel across with me. I wanted them to learn about the culture, perceptions and reactions of different communities on food, the types of dishes one can find and more. So, it was not just the recipes, but for my readers to live in that moment, connect and interact with different people. To share my perspective on Indian food with the world is what motivated me to become an author.
Q. You have donned the hats of a chef, TV host and writer. How do you balance the roles and where do you find most satisfaction?
A. Balancing these roles is very difficult, I must say. It’s a tough one to pull off. I have my phases where I divide my time among the roles. At times I am a chef for four months and a TV host for the next four, and a writer for other months. I jump between these professions. You have to multitask a lot and learn to let go of things at times. You have to have a solid team because I am nothing without my team.
I love hosting food shows, I love travelling and I love documenting recipes that I learn from other people, so I think food content is my favourite. It gives me great peace in finding the creator in me who is a chef and also a person who can act and write.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming residency at Carousel in London.
A. I was in touch with Ollie Templeton, who is a chef at Carousel. We wanted to see if we could take Goila Butter Chicken for a small pop-up. I decided to take it up because I feel we have to keep pushing boundaries when it comes to our own brand and representing Indian food globally. To me it is not just a Butter Chicken pop-up, it’s a lot more. We are representing all parts of India through six courses, which will reflect India’s diversity. We have dishes from Assam, Gujarat, a Sindhi and a Mangalorean dish on the menu, which makes a very eclectic mix of our interstate cuisines. What I aim to achieve from this is to make people in the UK aware of Goila Butter Chicken and to take them through the Indian food journey. We also intend to open Goila Butter Chicken and an Indian restaurant in London after this pop-up.