Serving Indian food to global palates requires knowledge of flavours, a penchant for cooking, and perseverance in leaps and bounds—all of which Chef Dayashankar Sharma embodies in abundance. Hailing from a small town of Rajasthan, this lover of all-things-Indian not only opened his restaurant, Heritage Dulwich, in London but also garnered the coveted Michelin plate (thrice!) in the process! In an exclusive conversation with us, Chef Sharma reveals his journey, hardships, and favourite recipes. By Bayar Jain
1. Being born and raised in a small village of Rajasthan to now becoming a Michelin plate winner…what has the journey been like for you?
My journey in the hospitality industry was not an easy one. But my Indian roots (of being born and brought up in Bhojpura Kalan, a small village in Rajasthan) and traditions have helped me grow.
I did my diploma in 1989 and then worked with Oberoi Hotels. Next, I worked at Taj Group of Hotels for more than nine years. From there, I got the opportunity to work in Sri Lanka, which was followed by food festivals in various countries like Sri Lanka, Singapore, France and Switzerland. Later in 2000, I came to the UK and opened a restaurant. I joined the Tamarind Group of Restaurants and worked with them for 12 years. This allowed me to become the head chef of Imli and Zaika, which was followed by food consultancies for a major airline catering company and other restaurants.
I’ve been awarded the Michelin plate—which is quite a prestigious award—for four years in a row. In 2019 and 2020, I was awarded the Best Chef of the Year in London; and in 2021, the British parliament presented me with the Best Asian, and Best Indian Chef in London recognitions. Further, I got a chance to cook for our late Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at the SAARC Summit. I also did chaîne de rotisserie with Chef Satish Arora.
Currently, I run my own restaurant—Heritage Dulwich—in London. I am also associated with Lord’s Cricket Ground where I serve food to the cricket fans and cricketers.
2. What are some challenges you faced during your journey?
There were many hardships—namely, coming out of my small village and going to a completely foreign place with no familiar faces and hardly any money in hand. Future prospects motivated me though. The challenges, I think, are important for someone to develop as a person. They’ve shaped me.
3. What motivated you to become a professional chef?
Tasting my mother’s delicious cooking motivated me to become a chef; however, I wasn’t so sure about it then. Hearing about the business intrigued me and convinced me to pursue it. I began my experimenting at home before getting my hotel diploma. For the most part, they were simple dishes. But this instilled in me a passion to create more complex things.
I would not say that becoming a chef was my very first choice though. Like most people, at some point, I wanted to become a doctor. My passion for cooking quashed that idea.
4. How do you bring Indian flavours to global palates, without compromising on taste?
Using ‘Indian’ spices is the essence of Indian food. I ensure I keep this essence of Indian food in my dishes. This way, there is no compromise in taste. However, the level of spice is different. As Indians, we like our food really spicy. But to make the food suitable for delicate tongues of the UK—or even globally— the spice has to be handled delicately.
5. Some believe that dishes should remain authentic without any fusions. Your take?
I always believe that our heritage recipes should be known around the globe. I prefer to use lost recipes, especially India’s regional food where authentic flavours are retained. Cultural food recipes are also one of my favourites. I make sure that, wherever I go, I use traditional and authentic recipes.
6. How different are the diners and restaurants of London when compared to India’s?
People in a country like the UK would not want India’s spice levels, so the recipes need to be adapted to suit their palates. The local resources of the country also matter. However, I am still representing India with my food. That’s why my goal is to always retain the foods’ authenticity, no matter what ingredients are used.
7. With more than 32 years of experience in the industry, what are some major changes you’ve noticed during your career?
Having spent so long in the industry, you find that there are many changes and many things that have stayed the same. For example, now with the improvement of technology, the manpower needed to do menial tasks in the kitchen has reduced. It helps save time and money, too. Apart from that, the essence of the kitchen is still the same. Everyone works hard to create the best food possible for customers.
8. You’re known to bring heritage recipes to the table. What are some of your personal favourites and why?
Any of the lamb or chicken dishes. There’s so much complexity that goes in the sauces. The cooking process—when cooked to perfection—makes it divine to eat. I recommend all the recipes on our heritage menu. It pens my 32 years’ worth of experience on paper.
9. Your favourite food joints in London?
I eat around London ever so often—whether it is simple fast food or a fine dining restaurant of any cuisine. Staying true to my Indian side, I think almost all Indian fine dining restaurants like Benares and Gymkhana are great places to eat.
10. Food of Europe or food of India—your preferred cuisine?
I prefer Indian cuisine to European foods. Eating Indian food reminds me of home, my mother’s cooking, and my memories of growing up in India. I do love European cuisine as well; they have great dishes, which are nice to indulge in from time to time.
11. Your comfort meal?
My comfort meal would be my wife’s cooking. Her simple dal (lentils) with roti (Indian flatbread) or rice is enough to comfort me.
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