Chef Rohit Ghai is one of the best known Indian chefs in the UK, but he’s most widely known as the fastest Indian to get a Michelin star—within 10 months of the opening of Jamavar in London, in 2016. Ghai recently released his first cookbook, Tarkari: Vegetarian and Vegan Indian Dishes with Heart and Soul, a rich repository of his earliest food and travel memories. We caught up with the culinary maven in Dubai, where he showcased his innovation at Expo 2020 Dubai through the pop-up Kutir. By Misbaah Mansuri
Travel + Leisure India: From earning a Michelin Star in record-breaking time to releasing your first book, how has your journey been?
Chef Rohit Ghai: It has been quite a journey! Winning a Michelin Star and the release of Tarkari are definite highlights. I have learned from some wonderful mentors over the years and am very proud of the team we have built at Kutir. It was so exciting to refine the menu and concept of the restaurant and bring a different style of Indian cuisine to the London market. We now have our second restaurant in the city, Manthan (and I have a solo project in Doha called Iksha), so I hope that I can act as a mentor to our team.
Travel + Leisure India: What was the starting point of your book?
Chef Rohit Ghai: The book is all about cooking with family, and I wanted to pay homage to the food my parents ate and cooked for me when I was growing up. That is where my love of cooking started. These recipes take me back to fond memories of watching my mother cook. Being part of the action in the busy kitchen makes up some of my first childhood memories.
Travel + Leisure India: What does the narrative of the book hinge on and are there any surprises in store?
Chef Rohit Ghai: Tarkari means ‘vegetable ’in Urdu and, as anyone who has been to one of my restaurants knows, I believe it is important to champion great seasonal produce and ensure a good balance of vegetarian and vegan dishes on the menu. Readers will be pleasantly surprised by the wide variety of innovative recipes, not simply meat dishes that have been replaced by vegetables but recipes that are a celebration of experimenting with different flavours, which is, I believe, the beauty of Indian cooking.
Travel + Leisure India: What is the gastronomic trend you see gaining momentum this year?
Chef Rohit Ghai: Vegetarian eating, definitely. People have been eating more vegetarian and vegan dishes year on year, and this year will see an acceleration of that [trend]. I think there will be more vegan-inclusive menus that are focussed on brilliant vegetable dishes, rather than separates menu for meat eaters and vegans.
Travel + Leisure India: How has travel shaped your life? Which has been your favourite destination?
Chef Rohit Ghai: Oman is the most special place I have travelled to. I have had many holidays there, and I think it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. I also had a great holiday in Mauritius a couple of years ago with friends.
Travel + Leisure India: Tell us about your most memorable meal.
Chef Rohit Ghai: I will never forget the first proper meal I cooked myself when I was about 15 years old. It was sarson ka saag, a Punjabi dish made with greens and spices that has always been special to me as my mother taught me how to make it. When she approved of it, I was so happy!
Travel + Leisure India: Expansion plans seem to be on the cards for you. Which destination have you set your sights on?
Chef Rohit Ghai: Yes, indeed! From opening Manthan in London to being part of Expo 2020 Dubai, it is a very exciting time for me. I have loved working on Expo 2020 and enjoy the time I spend there, so a restaurant in Dubai would be a dream come true. Either Dubai or Oman would be on the top of my list.