Chef Shashvat Dhandhania shares his unique cooking style that merges European umami flavours with texture and taste experimentations
He runs a vegetarian modern restaurant-patisserie To Die For that offers dishes inspired by the cooking styles of Italy and France
A true Calcuttan by heart, young chef Shashvat Dhandhania always wanted to use his passion for cooking to bring in global flavours in a never-seen-before manner to the city. The Le Cordon Bleu alumnus was just 8 when he stumbled upon Tarla Dalal books and started learning the art of cooking from his mother and grandmother. Even though he trained as a pastry chef in the London institution, his experiences in multinational restaurants gave birth to To Die For in his mind. Today he runs a vegetarian modern restaurant-patisserie offering dishes inspired by the cooking styles of Italy and France.
“The Italian food that we are used to is not entirely Italian food, but a more Americanised version of it. A lot of Italian food has come into the country over the past few years but not all of them are true to authentic Italian cooking. What we are trying to do at To Die For is to bring in that vibe, space and experience in the ways our food is cooked and served onto our plates. Our offerings are not entirely Italian, since we do away with meat and our cooking style mainly derives from the Northern parts of Italy and Southern parts of France. However, what we try to adhere to is the authentic techniques while playing around with the textures and palates of each dish,” says Shashvat about the palates that one can expect at his restaurant.
To Die For was a compliment Shashvat received even before he conceived the diner, which inspired him in a manner to actually consider it as a name for his own venture. Since he realises that authentic Italian food might turn out to be bland as compared to the more popular, Americanised versions of the cuisine, he tries to keep his menu comprehendible not just in terms of its name but taste and texture as well. “A dish might have a fancy name or feel to it, but until and unless it does something to your palate it wouldn’t turn out to be an experience you are seeking. Keeping this in mind, I try to diversify the range of a particular ingredient that builds up the dish. The food I like to cook is based on a particular ingredient or vegetable to be more particular, that is going to be the central focus on the plate,” shares Shashvat.
The diner has come up with pumpkin steaks for instance which are charred just like its non- vegetarian counterpart would have. The steak is then accentuated with other ingredients that will make the central ingredient taste better. Shashvat believes this can be achieved in multiple ways such as by pairing it with caramelised onion paste or sundried tomatoes. Sundried tomatoes can help balance out the sweetness of pumpkin with its tanginess. Soft cheeses like Goat cheese or feta cheese can work wonders with the pumpkin steak as well whereas cream cheese will only make the end product sweeter. If paired with a hard cheese, blue cheese along with caperberry and olives can transform the dish with added flavours and textures as well.
“I come from a Marwari family and I keep going back to Indian food and the styles our grandmothers followed in the kitchen. A proper meal even to this date always consists of three sabzis at least, a dal, one portion of rice and a roti, along with some curd and achaar. If we take a closer look at the sabzis, one of them will always be sukha (dry), the other geela (wet) and the third something on the sweeter side. The tadka of the daals too will also depend on the type of roti it is being paired with. Hence texture and flavour experimentations have always been out there no matter which cuisine it is,” shares Shashvat about his style of cooking.
The new chef’s tasting menu at To Die For reflects his inclination towards experimentation as he has taken hints from desi flavours and merged them with European style dishes. “We are limited with the spices that we use in authentic Italian cooking. Just to expand the ability to play around with it, I have used the flavours of coriander in Palak Paneer to curate a spoonful of condiment for my Asparagus and Brussel Sprouts dish. The similar flavours can only be recognised when the sauce is tasted separately. I have also used cumin and fried onions in two of my new introductions, individually,” adds the Cordon Bleu alumnus.
Keeping up with the farm to table concept that has always been there in India even before it became a trend, Shashvat is also trying to ensure more and more farm fresh ingredients on the connoisseur’s plate.
Price for two: Rs. 2500 AI