Celebrity chef and co-owner of Sona’s New York was in Bangalore to launch a new menu at a local restaurant. In between bites of delish food, HELLO! caught up with him for a quick tete-a-tete on his remarkable journey so far.
HELLO!: What brings you to India this time and how often do you visit the country?
HARI NAYAK: “So, this time I’m here to launch our new menu at Alchemy. We’ve been doing trials with the chef and have been part of this menu development process. It’s been at work, and we’ve been working on it for the past four months with the Head Chef Sanket. So, this time it’s more for the launch and I am excited for it, but I will probably be visiting again in the next four months and then, hopefully, visit Alchemy every quarter.”
H!: From working in restaurants in America to owning a string of restaurants, including the famous Sona NYC, across the world, how would you describe your culinary journey so far?
HN: “So, my culinary journey has been, I think a dream come true for any chef. It’s been more than twenty years since I left India, but it’s been so fulfilling as a chef. I feel so lucky to have so many different partnerships around the world and it just gets me to do what I love to do—create concepts, and create great food. I love to travel so it takes me to different parts of the world and that keeps me inspired.”
H!: You are one of the most sought-after chefs, who has simplified the process of Indian cooking. Can you share 3 quick tips for our readers regarding Indian cooking?
HN: “Always use the best seasonal local produce. Ingredients are the key, always, so find and source the best produce that you can get. Always grind fresh seasoning, fresh spices, and masalas, that’s what I do in my kitchen. And finally, always keep it simple; simple and balanced flavours are the key.”
H!: You have worked under world-renowned chefs like Daniel Boulud, and Marcus Samuelsson. What are the learnings that you continue to use to this day?
HN: “For me, one takeaway has always been to do a lot of trials while processing or creating a dish. It requires multiple trials and a lot of patience. Also, keep trying to do R&D, learn—never stop learning. And you have to remember that it’s always a collaborative effort with your team and it’s the team that matters.”
H!: You are involved in every minute detail of your restaurants. Don’t you feel the need to delegate responsibility given that you have a lot on your plate?
HN: “No, I always rely on my team. I believe in teamwork. It’s never possible to run a restaurant, especially on a global level, if you don’t rely on your team.”
H!: You have diversified quite a bit with the restaurant business. How do you manage to maintain quality and consistency across the world?
HN: “Hiring the right team and the right chef is always the key. Finding a chef for the team with a similar vision and focus that you have for the food is important and that’s how I maintain the quality.”
H!: You are responsible for supporting India on the Global Food Map. When you look back at that, what would you like to tell your younger self?
HN: “If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self to spend time learning and travelling within India and learning a lot more about Indian cuisine before moving out to the west. That would have been a key takeaway—spend more time learning and working with skills with chefs locally here and in the west. And don’t waste a single moment.”
H!: Does Chef Hari Nayak cook for his family or does he prefer to be fed by someone else?
HN: “I always like to be fed even though I always end up cooking for my friends and family. But if I had a choice, I would love to always be fed. I love simple, comforting home cooking and I would love it if somebody else cooks for me.”