While celebrity chef Ritu Dalmia doesn’t like being called a celebrity chef, she does acknowledge there are some perks of being a renowned name. “When you go to a restaurant, table reservations are a little bit easier, desserts are on the house. That’s the best part about being a chef!” says Chef Dalmia, post her win at the recently held FoodSuperstars 2023 awards, organised by Culinary Culture in association with Campo Viejo. The (not) celebrity chef won the Best Activist Chef award at the event that celebrates the best culinary talent in the country.
Known for establishing one of the first Italian restaurants in the capital city, Diva, and her tireless work to uplift the LGBTQ+ community, Chef Ritu Dalmia is a delight to talk to. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation…
In conversation with Chef Ritu Dalmia
HELLO!: Can you share some of the most important lessons you’ve learned in your culinary journey?
Rity Dalmia: “One thing I have learned is to try to not overdo things. I’ve realised that simplicity is one of the most difficult things to achieve while cooking. Finally, after 30 years, I have hacked it: don’t compromise on the ingredients and don’t over-complicate your recipes.”
H!: What is it about the Indian food scene that excites you at the moment?
RD: “The Indian cuisine actually is the most on the exciting thing on the food scene worldwide. Earlier people used to think that Indian food is about butter chicken, daal, naan, chicken tikka masala. Slowly, the regional cuisines started gaining popularity, food from Southern and North-East India, for example. But what’s really exciting about the Indian food scene is that it’s not just about regions, Indians eat as per communities. So Marwari food, Kayastha food, Sindhi food, they are really different and I think that’s what’s going to take the world by storm in the upcoming days.”
H!: What is your core food philosophy?
RD: “What I have learned in my culinary journey is also my philosophy — ingredients, ingredients, ingredients!”
H!: What is the most memorable compliment you’ve received on your cooking?
RD: “My favourite compliment of all time was one I’d cooked for the Italian President Ciampi many years ago. I will never forget, after his meal, he came to the kitchen to thank me and said it was the first time he was reminded of home when travelling.”
H!: What is something that everyone should know how to cook by the time they turn 30?
RD: “I think before you turn 30, you need to learn to fend for yourself and not just order takeout. A basic daal-chawal, or cooking basic vegetable recipes, quick one-bowl meals that one can put together for a dinner, or even a small gathering, rather than always depending on takeout. Saying this is probably bad for my business, but I think at least for the basics, every one should know how to cook simple Indian dishes and one or two Western recipes before they’re 30.”
H!: Is there a cooking hack you learned recently that surprised you?
RD: “My favourite kitchen hack, and I wish I wasn’t telling you this, is adding a pinch of cornstarch when making scrambled eggs and you will never ever have runny or dry or watery scrambled eggs.”
H!: What are you excited about for the future at the moment?
RD: “I’m excited to witness the metamorphosis of the Indian food scene. Community cuisine and hyper-local flavours, as I mentioned before, will pique interest in the times to come.”