Interview with Chef Yogesh Datta: Who, What, When, Where and Why?

It has been a while since I did an interview, so it had to be big. And who better than Chef Yogesh Datta. I went to one of his London restaurants recently, Bangalore Express and it was really tasty and after this, I managed to get an interview with the great man himself.

Long regarded as one of finest Indian chefs of his generation, Yogesh Datta brings a strong sense of tradition to his cooking yet marries it with just the right sense of modernity and flourish. Born in Shimla, a hill station in northern India, Datta initially honed his expertise at New Delhi’s prestigious Taj Palace Hotel. This was followed by working in Geneva, and then Dubai. From there, Datta arrived to work in London, heading up the kitchens of Tabla, a modern Indian in the Docklands. Thereafter, he went on to open the widely acclaimed fine dining Indian restaurant The Painted Heron, which recently took the accolade of ‘Best Indian Establishment’ at The Food Awards London 2016.

​Great heritage and great food… you know what’s next.
PLEASE Read on…

Who is/was your inspiration to start cooking?
It was definitely my mother. She was a great cook and a host. I am from a largish family of 5 siblings as well as many uncles and aunties and other relatives from the extended family where each family meal was like a family feast.
Contrary to Indian culture, as a boy, I was always helping her in the kitchen, even more than my elder sisters!

What is your goal in the business?
Provide proper, healthy and honest Indian food to the Indian food lovers of London in a casual, fun environment, comparable with any other world cuisine and at competitive prices.

Who was your biggest critic when starting?
My first chef, I trained under in India, Chef Sandeep Kalia at the Taj Palace Hotel in India. He guided and helped me through the initial baby steps in this eventful culinary journey I started at that hotel 33 years ago!

When did you realise you wanted and could be a major chef in the world?
When I came to London in 1998 and was guided through the culinary demands for London by Iqbal Wahhab of Roast fame at his restaurant Dockmasters House in Docklands. I realized I was in a place where I could let my creativity and flare flow in my dishes.

Where else aside from the UK do you see your restaurant and Cuisine working?
Indian food is addictive, once initiated and exposed to Indian food, one can get hooked on it. At macro level, Indian food is still at its infancy in most other parts of the world, apart from of course India. England and London come the closest in terms of quality of Indian food available outside India. In micro terms, all over England and Scotland, apart from major cities, the quality of Indian food available is still quite bad generally.

Why is everyone now a foodie?
2 Major factors:-
1. The power of the internet.
2. The advent of smartphones.
All knowledge is now shared over the internet and is available literally on your palms at the touch of a few buttons. You can now ‘google’ anything including the elusive knowledge of spices and Indian food.

And finally…

Which restaurants in London are your Top 5?
St. John, Farringdon
Chiltern Fire House
Cinnamon Club

Thank you so much Chef Datta.
A great read and inspiration. I trust you enjoyed it too and we have some new restaurants to try.
​I look forward to returning to Chef Dattas restaurants very soon.

Interview with Alex Puddifoot: Head Chef STK Ibiza. Who, What, When, Where and Why?

When you think of Ibiza, you usually think of clubbing and dance music. You also think about sun and sea, money and glam.

Do you also think about food and specifically Steak? Well if you don’t know, now you know…

STK, from The One Group chain of Steak restaurants, moved to Ibiza in the summer of 2016. The aim has been to turn this popular steak restaurant into THE VENUE for Ibiza.
Now there, they have taken on Chef Alex Puddifoot to head up this restaurant and I have been given the chance to interview him.

Alex began his career with The One Group working at the iconic Hippodrome Casino in London, and later moved to the kitchens of STK, Cucina Asellina, and RADIO Rooftop Bar all located in the popular 5-Star Me Hotel London.  He now heads up the kitchen for the group as Executive Head Chef at the recently opened STK in Ibiza (opened July 2016).

Born and raised in the London Borough of Harrow, Alex always had an interest in food from a young age, predominantly influenced by his mother’s love of cooking.  After culinary school, Alex headed to Australia with an opportunity to work in some of Melbourne’s up-and-coming restaurants and cafés.

Upon returning to England, he later joined The Alpine in Hertfordshire as Sous Chef.

Looking for a new and exciting challenge, Alex honed his skills and fine dining techniques at The Clarendon in Hertfordshire – a Michelin dining experience centered on the ‘Best of British’ produce. The Clarendon offered an all-day dining experience with a fine dining restaurant and exclusive chef’s table.

At The Clarendon Alex had the opportunity to learn from the best in the business and worked alongside some of Britain’s most accomplished chefs including Chef Patron, Barry Vera, and the likes of Heston Blumenthal.  It was at The Clarendon that Alex and Vera developed a positive working relationship, and Alex later joined Vera as Executive Sous Chef for the opening Shaka Zulu in London – a 200 cover restaurant in the heart of Camden focusing on South African inspired cuisine.

Alex has a deep passion for food on all levels from cooking, researching new ingredients and studying the history and evolution of certain cuisines.  He can often be found discussing new ideas and experimenting with new techniques with some even being considered a little extreme.

Who inspired you to become a chef and then move to Ibiza? 
I wanted to be a chef from the age of about 14, as I used to cook with my mother who was a great cook, then through the years I started noticing the greats like Marco Pierre White, Micheal Roux Jr and love the way they cooked in a classic way.
The move to Ibiza was a little bit spare of the moment, but when I heard about the position to open another STK I was all in.

What made you want to pursue this role in ibiza?      
The thought of doing another opening and the excitement and energy that is involved with that. Also the chance to work outside of the UK as I have not done it before and thought it would be a good challenge for myself.

When did you realise that being a chef was what you wanted to do?
Since a young age, I always loved to eat as a kid. But then found you get more out of food by cooking for others and seeing them admire what we do as chefs

Where do you see the restaurant going in the new year?  
The only way is up, with the reputation we built up in the short time we were open, the only thing is to improve on that keeping pushing higher

Why STK and why should customers go?
Why STK because there is no other dining experience on the island, we have the entertainment like other places but it is all about the food at the end of the day, entertainment is just an added bonus to great food and the best steaks on the island


Which key differences stand out between customers here and in ibiza ?    
To be fare the one thing I did notice was there where a lot of UK guest there that knew of Stk and know the brand and what we do, other guest like the locals where I think impressed with the whole operation from the moment they walked in the door to when they ate to leaving, not that a lot of them wanted to leave once the party got started.

Interview: Max Halley- Who, what, when, where and Why?

Are sandwiches the nations favourite food? If they’re are all as good as Max’s in Crouch Hill then they soon will be. This weeks interview is with Max Halley.

Prior to setting up the sandwich shop, Max was the General Manager of LeCoq in Highbury and Islington.

Reviewing the restaurant Fay Maschler called Max “a true host” and under his leadership, the restaurant was nominated for ‘Best Front of House’ at the Tatler restaurant awards.

He worked for the Salt Yard Group for years, as a manager, a waiter, and a chef. He worked at Arbutus and spent years selling Brindisa’s wonderful food. He has written for everything from Vice to the Guardian, Fire and Knives, Root and Bone and many other magazines. He also wrote a piece in the Salt Yard Cookbook.

Max - LoS

Who inspired you to be a chef?
My Dad’s been a wine/booze journalist all my life so I’ve grown up in a very food and wine filled world. Holidays were always trips to visit winemaker mates of my Dad or little skirmishes out to find THAT restaurant famous for doing THAT dish. It was drilled into me that food and booze are two of life’s great pleasures from a very young age. That they are providers of joy, when treated with respect. How could I not end up running a restaurant?

What would be your favourite sandwich filler?
I’ve always wished some genius would put Ham, Egg, Chips, Piccalilli and Malt Vinegar Mayo in a sarnie…Second to that, this girl I used to work with called Vanesa Nieto Gonzalez, made me probably the best sandwich of my life. It had: Mussels escabeche, Piquillo peppers and Foie Gras. Sounds weird dunnit?! But it blew my tiny mind.

When did you have the idea of Max’s?
I’ve always wanted a top notch greasy spoon or a banging sandwich shop but the idea was really honed by the site itself. It fell on me through a mate of a mate of a mate and forced me to think about exactly what I’d do specific to the site and the location. I think many people have great ideas for businesses that could really work well, but they open them in the wrong place. Understanding what the people around you want is the most fundamentally important thing. Having said that, hark at me! Who the hell am I? I’ve only been open a month! Things are looking alright, but there’s still plenty of time for me to cock it up completely.

Where do you see Max in five years?
I’d like to be the sandwich emancipator. To free the sandwich from the shackles of processed meat, egg and cress and rip off, stale, supermarket, pre-packed shite. I’d like to keep giving people sarnies that more falls out of than you get in most of the ones you buy. I’d like to have changed my surname to Sandwich and to be on the run from Governments angry at the sheer volume of sandwiches I’ve freed and all the trouble they’ve caused. Basically, I want to be the Kim Dotcom of sandwiches. But I’d like to be a bit thinner and not actually ever have to go to jail.

Why sandwiches and why Crouch Hill?
Sandwiches are the best thing ever. Nuff said. And I’ve lived in Finsbury Park since 2001. When I got my mitts on the site I knew I had to open something that as someone who lives here, (I thought) the neighbourhood needed/wanted and was somewhere that if I wasn’t working in it every bloody day, I’d actually want to hang out.

Which restaurant is your number 1 of 2014?
I had a FANTATSTIC joint birthday meal with my dear friend Tom Duffill (Head Chef of the Galvin Bistro) at Artusi in Peckham. Jack (Chef and owner) used to work for Tom and he cooked us the best piece of pork I’ve ever eaten in my life.
I have to say though, that my favourite restaurant of 2014 is undoubtedly Ciao Bella on Lamb’s Conduit Street. It’s massive, boisterous and very Italian, the embodiment of a neighbourhood restaurant. If they need to get through and you’re in the way, the waiters just shove you out the way. I love it!! The Calzone is off the chart and there’s always some bargains on the winelist. I go there nearly every week with my wonderful girlfriend Coralie (who owns Drink, Shop & Do in King’s Cross) as she’s been going there since she was a kid.

Thank you so much Max. A great interview and a great new venue for North London. 

Interview: Who, What, When, Where and Why. Chef Shilpa Dandekar from Pure Indian Cooking

Almost a month to the day, Laura and I for Valentines Day went to Pure Indian Cooking restaurant. This restaurant is owned by Husband and Wife team of Faheem Vanoo and Chef Shilpa Dandekar.

Following from my meal and a break, I contacted Chef Shilpa for an interview to understand what it is like to work with your partner, see what her inspirations are and her top spots in London.

ABOUT: With a love of cooking from an early age, Chef-Patron Shilpa Dandekar honed her skills as a Commis Chef with Indian’s famed Taj hotel group. Along with her husband Faheem Vanoo, who also trained with Taj, she arrived in the UK and immediately took to cooking Modern British food in various pubs before embarking as a Sous Chef at London’s renowned Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Quilon. Following on from Quilon, Shilpa moved on to working with the legendary Raymond Blanc OBE, with whom she was part of the opening team for the very first Brasserie Blanc, before being promoted by him to become the Head Chef. Subsequently, in 2014, Shilpa and Faheem opened a successful takeaway and home delivery unit in south west London before launching Pure Indian Cooking in Fulham.

Who was the main inspiration/instigator behind you opening up your own restaurant?
Pure originally started as a takeaway business in a location near to where it’s at now as a restaurant. Our aim was to serve good Indian food in the south west of London, as there were no good takeaways here. We soon realised that our cooking was starting to get recognition for its quality and flavour. We were also getting a lot of requests for home deliveries. The popularity of the takeaway gave us an immense boost because it was always our dream to start up a restaurant. So when we got an opportunity to open one in Fulham we pulled out all the stops as it were and really went for it.

What would you define as “pure” Indian cooking?
I think everyone has their own definition of purity. For me it’s cooking which is couched in tradition but after that I want to have the freedom to put my own spin on it and that can vary as to how much and which particular component of the dish. I personally also like to make the cooking as refined and flavoursome as possible yet at the same time also healthy.

Where do you see the restaurant in five years time?
We would like to build a name for Pure for its original cooking and by far the best Indian food in the Fulham and surrounding south west areas of London.

When was the last time Faheem cooked for you? 
Faheem and I laugh about this but I actually keep him away from any kind cooking – even at home – because he’s yet to really learn about such things. He always says you should do what you are good at and he’s good at the managerial level at the restaurant’s front of house and I’m more comfortable in the kitchen. But he is always there for constructive feedback and we have created dishes which he is sceptical about whereas I will say it’s well balanced.

Why Putney Bridge/Fulham?
From the time we arrived in the UK, we had always stayed around London’s south west, areas like Clapham, Wimbledon, Southfields and so on, so we wanted to do something of our own from where we started our life together.

Which restaurants are in your top 5 for London?
It’s difficult to say as there are so many good restaurants in London in terms of both food and service. However, I would select the following as my top five:

  • Brasserie Blanc for rustic French food
  • Quilon for refined south west coastal Indian food
  • Wagamama as a chain for its quick and healthy food
  • Zaika for retaining its name and the quality
  • Last but not least, Chutney Mary for great food and being consistent

Thank you so much Shilpa and Faheem. Firstly for good food and secondly for this lovely interview. I am sure the success will continue and if you focus on that purity then the customers and I will be back for more. A big thank you also to Consultant Humayun Hussain who helped with setting this interview up.


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