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July 22, 2024

In conversation with Dubai-based celebrity chef Akshay Nayyar

Schenelle Dsouza 
Mumbai’s newest culinary hotspot – Epitome Juhu recently hosted an exclusive Chef’s table menu with renowned celebrity chef, Akshay Nayyar.
Epitome, which opened in March this year, is among the city’s largest vegan restaurants. Launched by Shrey Karia, Epitome set out to redefine the luxury lounge and bar experience for foodies in the city.
Chef Akshay Nayyar’s menu at Epitome curates avant garde vegetarian and vegan recipes that are unheard of.  “To me, Epitome is an exciting food journey and the menu at Epitome is like a phoenix. Our thoughts and food beyond imagination are reborn and evolved every time we finish perfecting a recipe. My belief in ‘new is old’ is the mantra for the kitchens of Epitome. Our food is grown and not born, with handpicked farm-fresh, rare, stylish and gourmet ingredients.”
A five-course menu
Habibi
Habibi
The exclusive menu at Epitome started with a dish called Habibi. It consisted of a thin, crispy cauliflower tossed in ‘Baharat’ – a popular spice blend in the Middle East, served with edamame falafel and a light and creamy sunflower vinaigrette. The dish was a delicious light bite, a great start to the meal.
The Black Forest
The Black Forest
The next dish was one of my favourites – The Black Forest (not the dessert). It comprised of a soft, crispy cottage cheese cube fried in a delicious truffle marinade, with cherry tomatoes, asparagus and seven variants of mushroom. While it was a small serving, the dish was very rich and filling.
Gazpacho Berry Granita
Gazpacho Berry Granita
Taking a break between courses, we were served a dish called Gazpacho Berry Granita. This was a soup served as a savoury granita, something truly unheard of.
Amchi Mumbai Pav with Avocado Tikki Masala
Amchi Mumbai Pav with Avocado Tikki Masala
The next dish was inspired by a street favourite that defines the city of Mumbai – vada pav. Chef Nayyar gave the vada pav a modern makeover with the Amchi Mumbai Pav with Avocado Tikki Masala. A crispy flatbread loaded with the special vada pav filling, layered with cheese, and served with a slice of creamy avocado and a tomato-based masala sauce.
The Desserted Chocolate Oasis
The Desserted Chocolate Oasis
The last dish on our table was The Desserted Chocolate Oasis dessert. It was full of fun textures and flavours, from a crunchy cushion-shaped charcoal pastry to the sweet praline ice cream and rich chocolate mousse, which was then glazed with warm chocolate glacé. While the cushion was tough to get into, the ice cream was sweet and creamy and bode well with the mousse.
Chef Akshay Nayyar 
A Dubai-based celebrity chef, Chef Akshay Nayyar is among the most prominent culinary personalities, not only in India but internationally as well.
Chef Akshay Nayyar
Chef Akshay Nayyar
In 2016 he received an award for the ‘Most Celebrated Chef’ from the Ministry of Chambers of Commerce, Government of India, and has also been featured in the Middle East Top 50 F&B hoteliers’ list. Chef Nayyar has also hosted prominent personalities like PM  Narendra Modi and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in U.A.E.
Over the years, Chef Nayyar has opened more than 100 restaurant outlets including Tum Tum Asia in Dubai, Kopper Kadai, Just Fired, Butter Wife and more. Aside from restaurants, chef Nayyar is also a reality TV star, having hosted the Middle East’s biggest cooking show – Foodshala for over nine years.
In a candid conversation with LuxeBook, Chef Akshay Nayyar spoke about his journey within the culinary industry, his favourite food, the changing trends within the industry and more!
Tell us about your culinary journey so far?
I started experimenting in the kitchen when I was about eight years old. I was always fascinated with the kitchen, believing it to be the most happening place in my house. Because my parents are teachers, I always had a lot of time on my own at home. As a kid, I burnt several packets of instant noodles. And by the time I was 16, I had already decided to pursue this hobby as my profession. I believe the culinary world is just like the universe, it’s enormous and infinite. No matter how old you grow, every day is a day of learning.
Being a Dubai-based chef, what is it you miss the most about India?
The best part about India is that it offers a diverse range of fresh ingredients that make a huge difference in a recipe. When it comes to Indian cooking, I use a combination of spices from across India. For instance, I use jakhiya – a Himalayan spice, instead of cumin in many dishes for flavour corrections and to deliver an outstanding taste. Another thing in India is that I get a lot of fabrication done for plating my dishes. It’s easier to do here when it comes to bamboo art or casting food-grade metal plates or hand-painted ceramics.
How do you find a balance between keeping it fresh with experimentation, while staying true to traditional favourites?
There are two kinds of people, one who believes experimentation is key to a great guest experience and  others who believe that being authentic is an art that captures its guests. For me, it is a combination of both. I believe in creating cravings with an ultimate dining experience. People dine once or twice for experience but will come to you twice or thrice a month if you successfully create cravings for your dishes.
What was it like to host the Prime Minister and the crown prince of Abu Dhabi in Dubai?
I recall two times serving the honourable Prime Minister of India Mr Narendra Modi who was hosted by H.H Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan along with ministers. I planned a seven-course, sit-down, pure vegetarian meal on both occasions. Initially, the Indian part of the delegation was vegetarian while the UAE delegates were non-vegetarian. However, two hours prior to the dinner everyone decided to honour vegetarianism and cherished the Indian meal. It was quite an experience!
What is your opinion on ingredient-focused menus and sustainability-led restaurants?
It all starts with ingredients! Off late certain ingredients like truffles, cauliflower and edamame have taken centre-stage in the F&B industry. It’s a good effort to have ingredient-centric sections in the menu as it highlights various versions of simple ingredients that otherwise one doesn’t imagine. I called it “respect to ingredients”. At the same time sustainability is becoming the epicentre of our industry. Today customers are becoming more environmentally conscious. Sustainability covers a wide range of matters like biodegradable packaging, food disposal, reduction in waste by recycling, seasonality of menu, and full digitalization. These practices support the environment and at the same time help a restaurant stand out from its competitors.
People are often of the belief that vegetarian food means bland salads and veggies. How do you think restaurants like Epitome stand to change that?
We make vegetarian food sexy! With over 80+ dishes on the menu, Epitome is a vegetarian or a vegan’s paradise. The combination of ingredients used in these dishes not only offers a delicious experience but also brings in a modern flair and taste. When Epitome came across as a project, to me it was the perfect time as vegetarianism and veganism are growing like never before. I have always been building vegetarian brands across the globe and this is something that gives me a lot of satisfaction. Creating vegetarian recipes that have never been made before, using fresh and innovative ingredients that are beautifully married together excites me. I love playing with ingredients and I keep experimenting till I achieve the desired result.
What are some of your favourite dishes growing up, that you still find your way back to?
Since my childhood, I have been a huge fan of cauliflower – in any form – dim sums, homemade pickles and my mom’s delicious dal halwa. These make an appearance in my menus too, you will find them in almost every menu I make.
What advice would you give to young aspiring chefs?
We have a lot on our shoulders. Creation is going to be the key and collectively we all must work towards constantly innovating. Innovation doesn’t mean just changing shapes or forms or fusing dishes, but creating “A NEW DISH” altogether.
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Schenelle Dsouza

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