Award winning chef Sunil Ghai talks to the American Bazaar about taking Indian food to the world
Chef Sunil GhaI’s name is synonymous with good Indian food in Ireland. The owner of three restaurants by the name of Pickle in Dublin, he recently hosted a food pop up with Savya Rasa, a restaurant chain from Chennai, India to bring in a collaborative kitchen with the most prominent Indian chef and restaurant in Ireland.
Chef Ghai believes that food pop-ups featuring the finest of Indian regional cuisine across the globe will be the next big trend that will take Indian food to gourmet level. He talks to the American Bazaar about taking Indian culinary traditions to Europe and why he believes North America has a great potential for Indian food.
AB: Tell us a bit about yourself and your culinary journey?
SG: I was born and brought up in Gwalior. I belong to a Punjabi family and a love for good food runs in our blood! Perhaps inspired by my foodie family adventures, I decided to do my hotel management from Gwalior. I began working early at the age of 17. My childhood memories are centred around food. We loved to cook and celebrate with scrumptious food.
I met the love of my life and got married to Shitti Ghai (Leena) who is from Shimla. We moved to Ireland in 2001 and have made this beautiful country our home. Our son Ishan is 19 and my pet Junior is like my other baby. I started my food business in 2016 and opened a restaurant in 2017 and another in 2020.
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My culinary skills have got a few recognitions and I have been lucky to win the award of Best chef in Ireland twice. I have been the four-time recipient of Best Indian Chef in Ireland. My restaurant has also been awarded multiple times.
It’s been 22 years for us in Ireland and we feel quite at home here. It is, I guess, my dedication and my intense learnings in India that continue to guide me till today.
AB: Why did you opt for a South Indian restaurant for your first international restaurant take over, though Pickle is North Indian?
SG: At Pickle there is a story behind each dish — a reminiscence or a relationship backside of the fragrant gravies, the boulevard dishes, the complex slow-cooked meats that relates to the back home idea of using fresh ingredients, locally sourced and cooked with love.
The cuisine at Savya Rasa redefines coastal culture at its greatest; a vigilant and comprehensive study of Southern Indian gastronomic taking you back to benighted times; unfinished without the finesse and novelty that Chef Sheik Mohideen brings with him.
Sheik’s 15-year wide-ranging gastronomic journey speaks volumes about him as he endures to fervently set milestones with new projects, with each fleeting day.
The gastronomic artist credits in outlining back the roots and restoring them just as he moulds by ringing out the nearly unmanageable task of conserving the culture through every recipe.
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A union between the two has been put together to craft a one of a kind tasting menu cooked with the best of Irish produce, showcasing the diner what the best of South Indian cuisine has to offer.
The Pickle team is exceptionally excited about working with Savya Rasa, and the restaurant’s name seems to sum up why impeccably: Savya Rasa was created to celebrate the richness of the cuisine and culture of Southern India. Very often, thanks to stereotypes, many people outside of Southern India consider Idli, Vada, Sambar, Dosa etc as classic South Indian food.
However, South Indian cuisine has all of this and so much more to offer. With the food Sheik creates, Savya Rasa seems to perfectly fit the bill. We are hosting dinners on both our home turfs. In 2023, I will travel to Savya Rasa to showcase my culinary philosophy what we do at Pickle here in Dublin.
AB: What was the most favourite dish among the guests at the Savya Rasa pop up at Pickle?
SG: The guests absolutely love the tasting menus. Savya Rasa has taken over the entire restaurant for the weekend and we are selling only the special menu (priced at 80 Euros). It is a great hit.
However, a dish that really stands out is the “Sainu Thahta’s Chicken Kebab with Coconut Cashew cream,” which is tender morsels of chicken marinated with cashew cream, coconut milk, ginger & garlic paste, salt, green chillies, coriander paste, skewered and griddled on a hot plate.
A Malabar caterer and home maker called “Sainu Thatha” invented this from influence of Arabic kebabs and tweaked it with his native ingredients in Malappuram district of Kerala.
AB: What did you like most about Chef Sheik Mohideen from Savya Rasa?
SG: Sheik’s 15-year extensive culinary journey speaks volumes about him as he continues to passionately set milestones with new projects, with each passing day.
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The culinary artist believes in tracing back the roots and recreating them just as originals by carrying out the almost impossible task of preserving the culture through each recipe.
AB: What is your favourite ingredient to work with?
SG: I like cooking fresh seafood using fresh herbs like coriander, mint, and basil. I like the flavour of rapeseed oil. It reminds me of my mother using mustard oil all the time while cooking.
The flavours come out so nice with rapeseed oil especially if you are cooking Irish lamb, vegetable curries or even tempering lentils.
AB: What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
SG: I like to cook chhole bhature at home or simple yellow lentils, matar mushroom & aloo gobhi with pulao and chapati with boondi raita – simple holistic Indian fare.
Chhole bhature has a special place in my heart as my dad used to love it and would always bring it whenever he brought home some food.
Back in 2019, while I was on a holiday to India, my dad asked me to make chole bhature. I was under immense pressure as I knew he was quite a connoisseur of that dish. Thankfully he loved it and told me to make it again when I am back next year. But unfortunately, that never happened again!
AB: What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
SG: The good old mortar and pestle. My mother is my inspiration and she never used any grinder or blender. I used to see her making all the spice paste and powders in a mortar and pestle.
AB: What is the future of Indian cuisine and which continent do you foresee Indian food getting mainstream?
SG: Indian cuisine, especially regional Indian fare, is finally getting its due, thanks to the hard working chefs who are now introducing to the world thousands of untold stories from Indian kitchens.
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Indian food is already popular in North America and I can say that America will see a large number of specialized Indian pop-ups and sprouting up of regional Indian restaurants.