Thursday, 5 April 2012

My Interview @

My Interview @

Food becomes transformed at his magical touch. Taste buds get tickled at the wave of his wand. Meet Chef Devraj Halder, EAM, Food & Beverage, The Suryaa, New Delhi, in a candid chat with Poonam Thapa.
Devraj Halder The Wine Club: How did you get involved with the world of food?
Devraj Halder: Interestingly, my family consisted of doctors and engineers and hence I was guided toward the same. However, I was not convinced. Fortunately, there was this opportunity for a hotel management which I took it up as I wanted to do something else. Right from the beginning, I found the kitchen area to be the most interesting in terms of creativity and lucrativeness. Food seemed to tickle my senses and today the world of food fuels my passion and helps me stay connected to myself. There is always something more to learn, something new to try out.

The Wine Club: Tell us something about your background.
Devraj Halder: I was born in Bengal and brought up in Dhanbad. I have spent close to 14 yrs in 5 kitchens before taking over at the helm of food and beverage.

The Wine Club: What are the most important restaurants you've worked?
Devraj Halder: Al Fresco in Mumbai. Carnival, Polynesian in Goa. Chef & I, Bonitos, Sampan in New Delhi.

The Wine Club: Do you have any mentors?
Devraj Halder: There are many not just in my profession but from various strata of life who made the difference to how I think and how I've grown.

The Wine Club: What is your philosophy on food and wine?
Devraj Halder: Like in Italy they say 'non impegnativo' which means non intrusive; food and wine are heavenly creations in their very own right and should not supersede each other under any circumstances. They have some kind of nuptial sensuality about them and should naturally bond or rather fuse to an orgasmic harmony on the palette of the diner.

The Wine Club: How do you compile the wine list at The Suryaa?
Devraj Halder: The wine list is a window to the terroir. We have the list broadly divided into sparklings, reds and whites which is further divided into countries; the old world first followed by the new world. Within the countries we have selection of regions and grapes.

The Wine Club: What is the concept behind The Suryaa and its wine program?
Devraj Halder: We try to strike a balance between the preferences of the guests; Regular wine drinkers have a developed palette and enjoy slightly oakier, drier and older wines. While the youngsters like it fruity, rounder and younger, and 'drink now style' wines. Wine suggestions are vital to ensure a perfect dining experience.

The Wine Club: How do you go about pairing wine with courses?
Devraj Halder: The basic and intrinsic flavours of food are the key which help decide the kind of wine. We also try to keep it simple and uncomplicated for the guests to actually enjoy without inhibitions.

The Wine Club: Do you always consult with your sommelier while pairing up the dishes with wine, or do you decide on your own?
Devraj Halder: The Suryaa, New Delhi enjoys continuous patronage of repeat clientele. We know our guests well enough to look for outside help.

The Wine Club: What wine trends are you seeing in Delhi and also in India?
Devraj Halder: Wines from Australia, Chile, Argentina and South Africa are doing extremely well. In Delhi what I like is Delhites speak their mind. I do hear comments like 'I don't like French wines' or 'Pass the wine keep the jargon'! The wine communities promote or write highly about imported wines while the expats ask for Indian wines which show that there is a divide in perceptions. Guests also ask for their favorite grapes.

The Wine Club: What is your favorite wine?
Devraj Halder: My personal favorite is the Riesling. This superlative grape makes aromatic, fruity, acidic and refreshing wines.

The Wine Club: What is your favorite food with this wine?
Devraj Halder: As Rieslings can stand up to spiced food and I am an avid fan of Indian cuisines; a good fish lightly marinated with turmeric, staranise, garlic, ginger, lemon-mint, cream and cooked over charcoal fire would be an amazing pair.

The Wine Club: Do you lean more towards Old World or New World wines?
Devraj Halder: Well, both are important and both kinds have their avid lovers. Personally my leaning is towards the younger wines as it is more casual and hence popular among the youth. Old world wines make you think a lot and I feel today the youth has no time to think. Another issue why old world wines take a backseat is the price factor. As they are imported, they become more expensive as compared to the new world wines.

The Wine Club: Tell us about a perfect wine and food match that you have discovered.
Devraj Halder: Well, let me touch upon an interesting situation which I recently countered requiring a chocolate and wine pairing! Now there are two routes; one is the similar pairing approach while the other is the contrasting pairing approach. The former is less challenging; start with milk chocolates with a lighter wine and then proceed on to the stronger and bitter ones with wines with stout tannin levels to match up. But my risk taking instincts as a chef prompted me to take the contrasting approach and gave much satisfying results. A top quality dark chocolate will go brilliantly with an intense Napa Valley Zinfandel. The tannins are actually softened by the fat content of the chocolate to give a cider-vanilla finish!

The Wine Club: What types of wines are most popular with your clientele?
Devraj Halder: We get a good mix of wine lovers so any particular kind of wine is not a factor.

The Wine Club: What in your opinion does it take to become a good chef or a good sommelier?
Devraj Halder: Food and wine alike, it is most important to follow your senses, it always lead to great satisfaction.

The Wine Club: What is the best part of being a chef?
Devraj Halder: That I never have to go hungry! Actually life as a chef is highly interesting and varied. The package includes action packed days, tense moments, great ups and equally great lows, a lot of different people to meet and also a lot of riddles to solve. Overall, it is not as monotonous and routine as so many other professions.

The Wine Club: What happens at home? Do you insist on cooking your meal yourself, or do you let your wife/mother cook for you?
Devraj Halder: Cooking my own meals in a family would be quite rude. Humility describes me better.

The Wine Club: What would be your advice to aspiring young Chefs?
Devraj Halder: Career as a chef, is quite an experience. Go for it, if the words which describe you are, passionate, tenacious, creative, physically fit and you wish to do something meaningful. In the true sense, it is a profession for the brave yet warm-hearted.

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