Thursday, 26 April 2018

An Interview with Chef Wilfried Bergerhausen

Chef Wilfried Bergerhausen, 'the man who has Las Vegas eating out of his hands', was in New Delhi recently to serve his award winning creations at Le Cirque, The Leela Palace. In an exclusive interview, the former executive chef of Le Cirque, Las Vegas, tells T+L India why it's important to have a work-life balance and how he nails it. By Shibani Bawa

Chef Wilfried Bergerhausen 

"I grew up in the South of France, in a very beautiful place near Cannes, between the sea and Italy. The food of this region is very different from Parisian cuisine, which is usually very heavy with abundant use of butter and cream. I was pretty young when I started my training, just 13 years! Having grown up around hospitality, I was very interested in cooking from a very young age. My father was a sommelier and also looked after the front of the house of a restaurant, while my mother was very food driven and my uncle made kitchens for Michelin starred restaurants. But I can’t say exactly who inspired me to become a chef – it was nobody in particular or maybe it was everybody! It can’t be explained. When one is driven by passion I think you simply can’t help it. 

I remember the first dish that I ever cooked was a zucchini blossom fritter. Zucchini blossoms have become very trendy now, but they are classic in the South of France, and I was always very intrigued to see my mom make this traditional dish. I am not very experimental. Even my food trials are well thought out, I can’t just mix and match ingredients to create something fantastic. I am not that good! {Laughs} Last year in spring when I walked through a garden, plucking and eating the flowers and the freshest greens transported me back to my childhood. I translated this experience into a dish called the Secret Garden.

Being a chef is a very, very difficult job. When you’re working fourteen hours a day it is almost inevitable to forget about your personal life, family and friends. And this has been a big challenge for me because as much as I love what I do, the amount that it takes away from my personal life is quite overwhelming. I can’t pinpoint major milestones in my career because it has been like driving very fast and you just see trees whizzing past. Having said that, it is nice to earn recognition but it doesn’t mean that you have ‘arrived’. There’s always more to learn on a daily basis.

The best leadership lesson is to always remember that you cannot work in a professional kitchen by yourself. Besides being a hard job on its own one has to keep the team motivated. This requires constant interaction with everyone. When you work the long hours in the kitchen you end up spending more time with your team than with your family. That’s when one learns to treat them like your siblings. Hence, maintaining personal relationships with everyone in your team becomes very important. Just like your siblings, you talk to them and learn about them.

During my most hectic schedules I maintain a work-life balance by not sleeping! That’s the only when I could make time for myself. That is why now I am taking a break simply to enjoy what others {people with ‘normal careers’} do normally.”

This article first appeared on on April 25, 2018. 

Celebrating a Decade of Varq

The drool worthy dishes at Varq.

It is safe to say that when Varq opened a decade ago at Taj Mahal New Delhi, there was almost no concept of ‘modern Indian’ cuisine in India. At a time when Delhi's Indian restaurants served tikkas, tandoori chicken and butter chicken galore, Chef Hemant Oberoi created this contemporary Indian restaurant with its roots in traditional dishes from across the country. A lot has changed in this decade with palates evolving, north Indians appreciating regional dishes, a strong tilt towards farm to table concept and so on. And now that countless restaurants serve either imitations or their own interpretation of this nouveau cuisine, Executive Chef Arun Sundararaj has taken the food at Varq to the next level. With the freshest and mostly chemical free ingredients and plating that makes each dish look like a piece of art, he and his team have showcased mastery at each level of execution of the new menu.

While the restaurant, overlooking lush gardens, wears the same look, showcasing works by celebrated artist Anjolie Ela Menon, traditional Indian carvings and modern oil paintings, it is the food that has got a delicious makeover. If the amuse bouche is supposed to set the tone of the meal, the upma sushi stuffed with gongura pickle and a crisp bite-sized appam topped with succulent prawn are the perfect examples of traditional fare served with a contemporary twist. Some dishes are also inspired by celebrated chefs and iconic restaurants from Taj Hotels across the world. The malai chicken soufflĂ© is a take on the Zodiac Grill’s signature Camembert dariole, while the chilled flower-pot is a twist on Michelin-starred Chef Srijith Gopinathan’s version of cumin-scented potatoes and peas. This one comprises a fancy chaat with layers dahi bhalla, chutneys, pomegranate, banana and sprouts.

But beyond the wisps of dry ice and sandalwood fumes, the food is real and celebrates local seasonal produce and indigenous grains. While the menu continues to offer signature delicacies like the palak patta chaat and the Varqui crab, the new dishes are stellar too. The moringa soup served like a foamy cappuccino is a drumstick leaf soup, a celebratory recipe of the royal region of Travancore. Succulent pepper prawn with moilee sauce and black rice served in a crescent shape is an absolute winner. The lamb nalli served with a gongura lamb Wellington, duck confit, chicken potli masala broth, each marries familiar, traditional flavours with modern cooking techniques. Of the wide variety of Indian breads, like the mandua roti, gluten-free rotis, bajra ki missi and the khameeri roti, we loved the lemon leaf roti that is made with lemon leaf powder that is local to Kerala; the lemony flavour lingers beautifully!

Finally, the desserts have been given as much thought as the mains. The flavours of yoghurt is wonderfully light and the trio of Indian ice creams has a filter coffee one that is perfect to round off this meal. The quinoa payasam has a surprise element that we will leave you to explore for yourself.

Overall, the menu is light, bursting with a mélange of refreshing flavours and as much a feast for the eyes as it is to the palate.

When a humble, vegetarian dish stands tall amidst a range of finger-licking non-vegetarian options you know that the menu celebrates real food. Panchdhaan Khichada is something that we wouldn’t want to miss on any trip to Varq. It is made with five grains – bajra, millet, black rice, corn and quinoa – served with traditional accompaniments like ghee, raita, pickle and roasted grains and presented in the most droolworthy wooden thaali.

Food 4 stars
Ambience 3 stars
Service 4 stars
Washrooms 3 stars
Overall Experience 4 stars

This article first appeared in Eat Stay Love Magazine’s March, 2018 issue.