‘I paint my dishes’
Michelin-starred chef Akrame Benallal shares the key to his success post his masterclass at French embassy and feels global cuisine is safe in the hands of the young. By Unnati Joshi
While we are sitting at the lawn of the French embassy, our chef is posing for the camera. He winks, flips his hair, smiles and even sits on the ground as each picture turns out great. The French chef sure loves to look good. And even better with his plate. “When I was young, I wanted to be a leader and if you want to be a chef, you always have to be a leader. So, in a way, I always wanted to be a chef,” Akrame Benallal shares as he pulls up his socks. “All set,” he laughs.
Akrame swears by cooking as a metaphor for life. “Cooking is like life, we evolve and we don’t reinvent the wheel. My menus change each and everyday, according to mood and inspiration. I am not following current trends. Only intuition and instincts guide my taste.”
At 14, Akrame dedicated himself to his profession. Reminiscing about his past, he says, “I started cooking when I was 14. It has been 22 years now. It’s a lot of work. You have to work really hard. Also, when you cook, you make love. This is one secret to success,” Akrame smiles.
He wanted to be a Formula One pilot as he adds, “If not a chef, I think I would have been a formula one pilot. I am passionate about it. And for me, life is all about passion.”
After 22 years of “hard work”, what keeps him going? “My mum was always my inspiration. She taught me how to cook and not just that, she taught me how to cook with love. She used to learn different dishes for me. And it meant a lot to me. She is undoubtedly my inspiration.”
Unlike most chefs who perfect dishes to feature as signatures on their menus, this two-Michelin-star chef takes it off the menu once it has been perfected.
“I don’t want to have one dish that stays all the time - I am not ready for this. I want change every time,” he shares.
About his food philosophy, he adds, “My food and dining philosophy is to always think about the customer and not about myself. You should love giving because cooking is giving.”
Any signature? ‘That would have to be the lobster. We cook it in the hot consommé when it’s warm. You cook it in front of your eyes,” he reveals.
During the masterclass, chef Akrame prepared Pineapple coated with cardamom black caramel as the people enjoyed the session with him.
He was taking suggestions from the Indian chefs present and was also sharing his expertise with them.
While conversing with us, he says “The pineapple dish that I made today, I love its colour. I actually loved painting when I was young but didn’t have enough money to buy it. So I paint my dishes. It inspires me. I love art and couture and I think we are lucky that we have a lot of couture in France. You will see a lot of paintings in my dishes.”
For the French chef, Indian food is interesting and delicious. His Indian favourites? “I love Indian food, especially kebabs. Everything here is interesting and delicious. There are no favourites as it is hard to choose. I enjoy everything here.”
How often does he cook at home? He laughs. “I love cooking but I don’t have enough time to cook at personal gatherings or at home. I spend all my time at my company.”
We ask him if globally there is a discernible food movement. Shares he, “The food scene is crazy everywhere these days. There’s a lot of good food everywhere and a lot of people dining out. So there’s a crossflow of ideas and cooking styles. Besides, I see a lot of young talent bubbling to express themselves. That is very good for the evolving food scenario.”
Sharing a tip for the budding chefs, he takes a deep breath and says, “Don’t be serious, just be curious and make food with love. The key to success is that you have to be humble and never forget your roots. You should always look back.”
Photos: Pankaj Kumar
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