As the host of various cooking shows in India, celebrity chef Gautam Mehrishi is no stranger to the spotlight.
As he takes on a new role in Abu Dhabi, the Rajasthani may no longer be on the big screen, but he’s still keeping his audience’s best interests at heart.
Over the years, celebrity chefs have become a constant fixture on television, so much so that we sometimes regard them more as entertainers than what they really are: culinary experts.
“There’s this perception that it’s glamorous. But it actually carries a lot of responsibilities both in front of and away from the camera,” confides Gautam Mehrishi, the new corporate executive chef at SFC Group, the UAE-based company that owns a chain of outlets including India Palace, 49ers and Southern Fried Chicken.
He is, of course, talking from experience.
Since 2005, the Rajasthan native has appeared on and hosted several Indian TV shows, including Naram Garam, Smart Srimati Ki Rasoi, Kitchen Champion and Living Foodz.
“I did all types of cooking for these shows – from vegetarian cuisine to intricate cooking methods – which included travelling on a bike from village to village and experiencing local food,” he says about his stints on TV.
These chefs might make their job look like a piece of cake, but Gautam admits that the biggest challenge is making the shows – and the dishes – relatable to viewers without sacrificing entertainment value.
“As a host, you should not only inspire but also make sure that the viewer can recreate the dish at home. If they can’t do it themselves, there’s no point in doing it.
“Sometimes I would create a simple dish but with a different set of ingredients just to show how you can play around with available ingredients and still arrive at the same kind of food, but with a unique twist,” Gautam adds.
These experiences only broadened his knowledge of Indian cuisine and the complexities around it – inherent knowledge born as a result of growing up in a household that loved cooking.
“My mother is from Punjab and my father from Rajasthan – two states that are known for their agriculture and love of food,” he states proudly.
“I was exposed to food at a very young age. My grandfather taught me how to grow vegetables and explained the characteristics of various grains, and my mother was a very good cook.
“So I’ve seen the traditional type of cooking, even the right utensils to use for a dish and the methods. That’s how my relationship with food started.”
In hindsight, these early experiences helped prepare him for his roles later on, during a career that has taken him inside the kitchen of prestigious hotel brands like The Taj Mahal Hotel, InterContinental and Marriott group, as well as to the most remote villages in his home country.
It’s this same knowledge that Gautam hopes to bring to the table as he embarks on his role with some of the capital’s most popular restaurants.
And while he may no longer be in front of the camera, this chef still knows how important it is to keep your audience in mind when creating the perfect food experience.
“I always look at things from a different perspective,” he says.
“Whether it’s a street restaurant or stall, I focus on how the product was developed, its connection to geography and what makes it appealing to people.”
By Ferdinand Godinez