I've found myself there before -- deep into following a lengthy and complicated Indian recipe, with results looking dismal. But Indian food doesn't always have to be so complex, says Indian cooking pioneer and restauranteur Hari Nayak, CIA alum and the author of several books, including “Modern Indian Cooking” and the upcoming “My Indian Kitchen.” We recently chatted with Chef Nayak about his approach to Indian cooking.
AsianSupper (AS): With Modern Indian Cooking, you actively tried to simplify Indian dishes, while updating them with new ingredients, and yet keeping them authentic. At Asian Supper, we’re kind of obsessed with this concept of authentic and modern. In fact, it’s in our tagline. How exactly do you define “authentic” and “modern”?
Hari Nayak (HN): Keeping it authentic means - making sure the basics of flavors and tastes stay true to the roots of the tradition. Making it modern is simplifying the process, cooking styles and using local and seasonal ingredients to suit the modern life style.
AS: At what point does a modern Indian dish cross over into becoming non-Indian, or Indian-inspired, or … the dreaded “fusion”? Or does it even matter?
HN: I believe that there should be no rules in cooking. Most of the dishes I make are simply Indian-inspired. There are many non-Indian dishes which I love to cook and I tend to use the Indian flavors to suit my taste and my liking. It’s a melting pot, as long as the end result is fun and satisfying, it does not matter.
AS: How would you characterize the state of Indian food that is available in the United States? Is it authentic? How about modern?
HN: Indian food in the US is going thru a lot of changes and evolving. It is much better than when I came to this country in 1996. There are some restaurants which serve authentic regional Indian food and also there are some new restaurants which are doing an amazing job in creating modern experiences with Indian cuisine.
Q: Where are you, as a chef, trying to take Indian food? And where do you see it in the next 15 or 20 years compared to where it is now?
A: As a chef I want to see Indian food and culture in main stream along other popular cuisines. I want to be accessible to all. I see Indian culture and cuisine as part of everyday living here in the US similar to what it is in UK today.
AS: Is there a region, cuisine or style of cooking that you are looking to for inspiration these days?
HS: I am always traveling and looking for inspiration, my recent trip to Thailand was very inspirational and I am enjoying exploring it.
AS: Tell us about your new book, My Indian Kitchen. What was the approach you took with this book?
HN: In this book I have focused on simple traditional Indian cooking techniques and my family’s own style of southern Indian cooking as well as my favorite dishes from other parts of the Indian sub-continent. This book gives you many tips to help you to unlock the "hidden magic" of Indian cooking.
AS: Ok let’s go in the opposite direction. Which dish causes the most nostalgia in you and why?
HN: Fried Fish – Reminds me of my home town where I grew up (Udupi – a small town in the southwest coast of India), where fresh fish was abundant and an everyday staple at our dinner table.
AS: Where can we find you eating at most frequently?
HN: In my home kitchen.
Want to give Chef Nayak's Indian-inspired style a spin? Try these recipes: