It was not a typical workday for Istanbul-based chef Mark Phoenix but there he was, with a big list of duties breathing down his neck. There was a Swedish food festival at The Park, New Delhi, the Sweden-India Nobel Memorial Week he had to cook for, and a live cookout event for children at The Park. Despite all this, he managed to visit his favourite Delhi restaurants. Phoenix, who visited the Capital last week, spoke to us about his packed schedule, his association with the Swedish Nobel Committee, and Indian food. Edited excerpts:
You’ve worked with fairly diverse cuisines and cultures. Tell us about it and how it has influenced you.
I’m from London and completed my education in the UK, and I’ve lived and worked in Stockholm, Dhaka (head chef at the Nordic Club), New Delhi (general manager, British High Commission), but my biggest influence, culturally, has been Italian. My first job was at Alberello, Bexley, Kent, an Italian restaurant, which proved to be a big influence. I remember being invited to lunch by a waiter at the restaurant to his home: We started cooking, drank wine, kept eating, and talking until it continued to dinner. After I got married in 2002, my wife and I travelled to Rome for a week and it was entirely spent simply eating. This Italian style of being—of eating, drinking, and of food-centric lives, fascinated me greatly, and at home, it’s pretty much how we live.
Your speciality is Nordic cuisine. Tell us about some of the classics.
Some of the typical Swedish items are Swedish meatballs, herrings and salmon in some shape or the other. It’ll either be fried or cured, always on the menu. These are called “safeguards” in the culinary world, available in every restaurant serving that cuisine, in the same way as rogan josh or dal makhni are to Mughlai cuisine.
Tell us about your association with the Nobel. Have you met any interesting personalities as a result?
Since 2006, I have been associated with the Nobel Banquet. I prepare special Nobel menus. Since I’m mostly busy in the kitchen on the day, I rarely get a chance to meet the winners, but some of the personalities I have met include several Swedish politicians and the royalty.
What goes on the Nobel dinner menu?
We try and do it in conformity with a Scandinavian cuisine which is basically subtle flavours, consisting of fish and game. In 2008, I constructed the Nobel Starter: a sole terraine with six types of shellfish.
How far have you attempted to incorporate Asian flavours in your menus?
I absolutely love Indian food but there’s not much that I’ve been able to incorporate into my menus. But on the rare occasion that I have, I made things like Tandoori Salmon with Jasmine Rice and Lime Raita. In 2012, I also held an Indian week at the Eken restaurant in Stockholm, where we served Indian classics like rogan josh, dal, murgh tikka masala.
You’ve experienced Delhi and Indian food extensively. Any favourite restaurants?
I have a checklist that I need to complete in this city. I always go to 1911 at The Imperial for their murgh tikka and dal makhani. I also go to Punjabi By Nature for their leg of lamb. I go to Bukhara, ITC Maurya, Orient Express, and La Piazza at the Hyatt (Regency).