When you have talents that fit as easily in a tailoring workshop as in a kitchen, it must be hard to decide on a career. Nachiket Barve had to make that choice.
His first experience with design, before the commerce student began his fashion career at the National Institute of Design, was as a child when he redesigned the shapes of karanji and shakkarpare.
“It was either fashion designing, cooking or wildlife photography for me,” he says. People who love his clothes will be glad he picked fashion, but we got him to leave the studio to don an apron. He has always loved cooking and wants to add his touch to everything, his mother Dr Rekha Barve tells us.
Made to order: Barve likes his dishes to be visually appealing; and the stir-fry chicken. Kedar Bhat/Mint
Barve is making his own version of stir-fry chicken for us. On one of his recent grocery shopping trips, he bought some plum sauce and is using it in the dish. “I love the yin and yang of spicy and sweet,” he says. After making sure his two-year-old hyperactive labrador Theo has been fed, Barve gets to work.
Quite unlike the riot of colours in the collections he designs, Barve’s personal taste is understated. Sporting a black shirt over blue jeans, which has become a uniform of sorts, Barve pulls out ingredients from the fridge in his kitchen that is just as basic. With a two-burner stove, a refrigerator, a mixer and a microwave, the only dash of colour in the kitchen comes from the fresh vegetables.
He’s making stir-fried vegetables and fried rice to go with the chicken. His own touch to the veggies is the apricot jam glaze. Barve looks confused when we ask him how he learnt to cook. For him, it’s all instinctive and impromptu. “I am making up this recipe as we cook,” he says, tasting the chicken for salt.
The designer started early in life with all his passions—he used to pick his own clothes to wear as a six-year-old and make his own snacks as a seven-year-old, while his parents were at work. “My neighbour would light the gas for me and I would make an omelette,” he says. Otherwise, it would be his variation of Maggi noodles or even a Maggi burger that he made using eggs.
Barve loves to try local cuisine wherever he travels and could be considered a purist in some ways. A simple meal at a Tuscan villa would be preferred over a “science experiment” at a fancy restaurant. “You apply the same philosophy and sensibility to designing that you do to cooking. One is an extension of the other,” he says, adding green, yellow and red bell peppers to the wok.
The work backstage is by now done, and it’s time to send out the collection. But the finish is just as important. Barve brings out the napkins and crockery he bought in Sri Lanka during his visit there for the International Indian Film Academy (Iifa) awards. The table is laid, but something is missing. He goes into the kitchen and brings out a lime wedge to garnish the plated dish.
Guarding the food from a jumpy Theo, we dig in. That Barve loves a pop of colour is apparent. The table setting is colourful, the chicken bright from the chilli powder and plum sauce, and the veggies are left undercooked to retain their colour and crunch.
His instinct for layering and balancing translates from the runway to the kitchen. The sweet and sour taste of the sauce is not overwhelming. The crunchy cashew complements the soft chicken, as does the gently spiced egg fried rice.
While growing up, Barve used to ask his mother to take a break from cooking on Sundays and make an entire meal for his parents. Even now, whenever he gets time, he cooks for family and friends. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sonam Kapoor might be wearing his collections, but there are many who appreciate his culinary creations too.
Stir-fry chicken with burnt garlic and basil in plum sauce
800g boneless chicken
2 pods garlic
3 tbsp oil
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp sugar
4 tbsp plum sauce, found in certain grocery stores, usually imported
50g cashews, fried
2 onions, separated as rings
Clean the chicken and cut into bite-sized pieces. Marinate the chicken in a mix of salt, sugar and chilli powder and keep aside for 30 minutes. Add oil in a non-stick wok. When the oil starts smoking, add the garlic and sauté till it turns brown. Add the chicken and stir fry on high flame till half cooked. Now, add onion rings and stir fry till the chicken is cooked. Add the plum sauce and stir fry till the sauce glazes the chicken. Garnish with fried cashews and fresh basil leaves.