The height of gastronomy
Chef Vineet Bhatia on creating The Last Supper, a fine-dining pop-up planned at the Everest Base Camp
Chef Vineet Bhatia, 50, left India two decades ago to try his luck at cooking on foreign shores. Today, he is one of the country’s most recognized chefs, helming acclaimed restaurants like Rasoi, Maharaja, Indego and Diya in his three-decade-old career. In 2009, Rasoi by Vineet at the Mandarin Oriental, Geneva, was anointed with its own Michelin star, making Bhatia only the second British chef (after Gordon Ramsay) to hold Michelin stars in more than one country. Shuttling between Dubai and London, the restaurateur today straddles a 10-restaurant empire across Geneva, London, Bahrain, Doha and Mauritius, with three more scheduled to open this year.
With his latest project—The Last Supper—Bhatia is taking fine dining to a whole new level. He will be laying out a Michelin-style dinner at the Mount Everest Base Camp (EBC), located 5,365m above the sea in Nepal. It is not the first time that a pop-up will be attempted at this dizzying altitude. In 2016, ex-Noma chef James Sharman successfully conducted his own pop-up at the EBC. The money raised from Bhatia’s pop-up will go to those affected in the 25 April 2015 Kathmandu earthquake and the Geneva-based Heart for India Foundation, which works for underprivileged Indian girls. Edited excerpts:
Could you elaborate on your pop-up at the EBC?
We’ll be doing two pop-ups. One will be in Nepal’s Namche Bazaar on 28 May and the grand finale will be the meal on 5 June titled The Last Supper, a multi-course meal at EBC. There’s no fixed menu as the dishes will depend on the ingredients we’re able to forage during our 14-day trek. But, broadly, it will be an Indo-Nepalese meal comprising momos, a hot soup, dal, veggies, chicken curry and one dessert, probably a kesar-badam halwa. We intend wrapping up the meal in 30 minutes as the temperature at EBC will be around minus 16 degrees Celsius. Threats of storms and avalanches aren’t uncommon here. Also, taste buds partially lose their ability to detect flavour at that altitude.
Who will be the guests at your pop-up?
The Last Supper will be a ticketed event priced at $5,000 (around Rs3.4 lakh) per head (inclusive of the helicopter ride from Kathmandu to the EBC and back and the required gear). I can’t disclose the names yet, but they’re famous Indian industrialists, seven from Delhi and three from Singapore.
What are the challenges you foresee?
Cooking at that altitude poses serious challenges. As the air pressure and temperature plummets, water boils at a lower temperature, slowing down the cooking process considerably. So we’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. We will use very basic cooking equipment like grills and the most primitive wood fire and try to keep things simple.
How long did it take you to put your team together?
Interestingly, when I discussed the project with some chefs, most of them chickened out because of the challenging conditions they expected to confront. My son Varaul, 19, who is also a chef, then pitched in, and so did Tej Thapa, who is from Nepal and works at my restaurant Rasoi in Bahrain. Another chef is Irshad Qureshi, who works at my Dubai hotel Rasoi. Finally, we’re a team of six—me, my son, two chefs and two camerapersons who will be shooting our journey, which will later be telecast on a lifestyle TV channel as a documentary feature.
How challenging is the trek?
This trek includes foraging for edible produce in the Himalayan forests en route to the EBC and then cooking with them. I’m undergoing an intensive eight-week training programme, doing 2 hours of cardio daily. One has to be super fit because the rarefied air can trigger acute mountain sickness (AMS), which can also be fatal. I’m also on a high-carb and protein-rich diet.
Me and my team will fly into Kathmandu and then trek to Lukla (at 2,860m), which, incidentally, has one of the world’s smallest airports. The runway there is only 525m long. We’ll be trekking daily for 500m but the air is so rare at this vertiginous height that it will take us 6 hours just to cover this short and circuitous distance daily. We get to our first camp at Namche Bazaar (3,440m) on the 10th day. The bazaar is a trading centre and the gateway to the high Himalaya. We’ll be there three days acclimatizing and cooking at local schools for trekkers and locals. Simple foods—dal, rice and biryani—will be sold at $10 per plate and the proceeds will go to local charities. From there, we’ll proceed to the EBC.
What made you take up this Himalayan challenge?
Apart from working for a good cause, I’m excited to see how culinary creativity can be stretched despite the restrictions imposed by weather and limited ingredients. Finally, it’ll be heady to see how the fine-dining experience comes together in the rarefied air of the EBC.
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