More Asian cuisines should make their way into Indian eateries
According to chef Kelvin Cheung of Aallia Hospitality in Mumbai, healthy eating that began as a fad has become a lifestyle now
The trend of healthy diet and clean eating is not dying out any time soon. If anything, it’s only going to see an upward swing this year, be it different health trends or food movements, believes chef Kelvin Cheung, 39, corporate chef and F&B director, Aallia Hospitality in Mumbai.
According to Cheung, healthy eating, which began as a fad has become a lifestyle now. “I remember, as a chef when I first started, being a healthy adult didn’t really matter. All that mattered was that we focus on our work, how we cooked, how well we were able to function in the kitchen. That’s it. But the difference is that, if I am not healthy and strong, I am moving slower, thinking slower and I am not able to do as much work as I would if I were fit and healthy. And the whole dynamic of the kitchen has changed. Everyone’s pushing harder, everyone’s moving faster, thinking faster; you can’t be docile and slow and unhealthy,” says the Canadian-Chinese chef, who runs Bastian restaurant in Mumbai .
Expense versus vegan
One of the trends gaining traction is plant based substitutes, which according to Cheung is a great option for not only vegetarians and vegans but also non vegetarians, who are looking for tasty, healthier options. However, for now, these dishes like the Impossible Burger (which has plant based meat substitute) are expensive and economically not a viable option for a restaurant owner to serve. “I actually thought about it and tested it; if I was to bring in the Impossible Burger and serve, I would have to charge ₹1,200-1,500 for it because of how much work goes into making the actual patty and the kind of taxation the imported ingredients will attract. Hopefully, this year, someone will be able to crack that (the viability part),” says Cheung.
Another big focus area that the chef is looking at is how to be innovative in his kitchen, so that there is minimal waste of produce. And this not only includes food but also the drinks. “For instance, if I am juicing 30kg of lemons and limes, what do I do with the rest of it? Is there some way I can use it? So, we are coming up with fun ways to use that. And that shift has to move to the entire business. How do I make my kitchen zero waste—in products and ingredients. As best leading examples for the entire world, we (as chefs) have to show by example that we are skilled and knowledgeable about keeping our kitchen zero waste,” he says. Which also bring to the fore the issue of flying down ingredients and it’s environmental impact, when you can source the same thing locally. “As a chef and restaurant person, we have to consider ethical aspect of things like ethical farming, fishing and supplies. Does it make sense for me to buy a ₹1,000 avocado from across the world, when I can source it locally? This will be talked about more not only in a professional manner, but also in the public sector like mass supermarkets across the world,” he explains.
Automation in kitchen
Cheung is resigned to the fact that automation is going to be natural progression of the way the world is moving. In kitchens, it’s already started and there is no going back, especially in mundane, basic labour like peeling potatoes and cutting vegetables. Some of the noodle shops in Asia are already automatizing the process. But while there is reliance on computerized tools, Cheung believes, robots will not replace a chef. “We haven’t reached a point where the AI is able to adapt, think and change quickly enough to create a dish for a customer. There is always a process involved and the robots will never be accurate enough,” he says.
Social media has been an enabler in people experiencing developments across the world, getting exposed to varied cuisines, rise of “experts” and food bloggers, and feasting their eyes on appetizing food photos. Cheung is, however, sceptical how long it will last. “The whole bubble of social influencers and bloggers will slowly die out. There are too many right now, and there are too many who lack the knowledge and background to do it. So, you will see a lot of that filter out,” he says.
Thanks to social media and international travel, people are experimental in trying new cuisines. And Cheung says that he’s hopeful of seeing smaller, lesser known cuisines making inroads into the Indian palate. “You will see more of Asian cuisines like Filipino, Korean. People love Asian food and, I think, the palate here will be suited for these,” he says.
Set realistic goals
Finally, every year, one of the most popular resolutions is to eat healthy. The key to maintaining the resolution, Cheung reveals, is simple. Instead of depriving yourself of certain food, have a balance. “I literally tell all my customers that if you paid me $40 million, I would have a six pack. But no one’s paying me to look that way so I am going to enjoy my life. For us normal people, as long as we are eating 95% of the time healthy, whenever you want a treat, have a treat. Just don’t overindulge. It will be more sustainable then you saying ‘Oh I am going to eat clean for one week’ and break it to go back to eating shitty stuff,” he says.
A Year in Food is a series that looks at food trends (and concerns) of chefs around the country.
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