Placing the spotlight on the sous chef

Shraddha Tayade, senior sous chef at O’Pedro, enjoys studying guests to learn what they want

Jahnabee Borah
First Published7 Jul 2024, 03:00 PM IST
Chef Shraddha Tayade at O'Pedro.
Chef Shraddha Tayade at O’Pedro.

In the restaurant drama The Bear, the protagonist’s assistant—and the kitchen’s anchor—is the sous chef Sydney “Syd” Adamu. She helps plan menus, runs a tight ship and shines with her unwavering determination to create better dishes. Chef Shraddha Tayade reminds one of Syd. Tayade is the senior sous chef at Mumbai’s O’Pedro. She likes to study her guests, oversees orders and creates menus with her boss, Hussain Shahzad, the executive chef at Hunger Inc., the parent company of the restaurant.

Also read: ‘The Bear’ is not trending here

“Even as a child, I was enthusiastic about cooking,” says the 33-year-old. Her interest was fuelled by her father’s love for making and enjoying food. As we were speaking, a coconut stuffed with a flattened rice-like preparation was placed on the table. It was her twist on the traditional Goan Portuguese shrimp-based side dish, kismur. She had reimagined it as a vegetarian dish with tender coconut, streaked with sweet and sour tamarind glaze and speckled with crispy curry leaves. Her eyes light up as she talks of it. One of the motivating factors to make a seafood-free version was that her parents are vegetarian. The ingredient that sparked her imagination was tender coconut. She attempted kismur by pairing it with soft onions, chillies and Goan garam masala. Hussain added some batter-fried tender coconut bits for an addictive crunch and served it in a coconut shell. After two months of trial and error, it became a hot-seller. “This is my first dish on the menu of a restaurant. It boosted my confidence to create more,” says the chef.

Tender coconut kismur at O'Pedro.

Tayade loves Indian food, but her career began in a French kitchen in 2011, when the French creperie Suzette opened in Nariman Point. It was the first of its kind and she was hired as commis 3, an entry-level position in professional kitchens. The commis 3 assists chefs and their job involves swiftly and efficiently doing basics, like peeling onions, slicing mushrooms and cleaning meat.

“At Suzette, I began to harbour the dream of leading a kitchen by observing my head chef Karishma Dalal,” she says. Now, Dalal is the chef and owner of the popular salad bar The Bombay Salad Co. and the café Bokka in Mumbai. She noticed Tayade’s potential. In 2015, when Hunger Inc. was hiring for The Bombay Canteen, Dalal recommended her. “For the first time, I was exposed to the diversity of Indian regional food,” she says. She was like a sponge, training under head chef Thomas Zacharias, sous chef Shahzad and the iconic Floyd Cardoz, and was in charge of the blancher. “At that time, we had meen pollichathu (Kerala style fish steamed in banana leaf), and it was my favourite. I couldn’t get enough of cooking it,” she says. The fish had to be blanched, and she worked for weeks to perfect it, burning a few handis in the process. In 2017, when O’Pedro opened and chef Shahzad led the kitchen, he asked her to move there.

The shift to O’Pedro was pivotal. She climbed the ranks to be a senior sous chef who oversees each dish, from colour to plating and freshness of the garnish before it reaches diners. The high point of her career is she leads the kitchen team too, fulfilling the dream that was seeded more than a decade ago.

Back of the House is a series featuring restaurant and bar staff who work behind the scenes to add to the dining experience.

Also read: Add a pop of colour and texture to recipes with frozen peas

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First Published:7 Jul 2024, 03:00 PM IST
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