WHAT BRINGS YOU TO DUBAI?
I’ve recently opened Ashiana by Vineet at the Sheraton Dubai Creek. To promote the restaurant, last month I cooked a four-course meal on a boat sailing between Deira and Bur Dubai – a route historically linked to the spice trade and gold. It might sound like a charming and seductive idea but cooking on a boat has its limitations, such as bringing starters and desserts on in cool boxes and the main course in heated boxes.
YOU WERE THE FIRST INDIAN CHEF TO HOLD TWO MICHELIN STARS. WHAT ELEVATES YOUR CUISINE ABOVE STANDARD INDIAN COOKING?
I always cook for my guests, rather than aiming for any particular accolade. My food is a refined blend of light flavours with lots of spices and herbs. When I arrived in the UK in 1993 I was shocked by what I saw in Indian restaurants – heavy food with no subtlety that left diners bloated – so I wanted Indian food to evolve.
IS THERE ONE INGREDIENT THAT SUMS UP YOUR LOVE OF INDIAN CUISINE?
I adore cardamom, cumin and ginger, but my favourite has to be saffron. You can completely change a dish with its golden colour and delicate aroma.
IT'S DIWALI THIS MONTH. HOW DO YOU CELEBRATE?
For me, Diwali is all about giving and sharing. At home, we place nightlights in each room to welcome people. We then say prayers together and enjoy a vegetarian meal. My wife says I have sweet teeth (not just a sweet tooth) so desserts are also important. I love gulab jamun and rasgullas or ras malai. They are incredibly sweet – so much so that in my restaurants, we tone down the sugar content.
HOW DID YOU DISCOVER YOUR LOVE OF COOKING?
Entirely by accident. I wanted to be a pilot but my legs weren’t
long enough, so I enrolled at hotel school. Years later, in 2001, British Airways asked me to consult on the meals for Concorde, and I now oversee in-flight menus for Qatar Airways, so my career has involved an element of flying after all.
THE ASHIANA MENU IS PAN-INDIAN. WHAT IS YOUR THINKING BEHIND THIS?
We cater for traditional tastes among the Indian and Arab demographic, as well as the expat population, so I cook classic Indian dishes with a modern twist of clean, light flavours. Running a restaurant should always be about the guests, never the chef’s ego.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE DISH ON THE MENU?
Not surprisingly, it’s a dessert – a light and not too sweet cheesecake with fresh roses and rosewater served with a little kulfi.
ASHIANA TRANSLATES FROM HINDI AS 'HAPPY HOME'. HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS TO YOU?
A happy home has a happy soul. I am passionate about looking after my guests – making them feel comfortable in a relaxed environment. For me, cooking is about making the guest feel happy and important.
Find out more about Vineet's restaurant at ashianadubai.com