Lucknow Ka

So now the strapping chef Ranveer Brar is in the running to win the Hindustan Times Most Stylish Chef of the Year 2016 award.

Not surprising. I met the 6 ft 2 inches Jat, over a mug of green tea, at BBC in Juhu, at 9:30 am sharp, a few days ago. The man had flown in from Oz pretty late the night before, and yet turned up immaculate for the brekkie meet: Pistachio green T, a casual jacket, jeans and loafers. Perhaps regular telly outings, being a popular food show host, and being a media-savvy celeb chef does that to him.

Ranveer Brar is what enviable success stories are made of. Mean mettle, maverick creativity and marvellous resilience. All wrapped up in the genteel visage of a munda from Lucknow. I’ve interacted with scores of international chefs, with and without the Michelin star tag, yet Brar cuts a determined picture, that of searing resolve and superb culinary skills to match. Food is a giver, clearly.

Brought up in Lucknow (an alumnus of St Paul’s, HAL, IHM, respectively in the city of Nawabs), one of Ranveer’s most precious early memories is that of preparing meethe chawal at a langar at the gurudwara near his house. That met with satiated murmurings. Soon he tried his hand at rolling kebabs, on the sly, at Munir Ustad’s hissing stall near Odeon cinema in the city.

He was 17, and back then in the 90s, folks were rather skeptical of his choice of career. “Beta, khana banana to theek hai, lekin kaam kya karoge?” But the aroma stuck on. Brar then went on to crack many firsts, at five star hotels, in launching superb seafood restaurants (in Goa, a place that gifted him the pace and space to create leisurely), heading teams as executive chef and bringing in a sense of dynamism to his own unique food culture.

But while it’s cool to mention his name among the leading chefs in the country, and among the men sparklers from Lucknow ( Cliff Richards, Vinod Mehta, Roshan Abbas…) ’tis good to remember that it has been a rocky road with many falls for Brar as well. This lends his persona a vital sense of fortitude and a ‘born survivor’ edge. Soon after netting laurels in India, he moved to the US, and started his Franco Asian, eatery Banq, in Boston. It won acclaim, but tanked commercially, leaving him rudderless and penniless.

chef brar Brar started from scratch, slowly and steadily, and bounced back on home turf, this time more structured and cautious. The rewards have flowed in along with gourmet gospels. Ranveer’s been a judge on Season 4 of MasterChef India; done cook offs in different parts of the world, netted eyeballs through his shows Breakfast Xpress, The Great Indian Rasoi, Thank God It’s Fryday, Health Bhi Taste Bhi…Up next is the launch of a line of pastry shops, English Vinglish (a crucible of lipcurling mithai-inspired pastries), designer menus for MTV India cafes all across the country apart from YouTube outings, ambassadorship for a clutch of high end foodie brands, launch of his cookery book next month, and more.

What works essentially for Brar is the innate sense of simplicity in his preparations. No smothering the palate with flavours, no foxtrot with unnecessary drama. Pure manna, with a soul, sells. Good food conquers. And that is an art Brar seems to have honed over the years,

So what’s the secret takeaway? The biggest downside to being a good looking chef, Ranveer confesses, is that he has to work doubly hard to measure up to everyone’s expectations.

Not that he’s complaining. For that matter, neither are we.