With almost two decades of culinary experience under his belt, Vaibhav Bhargava is a samurai when the subject is Asian cuisine. After whipping up a delight at two Michelin star restaurants and stirring a storm at Indian restaurants, the dynamic chef has set up CHO, a new Vietnamese kitchen and bar in New Delhi, which he says, is a part of his endeavour to introduce Indian audiences to traditional Vietnamese flavours but made for a modern palate.
Excerpts from an interview with the chef:
How did you start your journey as a chef? What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My career took off some 20 odd years ago. I started my journey from JP Group of Hotels and then moved to various other hotels and restaurants such as Hyatt and Olive bar and kitchen. I had the privilege to work in Noma (3 Michelin star restaurant) in Denmark, very early in my career. This not only changed my outlook but helped me evolve tremendously as a chef. For me that will always remain the highlight of my career. I was selected as a chef to represent India on a global platform like Slow Food movement in 2016, 2018 and 2020 (virtually) which was another highlight for my career.
You’re from Delhi. Did the state’s varied cuisine culture inspire you?
Delhi, a melting pot of culture, is my home and I was born and brought up in Darya Ganj which is close to Purana Delhi. If you ask a Delhiite what are the two things that really stand out for them about the city, it would be the rich history and the mouth-watering food.
It was here where I learnt so much about the culture and traditions of our heritage. There is so much to explore and there is a lot of vibrance that the city offers. From Chandni Chowk to Majnu ka Tilla, Delhi is replete with many culinary delights and one can never get over the gastronomic range our capital has to offer.
Vietnamese cuisine has surely made its presence felt in the Capital. How did you decide to start CHO?
CHO is my brain child and was conceived during the pandemic. Owing to the lockdown and my previous experience mastering a similar cuisine in a restaurant in Gurugram and being at the receiving end of a great response for it, I came to a realisation that Delhi needed a concept like CHO. When I found that there is a premium space available, I started looking for people who I could collaborate with to take the idea further. There was no looking back!
Herbs and presentation are key to your food. Tell us a little about your process of creating a dish
To create a dish, it needs a lot of research and patience because first its created in your mind, then you write it down on a piece of paper, and then you start putting together elements according to the balancing of the dish, then you draw the diagram on a board with all those elements together and place them as you visualised them and transfer that on to the plate.
Once the dish is ready, my team and I do a first round of tasting and take each other’s feedback and opinion. Once we finalise the dish, we host a tasting for the consumer to absorb their feedback and eventually perfect the dish before it is served.
Does cross-pollination of cuisines work in India?
There has always been cross-pollination of cuisines. In fact in the yester years, much cross-pollination took off between Pondicherry and South Asia and Vietnam (both were under French control) as people travelled between these two locations for business and travel and pleasure. Hence, it’s not new to our country and we have not taken inspiration from the same but our food has evolved and crossed barriers due to cross pollination of cuisines.
Do you believe the pandemic has influenced the way people eat?
Somewhere yes, people have become cautious of what they should eat, their dietary preferences have changed and in some way everyone is trying to become a healthier version of themselves. Leading a healthy life is very very important and in such hard-hitting times it’s very crucial to see your health being an important priority.
Your comfort food.
Home cooked food will always be my comfort food. There is nothing in the world that beats ‘Ghar ka Khana’.
Who do you take inspiration from in the culinary world?
Oh, so many of them, the list is long but yes Chef Rene Redzepi, Chef Tetsuya, Chef Manjit Gill, these chefs have the philosophy to cook with simplicity and highlight the ingredients as the star of the recipe and use the best technology to create new textures from it.
The pandemic spurred an entire generation of home chefs in India. Do you believe this spells good news for India’s culinary scene?
Yes, to some extent as few home chefs have really started doing well as they have mastered specific dishes and capitalised on it, but from a culinary industry point of view, it takes a lot more than just home cooking so it has both pros and cons attached to it.
Three dishes you’ll recommend from your menu at CHO?
Well, if I have to recommend three dishes from the menu they will have to be:
- Prawn Dim sum with Tobiko
- Crispy Prawns rice sheet rolls
- And third would be my signature mock meat dish. It is crispy mock meat and vegetables tossed in Tso chilli sauce.