Himanshu Sani is a multi-tasker par excellence. The young chef is at the helm of the highly-awarded contemporary Indian restaurant Tresind in Dubai, and travels the world spreading the good word about Indian cuisine. He also indulges in the occasional pop-up in international cities.
On the eve of his pop-up dinner at the World Gourmet Festival in Mumbai, he is on tenterhooks. He is part of a prestigious bevy of international chefs presenting special dinners to some of Mumbai’s most discerning diners. “I am quite excited to represent Indian food at the World Gourmet Festival in Mumbai, but the pressure is intense as I will be alongside great international names like Tim Butler from Bangkok and Dharshan Munidasa from Colombo,” says Himanshu.
Tresind is translates from French as tres (very) and Inde (India). It adopts a French fine dining approach to cuisine, with reinterpreted Indian cuisine at the core of the experience. Himanshu is also at the helm of another restaurant in Dubai, Carnival by Tresind, which he describes as a “post-modern Indian restaurant”. What, then, is the unique selling point of this chef, who was awarded “Best Young Chef” at Delhi Gourmet Club’s Top Chef Awards in 2014? “Tresind is a modern Indian restaurant,” he says, “Everyone is experimenting with the same dish in different ways. I wanted to break the monotony and do something new with Indian food. I want to go back to history and focus on dishes that got forgotten. I travel to small towns in India to research on food whenever I can. The average diner would never have heard of them. Take, for instance, a Madurai sandwich, which is a mackerel dish with rice bread.”
The chef, originally from Delhi, talks about Islamic cuisine. “We are soon going to open a restaurant where we will focus on Islamic cuisine from around the world. This has never been done before,” explains Himanshu. “The kebab and tandoor from the Middle East and India, became a satay when it went to Indonesia. Similarly, there is such a thing as Chinese Islamic cuisine, created by Arabs who went to China on the silk route. Funnily enough, we’ve also got something from the famous Halal Guys cart on the streets of New York, because the iconic street cart belongs to Muslim community chefs. It’s going to be a fabulous concept.”
Himanshu, who started off in Manish Mehrotra’s kitchen when he was 21, likes to take a classic Indian dish and blend it with a foreign ingredient, or vice versa. “I recently did a dal dhokla, a Gujarati dish. Dhokli, when it is cooked has the texture of pasta, so we paired it with fresh bocconcini, parmesan, lentils and chilli pickle. So it’s a classic dish from Italy served with Indian lentils. Another example is the dal phulka, a lentil cappuccino topped with fresh truffles, giving it that Italian connection, but the flavours are very Indian,” he says.
Whether it is recreating a dal-egg bhurji dish typical of Meghalaya to reviving the cooking style using a Himalayan salt slab, Himanshu and his team are constantly pushing the envelope of good Indian food. “The salt slab is interesting because when we heat it, it retains heat. We can cook prawns and meat on it. The more you cook it, the more natural salt comes from it,” he says.