He’s still fairly old school in his approach to operating as a chef. You’ll hardly ever see Frank Lao, Head Chef of Veda and Djinggs, a new restaurant in Gurugram, come out and indulge in self-projection or organise fancy pop-ups, or throw stylish parties to popularise himself, like many others do these days. He still prefers to work quietly in the kitchen, speaking only when it’s necessary. Even as Lao poses for a picture for this story, his inherent shyness is evident as he seems uncomfortable. But, he is a through professional who obeys the demands of duty, which is why he obliges us immediately and lets us click a few photos. In less than a minute though, he scurries back into the kitchen.
A sophisticated amalgam of two cultures, the place offers a Pan-India experience that Veda stands for and Chinese experience at the new Djinggs. There is a common highlight at both restaurants though—clay pot dishes. “This distinct style of cooking keeps the aroma and flavours sealed longer, thus making food extraordinary. It’s very good for the health too, as little oil is used in the process,” says Lao. If we talk of signatures, the chef recommends the Chicken Clay Pot Rice at Djinggs. “Even after both ingredients are cooked together, they don’t lose their basic flavours. Another would be the Clay Pot Chicken Radish,” he says. You could also try the Mushroom Clay Pot Rice made with black beans using Sichuan pepper predominantly. Mapo Tofu in Clay Pot is also a great option. Since Djinggs is a Sichuan-styled Chinese restaurant, the Sichuan pepper is the protagonist of almost every dish. All this deliciousness and more still doesn’t keep the chef from salivating at the thought of the robust Laal Maas offered at Veda next door. “Its aroma pulls me towards it and then there is no stopping me,” he says softly.
If you decide to eat at Veda, do try the Sutli Raan which is a whole leg of lamb, marinated overnight with seasoned yougurt, and chef’s special in house spices, cooked in the tandoor. Another great option is Tulsi Paneer Tikka, which is cottage cheese with basil and spices. “Every dish is a result of a lot of thought, but if there was one dish we would like you to try at Veda, it would be Clay Pot Dum Gosht Biryani laced with saffron water and cardamom powder. It’s best served with Clay Pot Rogan Lamb Shank, an aromatic delicious dish wherein I use home-grown special garam masala,” says Lao.
It was his mother, a professional cook, who he learnt all the basics from. He believes to have the same kind of natural instinct towards cooking as she did. It’s his greatest strength.
Riding on the identity of Veda, an established name in the world of Indian cuisine, Djinggs will need to work hard to carve that respect for itself. “I am sure it’ll do well. My experience in this domain will definitely help me satisfy my customers. Chinese is my strength and I cannot go wrong with it,” he says in a voice sounding as sure as his words. Hailing from Teretiti Bazar, also known as Chinatown in Kolkota, his time spent there made him understand the needs of this country. The place—home to more than 2,000 Chinese people who moved to India three-four generations ago—soon became his second home. “I am Chinese by ethnicity, but
because of my upbringing in India, I am what you would call Chinese Indian,” he says. Having been in the culinary world since he was 15, the chef’s 36 years of experience is being fully utilised at Djinggs. “It has become such a huge part of my identity that without it, I am no one,” says Lao.