Live life with more spice, says Bindu Patel on her Twitter profile (@ChefBee1120), and who could argue with that. Bindu works in the Michelin starred restaurant Gymkhana in Mayfair, London. Here, she shares her story with The Lemon Grove and some her recipes, all flavoured with a good squeeze of citrus!
What’s it like to work in one of the world’s top kitchens?
Incredibly intense, but so incredibly wonderful at the same time! I am Chef De Partie at Gymkhana. I work on the pass, garnishing and checking food with the Head and Sous Chefs before it is sent to the customer. I’m also on pastry from time to time. You learn so many different skills and ways to cook fresh, unusual produce in such a rapid amount of time whilst working in a Michelin star restaurant.
Describe a typical working day.
Well, my favourite time to be in the kitchen is early in the morning. The kitchen is cooler and quiet and you really get to enjoy the gradual build-up of the day, reaching the busy and intense climax of service at lunchtime!
The smells, sight, touch and taste of fresh produce delivered in the morning is unbelievable, especially at Gymkhana. Imagine the heady scent of fresh herbs, fragrant flowers, sweet fruit and savoury vegetables mingling with aromatic, exotic spices from faraway lands. At the same time, someone will be appetisingly frying onions, garlic and ginger. As you walk past pastry a comforting cloud of chocolate, sugar and butter will descend over you. Fresh bread will be made and baked every morning … simply divine!
Who taught you to cook?
All the food greats – Keith Floyd, James Martin, the Roux family, Rick Stein, Delia Smith, Madhur Jaffrey, Ken Hom. I grew up watching cooking programmes which I loved as a child and it all just sank in! When I was old enough, I just started cooking and experimenting with different ingredients and I haven’t stopped since. However, I don’t think you ever stop learning when it comes to making food. There are so many different skills and techniques, both old and new, and so many ingredients to discover and work with so you never get bored in this job!
Who do you most respect in the industry?
I completely respect everyone I have worked for, I have learned so much from them all and I do have a lot of food heroes, namely Dominique Crenn, Daniela Soto-Innes, Nisha Katona and Sabrina Gidda, Sabrina Ghayour, Delia Smith, Madhur Jaffrey and Mary Berry. However, Michel Roux Junior at Le Gavroche was the first chef to ever welcome me into his kitchen. I have such great respect for him. He really inspires and encourages women in his kitchen. In fact, the head chef there, Rachel Humphrey, is also an amazing chef. The ingredients they work with are traditional French, timeless and classic but so modern and fresh. The dishes are deliciously decadent!
How does your background in farming affect your approach to cooking?
Farming is in my blood and my family have owned farms for generations, particularly huge coffee farms in Kenya. I used to work with a herd of dairy cows, but also with a wide range of animals including rare breeds. My surname is ‘Patel’ which means farmer/land owner in the Indian state of Gujarat. Farming for me means that food should be of the best quality, not quantity, and should change with the seasons – seasonality is fundamental to ensure you always get the freshest produce/ingredients at their peak and at their very best. I very much believe in using agricultural methods that are environmentally friendly, organic and free range where possible.
Does your parents’ heritage affect your style of cooking?
My family have always been such a huge inspiration when it comes to food. My mother was born in Malaysia and my father was born in Kenya, yet my grandparents are Indian. I was born and bred in multicultural Leicester, so I have grown up with a huge variety and different styles of dishes from oriental, Kenyan Indian, Malaysian and a variety of Indian cuisine too of course, as well as British food!
In most south Asian homes in the UK, it’s the women who do the cooking. So why are so few working in restaurants?
You know, I just don’t understand this, especially now in the year 2017! If you ask most chefs, it will be their mother, grandmother or aunt who makes the best dishes and inspired them yet the restaurant kitchen across all cultures has been a male dominated environment. The significant lack of women in kitchens, I believe, is an international problem and I see it as a great shame. Personally, I feel the industry as a whole needs to be more open in discussing the challenge and look towards making changes that leads the way for more young women to become chefs.
What is your signature dish?
Golden Goan Saffron risotto with chilli tiger prawns and pink Himalayan rock salt with a lime and coriander chutney.
What is your favourite piece of kitchen equipment?
It goes without saying that my favourite and the sexiest equipment in the kitchen for me are knives! I have a large arsenal of knives and I collect and hoard them like crazy! I love nothing more than sharpening and cleaning my set, keeping them in tiptop condition. They are my pride and joy!
Where shall we have lunch?
This is not a biased opinion at all, you should really visit Gymkhana for lunch or dinner. The food here is absolutely mouth-watering and so beautifully balanced. The Muntjac Biryani is out of this world and the atmosphere in the restaurant itself is so urbane and original. The cocktails are very sophisticated, and made by some of London’s finest bartenders – they are to die for!
42 Albemarle Street, London W1A 4JH
RECIPES from Bindu Patel
CITRUS, STAR ANISE AND THYME COOLER
2 Lemons. half of one fruit sliced into rounds, the rest juiced and zested.
2 Limes half of one fruit sliced into rounds, the rest juiced and zested.
2 Oranges half of one fruit sliced into rounds, the rest juiced and zested.
2 Blood Oranges half of one fruit sliced into rounds, the rest juiced and zested.
2 clementines half of one fruit sliced into rounds, the rest Juiced and zested.
½ Pink Grapefruit (if you enjoy the bitterness but it is optional).
1 star Anise.
Small bunch of thyme plus 5 sprigs for décor.
Pinch good quality sea salt (optional).
150g caster sugar.
150 ml still water (for syrup).
500ml cold still or sparkling water to finish.
In a pan, put in 150ml of still water and 150g of caster sugar and the star anise.
Cut one of each of the citrus fruits in half and leave aside to slice into rounds later. Zest all the rest of the fruit ensuring you do not zest down to the pith or white part to ensure Cooler is not bitter. Put the zest into the pan.
Slowly bring the Syrup up to the boil, until all of the sugar is dissolved. Leave aside to fully cool. Meanwhile, juice all of the fruit.
Once cool, put the syrup (to taste) and juice of all the fruit into a preparation jug along with the thyme and pinch of sea salt. Check sweetness and add more syrup accordingly. Mix well, bruising the thyme slightly in the process to release some of its fragrance. If you like the pulp, do not strain but for a smoother finish, strain into a serving jug.
Top up with 500ml of cold still or sparkling water. Slice the halves you set aside into rounds and add this to the serving jug along with a star anise and a sprig of thyme for décor and plenty of ice.Pour into a glass and enjoy as a perfect Mocktail or add in a dash of Vodka. Place a sprig of thyme into each glass to decorate.
WATERCRESS, CARROT, POTATO AND ONION BHAJIS
50g of watercress washed.
1 large red onion.
1 large Potato.
1 large carrot.
1-2 green chillis depending on how hot you like it.
Handful of fresh, chopped coriander.
2-3 large cloves of garlic cloves.
Thumb sized piece of ginger.
½ tsp Turmeric.
1 tsp Cumin powder.
1 tsp chilli powder.
½ tsp Garam Masala powder.
4 tablespoons of rice flour.
7 tablespoons of Gram Flour/Besan Flour.
1 tablespoon of sesame seeds (optional).
Salt to taste approximately ½-1 teaspoon.
Pepper to taste.
1 tablespoon of rapeseed oil for the mixture.
500ml vegetable oil in the fryer.
1-2 washed Fresh lemons/limes cut into wedges to serve.
Pour the vegetable oil into your deep fat fryer and pre-heat to 180 degrees.
Wash and grate the potato (no need to remove the skin) and carrot. Place grated vegetables into a sieve and add a pinch of salt to draw out water. Leave for 10 minutes and squeeze out access water.
In a grinder, add the garlic cloves, ginger and chilli and finely chop or chop into a paste.
Chop your onion into thin strips or rings. Place into a large mixing bowl. Add in the watercress, chopped coriander, grated carrot and potato, and all other ingredients including the chopped/paste garlic, ginger and chilli and water. The Mixture should just hold. If it looks too dry, add in a little more water if it looks too wet, add in a little more flour. Add a ½ teaspoon of salt but ensure you under salt until you fry and taste one bhaji. Only then will you know how much more salt to add as you salted the potato and carrot. Mix well.
Once the fryer has reached the correct temperature, take a tablespoon of your mixture and fry one Bhaji until golden brown. Taste the Bhaji for correct salt content. If it requires more salt, add a bit more to the raw mixture. Carry on frying tablespoons of Bhajis until golden brown. They should be crispy and soft in the middle.
Serve hot with a fresh green coriander and mint chutney or perfect simply with wedges of lemon/lime.