Meet Himanshu Saini, the chef who served mutter paneer to Roger Federer

Himanshu Saini’s innovative take on Indian food has won him fans around the world. One of the hottest names in the global Indian culinary scene, Himanshu tells TravelDine about his vision to change the perception of Indian food.

“Let’s say there are 1,00,000 chefs in India who know how to make butter chicken and biryani. Even I know what it takes to make a good one. But I don’t want to focus on just the regular butter chicken or biryani. I want to do something that separates my identity from the rest of the 1,00,000,” says Himanshu Saini.

Those who have tasted Himanshu’s food would vouch that ‘regular’ is not the word one associates with his scrumptious creations. In his expert hands, even the most humble fare undergoes a transformation, with complex culinary techniques and innovative mix of flavours turning each item into a work of art.

One of the most exciting young Indian chefs in the world today, Himanshu, the corporate chef at Trèsind (Dubai, Kuwait and India), has had an interesting journey. After training under the masterful Manish Mehrotra at Indian Accent, and stints with Masala Library in India and a short foray in the US, Himanshu was brought to Dubai in 2014 to head Trèsind – a fine dine destination, launched by entrepreneur Bhupender Nath in a city teeming with Indian restaurants.

Progressive cuisine was still a niche back then, especially among the nostalgia-loving NRI population that stayed loyal to their paneers and chaats. Himanshu didn’t test their loyalty but instead, gave them a taste of something new. Cutting-edge plating, mind-boggling permutations and combinations of ingredients, experimentations in the Gaggan Anand-Manish Mehrotra mould and constantly evolving East-meets-West menus ensured that Trèsind became a talking point among discerning foodies in Dubai.  

The restaurant expanded to Kuwait and then made its mark in over-crowded Mumbai, a rare instance of an Indian brand from abroad returning to home territory. Meanwhile, other outlets were launched – Carnival by Trèsind and Trèsind Studio, the latter especially designed as an immersive and intimate affair, guided as a chef’s table experience serving only 20 guests with outstanding, experimental Indian food for a sophisticated palate.

Trèsind mumbai
Along with the Trèsind in Dubai, Chef Himanshu Saini is also in charge of the Mumbai (pictured) and Kuwait restaurants.
Image courtesy Trèsind Mumbai

Himanshu’s distinct touch in each of these menus has garnered him plenty of fans  among food writers, influencers and celebs. He is now poised for greater glory as a candidate at the World’s Best Chef Top 100 awards, the ranking for which will be announced in Amsterdam this September. But the numbers game does not faze him. “Being considered among the top 100 chefs in the world itself is an honor, the ranking really does not matter,” he shrugs.

Like his mentor, Manish Mehrotra, Himanshu is an ardent proponent of progressive Indian cuisine. What gives his food an added zing is the inspiration he takes from chefs he regularly collaborates with to create menus that imbibe the best of two culinary cultures. “I love these collaborations, it’s a great learning experience with exchange of ideas, heritage and philosophies,” he says.   

Himanshu’s style is all about inventive uses of ingredients and clever mix of spices that result in dishes that are interesting enough for global taste buds even as it pays tribute to his Indian roots. Take for instance, his famous ghee roast crab – inspired by Mangalorean cuisine, this dish has tender crab meat cooked with spices, baked in cinnamon bark and served with curry leaf tempura. The result is an exciting interplay of textures, flavours and techniques.  

“Indian food is about spices, it is not spicy,” he emphasises. “Our aim is to promote Indian food but we also want to encourage people to have a different perception towards it.”

Incidentally, Himanshu Saini does not like to categorise his cuisine as progressive or modern or fusion (somehow the terms are used interchangeably though they are considerably different!). “I would just like to call it Indian food the way I see it. I want to tell stories with my food,” he says.

And like all good chefs, he has plenty of stories. The most fascinating one is from when the tennis legend Roger Federer dined at Trèsind. “I was just told by the manager that a guest wished to see me as he wanted to order something that wasn’t there on the menu. When I went to the table, I couldn’t believe it was Roger Federer! I will never forget his order – Mutter Paneer! Apparently he wanted something vegetarian and this was his favourite dish. We did serve him his order but also a lot more. He visited us again but I can never forget this incident!”   

For more such stories and his dream of opening a restaurant in Manchester, watch the full video interview.

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