TD Conversations: Chef and Culinary Consultant Adhira’s promise and premise of creativity

Be it a consommé or any condiment, this chef’s creative take on global flavours is one of a kind.

For Adhira (26), an alumna of Le Cordon Bleu, pursuing culinary consultation was about rejecting any monotony that comes with being a chef. 

“It is very different from restaurant consultation because I do not set up restaurants or get into the logistics side of it. I create dishes for restaurants’ menus, test them, standardise them, and train their kitchen staff to execute them,” she clarifies.  

She views cooking as a creative outlet, that allows for its beautiful structures to be restructured. “It gives me whatever confines required for security and safety but allows me to move its pillars around to accomplish something beyond its standard realm,” she adds.

Crispy butter poached salmon, beurre noisette & nutmeg spinach, hasselback parmesan potatoes & suc sauce (with white wine, garlic, butter and lemon), a recipe developed by chef adhira.
Crispy butter poached salmon, beurre noisette & nutmeg spinach, Hasselback parmesan potatoes & suc sauce (with white wine, garlic, butter and lemon), a recipe developed by Chef Adhira.

Artistic Roots 

For the longest time, Adhira fancied herself an artist. She confesses to bunking classes in school to sit in the art room for hours together with nothing but a strong desire to create. While empty canvases waited for her at school, she would also often be found in the kitchen, taste-testing family meals.  

It goes back even further. Apart from painting the walls at the age of six, Adhira also filled all the corners of home with the sweet smell of her baking skills.  

“Cooking progressed organically for me. I watched my grandmother and father cook as a child. Naturally, I began to cook the minute I could,” she shares.  

Still consciously unaware of her culinary interests, she pursued art in Chicago until the idea of taking a short culinary course came from her family. “I thought that it was a blatant waste of time because I didn’t think that I would make it my career. But, I left India for a short course, turned it into a long course, then pursued a degree, and kept dodging the idea of coming back home. By then, I knew that my cooking had to marry my creativity,” she says.

Chef adhira's true comfort lies at the cusp of culinary and artistic creativity.
Chef Adhira’s true comfort lies at the cusp of culinary and artistic creativity.

So it’s unsurprising that Adhira’s comfort lies far from the world of standard menus and hectic services. True comfort comes from inventing dishes that celebrate what she calls the ‘borderless cuisine’. 

Although her niche is contemporary European food, she doesn’t shy away from fusion after due research and several rounds of testing. She admits to spending anywhere between a couple of days and four months building a recipe from scratch.  

Her personal banana bread recipe, for that matter, took eight long years. “You cannot fathom the number of times I have made banana bread in my life,” she says and laughs at herself,  “Banana bread of all things!” 

Creative Processes 

Her ongoing project is a perfect culmination of both her passions, requiring dishes that correspond to particular pieces of art.  

“One of my dishes has to correspond to a sculpture of Lord Bhairava. I am yet to finalise the dish, but the process was very interesting,” she begins.  

“At first, to approach it, I had two options. One was to be literal- to think of the material used to sculpt and use ingredients that will resemble it in terms of colour and texture. But, the second option was to go beyond what was evident. So, after some research, I found that Bhairava is the god of protection. I brainstormed with my aunts, who know these things best, and arrived at Drishti – the Indian concept of an evil eye. From there, I arrived at some widely used ingredients such as lemons, chillis, and rock salt to remove Drishti. At the end of this process, I had my ingredients in hand to curate a dish.” 

She intends to incorporate local produce such as Thoothukudi salt in the dish. “That way, the dish would be geographically correlated to the art piece as well,” Adhira adds.

That apart, recent times have also found the eccentric chef busy channelling her energy into creating condiments and establishing her brand. With the launch date still away, the idea comes from a place of wanting to enhance mundane food.  

More Creations 

In October 2021, Adhira showcased her creations at Crown Plaza, Chennai, for their 10-day Chef take-over series. For her, this was one of the major projects in India that allowed for creative freedom to present her idea of ‘borderless cuisine’ to diners. She says, “I was able to serve the kind of food that spoke to me,” and goes on to talk about one of the pre-course meals she served.

A trio of amuse on rock salt; for ‘curate 2’ at @otr. Chennai [@crowneplazachn]. Image: chef adhira instagram.
a trio of amuse on rock salt; for ‘Curate 2’ at @otr.chennai [@crowneplazachn]. Image: Chef Adhira Instagram.

Entitled The Essense of Gazpacho, the consummé took her a little over a month to develop. The drink was a mix of Spanish cold soup with a textural play to resemble the South-Indian rasam. “Of all the liquids I know, the top part of the rasam (after the thick dal sediments at the bottom) is one of the only things that can be that thin and yet, full of flavour. I wanted my gazpacho in that consistency,” she says.  

To achieve the same, she blended a traditional gazpacho with ice and let it pass through a muslin cloth. Following a series of steps to enhance flavour, the refreshing consummé is served in a shot glass with a hint of basil oil. 

That aside, she recalls one of her earliest creations in the Maldives. “I didn’t give that dish a name,” she says with no signs of regret. “It was a simple Mediterranean fish dish that taught me the art of letting the produce shine. I had simply infused a spicy chilli into the oil and cooked a freshly caught fish in that acid. I served it with freshly ground basil for the main course,” she adds, passion reflecting in her voice.  

Dreamy Dessert 

“Another memorable recipe I developed was for a dessert that I served at Crown Plaza,” she circles back. The story behind this dessert calls links to her issues with falling asleep. The only thing that helps Adhira at such times is a warm glass of milk with a spoon of honey before bed. “Watching the golden tinge of honey settle at the bottom, without being masked by the opaqueness of milk has always been soothing,” she says.  

“Drawing from that, I realised that milk is given to children and honey is prescribed for sickness. Overall, combining these two ingredients will make one feel as though they are being taken care of. That was the emotion I was going after,” she adds. 

The result was a bowl of comfort that had eight elements of milk and honey. Namely, a burnt honey mousse, a vanilla bean ice cream, a honeycomb layer, a crumble made of milk, edible flowers, and a chewy element made from honey. 

If she were to set the ambience for serving this dessert? “Dim lights to create a non-stimulating environment with a mellow song playing in the background,” she says. What song? Without thinking twice, she utters with a smile, “Pashmina.” 

We finish our coffees and say our goodbyes. As I walk towards my car, I begin to hum the song she had mentioned, the part that goes:  

“Pashmina dhaagon ke sang…  

Koi aaj… bune khwaab… aise kaise… 

Aise kaise… aise kaise…” 

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