TD Conversations: Shubham Thakur, Chef De Cuisine, Megu, The Leela Palace New Delhi

Shubham Thakur talks about what attracted him to Japanese cuisine, his food philosophy, and his plans for Megu.

Chef Shubham Thakur has several years of experience in Japanese cuisine. He started his journey with Megu in 2015 till 2017, then went on to work with Wasabi by Morimoto at Taj Mahal, New Delhi. In 2019, he bagged the Times of India ‘Chef of the Year’ award and was also facilitated by the Embassy of Japan in India. Post Wasabi he went on to open a modern Japanese bar at The Lodhi New Delhi called Yokoso. He has recently joined back Megu as its chef de cuisine. He talks about what attracted him to Japanese cuisine, his food philosophy, and his plans for Megu.

TD: How did you end up deciding that you wanted to go to culinary school and pursue cooking as a career?

ST: I believe it was very early in my life when I decided to be a chef. As a kid, I was inquisitive about how certain favourite dishes of mine were made, which would always catch my attention.

In the ’90s, while I was growing up chefs like Sanjeev Kapoor, Wolfgang Puck, Tarla Dalal would be all over television shows. This brought about a revolution and changed the mindset of how people looked at cooking and becoming a chef as a career. As I grew, my interest in cooking grew into a passion and eventually, this is what I live for. Though the journey has not been so “tasty”, I have had my fair share of burnt, undercooked, or under-seasoned food too.

After school, I took entrance exams only for Hotel Management as I was very clear that this is what I wanted to do. I got to know this is my real calling when I participated in a culinary competition in my first year and won that. I haven’t looked back since then.

TD: How has the restaurant/ hospitality industry as a whole changed due to the pandemic? What is the future like? Do you see the industry undergoing more changes?

ST: I believe one really needs to adapt to changing times and make the best out of it. The restaurant industry/ hospitality industry is a product of creativity and versatility. The pandemic has certainly pushed us to think out of the box, adapt to the changing environment, demand, and changing guests’ needs swiftly.

As a chef, I have realised the fact that food is a vital part of one’s nourishment for recovery. We being the custodians of it we should certainly spread awareness about using the right ingredients, methods, encourage zero wastage and ensure nourishment for all.

The complexity of textures in Japanese cuisine attracted chef Shubham to it.

TD: What is the future like?

ST: Be the change you want to see in the world.

I believe the chefs are the real change-makers. Chefs over the years have brought in a revolution with food from being eateries at highways to fine dining to sustainable or bringing in farm-to-table concept. We will certainly see an uplift in conscious dining.

TD: Have you had trouble sourcing ingredients?

ST: Yes there were some challenges initially when the pandemic had hit us, however, it was great that there wasn’t a complete halt in the process and everyone came together to fill the void and adapt to the changing environment.

TD: How do you see the food scene changing in India?

ST: I believe that the food scene in India is moving progressively towards a sustainable way. There are more and more conscious diners who not only know about what they are eating but also understand the whole process of it. Our guests are well aware of the global trends and do appreciate what’s been presented to them.

Megu is currently promoting Omakase, a dining experience where the chef creates an incredible experience for the diner.

TD: What is your food philosophy?

ST: One fact which moved me and made me join this profession is that everyone has a different palate. Some may like it sweet, others bitter, and some may like a combination of both or may dislike it altogether. As a chef how can I satiate everyone’s palate with my skills and knowledge is what I strive for. After all, food brings everyone together, and culturally the most common language is the language of food.

TD: Please tell us one ingredient you don’t like working with and one that you do.

ST: No ingredient is a bad ingredient, to be honest. However, the least used ingredient would be spearmint. I absolutely love using kombu, the ingredient which has the highest umami in it.

TD: What attracted you to Japanese cuisine?

ST: Everything about it. For me, all cuisines are of the highest regard. Why I chose Japanese was for the intricacies that the cuisine has. It is a union of age-old cooking techniques with modern dining. Sustainable use of an ingredient to its fullest and the complexity of textures is also something that really fascinated me. The way the cuisine is not only region-centric but also very ingredient-centric, which depends on the seasonality of ingredients.

TD: What are your plans for Megu?

ST: We are currently promoting Omakase, a dining experience where the guest leaves it to the chef and the chef creates an incredible experience for the diner keeping in mind their preferences. We have some exciting plans for Megu coming up, so stay tuned.

TD: Since there are not a lot of vegetarian options in Japanese Cuisine, do you have to improvise a lot?

ST: It’s been my constant endeavor to promote equally vegetarian choices on the menu. We started out this concept of Shojin cuisine, which is the cuisine of the monks, and introduced the nuances of that cuisine. We have been extensively using domestically grown produce, knowing our soil is so fertile and produce is so good, we have been focusing on creating more and more vegetarian dishes.

TD: Any advice for young chefs entering the industry today—given the situation of jobs.

ST: Believe in the process, if you take care of the process rest everything will fall in place eventually. Yes, the situation might not look favourable and promising right now, however, keep yourself motivated and be driven to nourish your passion and achieving your goals.

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