Chef Saby, aka Sabyasachi Gorai, may have been born in West Bengal and may have worked for restaurants around the world, but it’s Chennai’s street food that he adores.
During his recent visit to the city for Dank’s birthday celebrations, he talked about how he creates menus for restaurants to suit all palates, his favorite things in Chennai and who is his biggest food critic.
“A lot of things have changed in Chennai. It seems like a completely new city from what I remember. My Chennai was from before 2000-’98 ’99. The head office where I worked then was in Chennai.
After that I didn’t really come here very often other than a few intermittent visits for events like the Chiefs Convention etc. Over the past two years, I have seen that the city is changing at a very rapid pace,” explains the chef, known for touring the world with his gastronomic talent.
Ask him how he manages to create menus for people with such contrasting taste buds like North and South India, and he replies, “I’ve worked in tough countries like Japan and Australia, where there is great cultural diversity.
Australia is a melting pot, 120 communities live there, so it’s very difficult to match everyone’s palate. What I do is work with ingredients that are unique to a place. I work with stories and concepts that engage you.
For example, I do breweries and pubs that are 100% commercial, but again I try to bring a bit of storytelling and engagement through food.”
Chef Saby created a whole new menu for Dank last year. Curious, we asked him about the kind of research needed to create a menu for the cosmopolitan Tamil-speaking crowd.
He smiled saying, “Local food in Chennai has very intense flavors and taste so it’s not easy to tune that palate. But it’s not that we added extra butter or extra chilli, we worked with spices. By spices, I don’t mean mixed masala.
I’m talking about spice blends around the world. So whether it’s the original Caribbean spices, the sambar mix, a 65 chicken or a Kolkata chili chicken sauce, Tangra, these are all spice mixes. We worked with spice blends that I thought would be appealing and connect to the palate here.
We made galettes too, and pizzas too. For example, for the pizza, we kept a version that would suit the international palate, as well as a slightly spicier version for the local palate. »
Well, chefs cook the tastiest cuisine all the time, but what is Chef Saby’s comfort food? “It depends,” he says, adding, “It could be a bowl of dal and rice or biryani, or anything homemade.
If I’m in Chennai I’m very happy to eat Kadala parotta and curry, if I’m in Bangalore I must eat Ragi Mudde with Soppu Saaru, if I’m in Mumbai I’ll go one hundred percent walk around in the morning and have Vada pav, and at night I will go to Bhindi Bazaar and have Seekh Paratha.
Delhi has always been Moradabadi’s white biriyani. North of Chandigarh, it would be the Amritsari Kulcha. India is so colorful and blessed in terms of food.”
Now that he was in Chennai, could we not ask him more about his favorite culinary escapades in the city. “I really enjoy street food in Chennai. Whenever I get the chance, I have a little night out at these little joints, wandering around T Nagar, Burma Bazaar and all. The parotta and the beef are my absolute favorites,” says Fan Kamal Haasan.
Now, we all have a favorite dish, and then there are also things we totally abhor. But what Chef Saby hates is food waste. “I have a severe allergy to people who waste or disrespect food.
I am part of the United Nations zero hunger program, sustainable food development program, future 50 program and a few similar initiatives, so my blood boils when I see food waste.
I work with so many NGOs where I see so much struggle and suffering for basic meals, so it bothers me a lot when I see educated, smart people wasting food.”
Chef Saby, known for launching restaurants including Armenian outlet Lavaash in Delhi, Mineority in Pune and Byg Brewski in Bangalore, is the recipient of India’s President’s National Tourism Award for India’s Best Chef.
We ask him what will come out of his bundle next, and he says excitedly, “The biggest one will be Red Rhino, Hyderabad. We also have a really big brewery in Bangalore called Candles. I’ll do something in Goa by the beach from Vagator too.”
We come towards the end of the conversation, and finally we ask him who is Chief Saby’s biggest critic. He burst out laughing before saying, “My 12-year-old daughter. She thinks I don’t know how to make a sandwich, and every time I try to make food at home, there’s a major fight.
She’s like, dad, you don’t know which side of the bread to butter, the salami needs reheating, you have no idea. You’re eating cold salami on bread!” I’m like, “Okay, whatever you say, you’re the boss, let’s go.”