We caught up with Vineet Bhatia, Michelin star chef and one of India’s greatest exports at his new restaurant Rasoi by Vineet at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi.
Leanne: Tell us about your new restaurant, Rasoi by Vineet, how does it vary from other restaurant concepts you have?
Vineet: Every one of our twelve restaurants are different, it’s like a child, they all have their own identity. All our restaurant layouts vary, when you come to Abu Dhabi you have a sense of space. Similar ethos, in regard to food styling but even the décor varies greatly, we don’t do copy paste, that is very important. When we came to Abu Dhabi it was a very big space, many designers recommended we make cabanas with lots of closed off spaces, but we felt that we wanted a large open colorful space. All the restaurants we have are an extension of our living room, it’s a home away from home. Our Abu Dhabi restaurant is very vibrant with prints on the sofas, bright cushions and graffiti art on the wall, it’s a fun space.
Leanne: How important is Abu Dhabi as a location?
Vineet: Very. We have been looking for a space for a while now. We are really happy to have found such a great location in Abu Dhabi. Jumeirah at Etihad Towers doesn’t have an Indian restaurant, so we are adding value to their offering which is important to us. We’ve been looking for an Abu Dhabi location for years and had people approach us but never found a good fit until now. At Jumeirah at Etihad Towers we liked the setup, location and room, so it felt right. It has taken 15-16 months to get the restaurant up and running.
Leanne: Talk us through the menu at Rasoi by Vineet.
Vineet: Certain dishes have become a classic, almost a signature, plenty of dishes we have become known for, our regular guests will recognize these on the menu. You still have to have things that are quite unique for a new restaurant. It’s an ongoing process, the core remains the same, Indian food at its best. We don’t serve tiny portions, food has to be food. You can do modern versions, but guests must leave feeling like they’ve had a meal. We also stay away from gimmicks that you see in a lot of Indian restaurants these days. You won’t find any liquid nitrogen and drama at my restaurants, we don’t do that here, I think it’s horrible. What you get here is food that is thoughtfully crafted and built on a strong foundation. When you have a strong foundation that is when you can adapt, this is our strength.
Leanne: Will you be catering to vegetarian and vegan diners?
Vineet: Always! With Indian cuisine there is so much depth that you can alter certain ingredients to cater for a guests dietary requirements. We always look to cater for gluten free, lactose free and vegan guests. If the guest can give us a days’ notice of course that’s better as we can put something exceptional together for them, but if a guest was to walk in now and say I’m vegan we can give them 3 courses, no issue.
Leanne: From all your TV appearances which has been your favourite and why?
Vineet: The first series we shot of ‘Twist of Taste’ back in 2010, was quite special as my wife and I both traveled for the show and we hosted it together. That worked well and we got to travel within India, which allowed us to explore places we had never been. I’ve just started filming for MasterChef India, I am going to be a judge, I literally fly out tonight for filming, it will air 7th December 2019. It’s very interesting, I’ve never done MasterChef India before so I’m sure it is going to be a good experience, especially with half a billion viewers. What I also enjoyed was Netflix’s ‘The Final Table’ that was tough. The caliber of talent was impressive which made judging the contestants tough. What you didn’t see was that it took the panel 1.5 hours to decide the winner. But ‘Twist of Taste’ remains my favorite as I got to host it with my wife.
Leanne: Talk us through your journey in becoming a chef, is there anything you regret?
Vineet: I wouldn’t change anything, and I wouldn’t mind doing it all again, it was a hard grind, but it got me to where I am. I originally wanted to be a pilot, my brother and I would walk home from school and pass the airport. I loved to watch the planes. In India you can apply for defense exams, when I applied my first choice was the air force but at the final interview they offered me army or navy, and said I was too short to fly a plane. So, I ended up going to hotel school. All my family were from a professional background, so they thought I was joking when I said I wanted to go into hospitality. I remember the movie with Tom Cruise, and I wanted to work behind a bar and be that cool, but I was too short, so I was put in the kitchen. The kitchen was where they put all the discards. But, when I walked into the kitchen I was so impressed I said I want to learn to cook, this was in 1985. I picked it up very fast. The first kitchen I worked in is now my restaurant in the same hotel, the Oberoi in India. Imagine I started pealing potatoes in that restaurant and now it’s my restaurant.
Leanne: London cemented your career, is London still a big focus for your brand?
Vineet: In 1993 I moved to London. I had four options and London was one of them, I choose London because one, Heathrow airport, I could see planes and two, the weather was cold, I love the cold grey weather. London was my adopted home and it changed my life, now London is home. It will always remain a big focus, everyone comes to London and of course we recently got a space in Harrods. Harrods has been back and forth for a while, eventually we managed to get a space and now we have our own restaurant inside Harrods. It does well, it’s a small unit, but the Harrods team have been fantastic and it’s a great partnership. To have a restaurant in Harrods is phenomenal, the world comes to you in Harrods. I couldn’t have asked for a better flagship store.
Leanne: What restaurants do you have in the pipeline?
Vineet: Since Harrods we have had a lot of offers, we have 12 now and Abu Dhabi is the latest and last one for the moment. We never want to do a copy paste, we want to keep our restaurants a unique experience and when the right place comes up and it makes sense we will expand, but we don’t want to just roll our restaurants for the sake of it. We’ve said we would cap it at 15, we get asked every week, it’s very easy to sell your soul but I’m happy, I get to cook, my family travels with me, what more could I want, plus how much money is ever enough? We do things that make us happy, we come to work to have fun, its our passion.
Leanne: With so many restaurants opening and closing each year what has been your recipe for success, and do you think having a Michelin star has helped?
Vineet: The star helps, but I don’t think any level headed chef would do a restaurant to get a star, you do restaurants because you believe in them. Getting a star is not easy and keeping it is even worse. Michelin stars are nice to have but it shouldn’t change you as a person. My motivation is that I want to leave something good behind for the industry and those in it. As for our recipe for success, we believe in people and help nurture them, many of our team have been with us for years and have grown with us, that helps. Also having a vision and staying ahead of the curve. I came to Dubai when it was very much up and coming, I could see the potential.
Leanne: You and your wife work together, what is Rashima’s role?
Vineet: Rashima looks after everything including my wardrobe lol. She is the boss, she wears the pants, in the house there is only one vote and it’s her vote, it works well for us. Rashima is very disciplined, she plans well, is extremely organized and manages to keep us all in order. I love to focus on the cooking, I’m forgetful and a bit messy, I’m just a smiling face for the camera, 95% of the work is done by her, most people don’t know that. She deserves more credit than she gets.
Leanne: Have you ever felt star struck?
Vineet: Yes, for sure you grow up watching these big Bollywood stars and Hollywood stars and then they are dining in your restaurant. Also, if we are working a state dinner and you get to meet royalty, it can be a bit of a pinch yourself moment. Sometimes it’s hard not to get awe struck.
Leanne: You are an avid social media user and we’ve seen you hit back when fans have been rude, do you ever hold back when you have an opinion?
Vineet: Yes, I hold back. I do tend to lash out sometimes, but I tend not to so much on social media. Most remarks I let go over my head, everyone has an opinion, some good, some bad, but that’s the world of social media.
Leanne: Worst Kitchen moment?
Vineet: Thankfully, I would say we’ve never had one. We are very detailed and always prepare, of course once in a while you can run out of a certain stock….which is a good sign, but we’ve never had anything major happen.
Chef Vineet Bhatia’s incredible journey is a testament to his hard work and dedication. A humble, family focused man whom life never dealt an easy hand, has through his own determination created a culinary empire he and his family can be proud of.
We can’t wait to go back to chef Vineet’s latest restaurant, Rasoi by Vineet Bhatia at Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, to check out the menu. Stay tuned for a full review.
Rasoi by Vineet, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Abu Dhabi, +971 2 447 4848