Chef Anand Solomon at India Excellencia | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
One can only imagine what it must feel like to be in a hot kitchen at this time of year. So, when chef Anand Solomon steps out after lunch service, and proceeds to sit at the table opposite us, his first question is, “Can I have some water first?” As he sits down, the pen in his shirt pocket lights up. It was a gift from former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who the chef accompanied on several international tours.
The 64-year-old, perhaps best known for his long stint with Taj Hotels (during which he launched and ran the popular Thai Pavilion at Mumbai’s Taj Presidency), has cooked for some of the country’s biggest names. He recently joined hands with Suraj Salian, owner of Bharat Excellencia, a 34-year-old iconic seafood restaurant in Ballard Estate, Mumbai, which has recently been given a facelift. Solomon was contracted to redesign and rebuild the brand and carry forward its legacy.
Restaurant exterior | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Before the arrival of the chef, this writer had already been treated to a hearty meal that included a nourishing crab meat soup, a lightly spiced seafood biryani, chhonks in a peachy peri-peri sauce and a prawn with raw mango The stew consisted of—what can only be described as a hug in a bowl—with appam. Much of the menu remains unchanged, but in collaboration with Solomon’s, some Goan and Thai dishes have been added. We cooled off at the end of the meal with a cold glass of Thai dessert tub tim grob – water chestnuts in coconut milk.
Prawns with raw mango | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Chef Solomon, who has been described as ‘the best chef of his generation’ and an original food influencer, has truly been there and done that. His career as a chef started with The Oberoi. He then moved to the Taj Group, where he set up Thai Pavilion, the city’s first Thai restaurant in the Taj President, followed by Trattoria and Konkan Cafe. He served at Taj for 25 years before moving to Thailand in 2016 and then returned to Mumbai in 2019 to launch Thai Naam in Andheri. Chef Solomon has tried to delve into the ingredients, techniques and flavors of the various dishes. However, the cook does not take the praise too seriously, simply saying, “Even today, I don’t know how to cook.”
Pomfret – Gassi | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
“I learned cooking the hard way, not by taking shortcuts. I burnt my fingers several times. I went to the farm and met farmers and fishermen to understand the produce,” he recalls. His father’s background in the army taught him to be disciplined from an early age and his days at Dadar Catering College and as a young chef in the kitchens of The Oberoi inspired his quest to understand ingredients and techniques. “I am learning every day. If one wants to achieve perfection in this field, one has to live on the land, go to the markets, learn how the cultivation works and spend time with the farmers, among other things. Besides.
Meen PoliChotu | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
Even today there is no change in his routine. Solomon wakes up every morning at 5, visits the markets – sometimes Dadar, sometimes Vashi, and Ferry Ghat for seafood. “I can’t do without cooking. I can’t handle a managerial role. Although I manage my own kitchen and restaurant, I don’t like being treated like a bandmaster who orders the staff around. He believes His association with Bharat Excellencia came at the right time when he wanted to try working in an owner-operated setup, he says. “I am still figuring it out.
Suraj Salian and Chef Anand Solomon | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement
At 64, Chef is in no mood to hang up his boots. “After working from 8am to midnight every day for all these years, sometimes without a break, it’s boring to sit back and do nothing. I don’t think I’m ready for this.”
His quest for excellence continues. For now, he is well settled, but in the future, he is looking forward to doing something that can take the country to a global platform. “I want to raise the bar on concepts even higher and make sure that we are on the global stage. India is opening up a lot; we have to be prepared so that we can compete not only locally but also internationally Go on. That’s my aim. It would be great if I could find someone who understands my point of view; it’s not about capital but believing in my ideas,” he signed off.