Chef Satbir Bakshi, executive chef, The Oberoi, Mumbai, talks about innovative food concepts that drive footfalls, trends, and challenges

Chef Satbir Bakshi, The Oberoi Mumbai, Celebrating the ingredients, Michelin-starred chefs, F&B concepts, Ziya and Vetro, Seasonal ingredients

Chef Satbir Bakshi began his career at The Oberoi Mumbai in 2003 as a senior kitchen executive and worked his way up the ladder, to the position of the executive chef. He has helmed the luxury hotel’s kitchens since 2014 and introduced several interesting and revenue-generating F&B concepts. But at the core of his cuisine are locally produced, seasonal ingredients, even as the cuisine continues to have a global soul.

If we are to take a broader view, what are the innovative F&B concepts emerging now?

Dining, today, is as much about food as an immersion into simple, thoughtful use of ingredients and their presentation. As the world becomes smaller, cuisines are being discovered and re-discovered. One of the Indian classics, the curry, especially, has adapted to whatever environment it has been exposed to and in a way, managed to grow beyond the confines of India’s borders. Guests today choose hotels based on their previous dining experiences. Chefs have refined recipes, created new dishes, ensured procurement of quality ingredients, and redefined presentation. They are inspired to curate menus, primarily keeping Indian guests in mind and look beyond the usual dishes to create a revolution. For example, at Ziya, our modern Indian restaurant, curated by Indian cuisine’s first Michelin-starred chef, Vineet Bhatia, you can expect a certain rhythm that encapsulates interesting storytelling via the tasting menu. The focus is on highlighting our rich culinary treasures and the regional recipes using structured documentation and uniformity of flavours. The experience is delivered through attention to detail, quiet efficiency and superlative service. Our teams endeavour to make the dining experiences extraordinary, personalising it to a great extent.

Eggs Benedict served at Fenix, the all-day diner.

You have introduced an innovative concept called ‘Celebrating the ingredients’ at the hotel. Could you elaborate?

‘Celebrating the ingredients’ is all about creating an ingredient-based menu, with an emphasis on understanding the ingredients being used. Our ingredient based menu has dishes listed out in alphabetical order: Asparagus/Avocado/Aubergine/Arugula/Apricot/Apple/Ananas as starters, and other dishes such as Carpaccio/Crab/Coconut/Caviar/Coriander/Celery, Epinard-spinach/Egg cloud/Enoki/Edamame, and several such as main course.

Epinard spinach, egg cloud and Enoki edamame is crafted from locally sourced ingredients. 

Our culinary teams are driven by passion for experimentation and a love for seasonal ingredients. We work closely with local suppliers. We enjoy the playful deconstruction of dishes and adopt a classical fine dining approach to fresh ingredients. At Fenix, our all-day diner, we delve deep into the complexity of the ingredients to develop a menu of healthy alternatives, which do not compromise on the portion size, the flavour or the cuisine. It stems from the philosophy that nothing lends more flavour to a dish than fresh ingredients and our key focus has been on using cooking techniques such as stir frying, grilling, sautés and the liberal use of tandoor.

What are the challenges of sourcing locally?

The challenge lies in ensuring that the product quality is consistent and establishing a structured supply chain to ensure seamless delivery and continued supply of volumes. However, to enable a smooth process, there are certain internal checks that chefs at The Oberoi, Mumbai follow while choosing the producers. They visit the facilities often, examine the soil and the seeds, and the growing practices. We try to ensure that the farms and orchards protect and restore natural systems through effective management practices such as choosing crops well-suited for the local growing conditions, minimising the use of synthetic pesticides, and avoiding the use of groundwater for irrigation. It is imperative to offer first-generation entrepreneurs and small farms which are innovative and not driven by commercial trappings, an opportunity to break into the market. Besides, my team and I have constantly promoted local ingredients as against international produce by assisting local farmers to create a supply of quality ingredients and seafood. About 30% of the ingredients we use are imported; the rest are sourced locally.

How do you manage food wastage?

Food wastage is controlled with quality checks initiated at the start of the chain, when we receive the ingredients. We continue to follow this quality chain right through — from following recipe  cards to the tee, to optimum use of each ingredient and resource along with apt portion control.

The all-day diner, Fenix, is famous for its exquisite ingredients-based menu.

What are the groundbreaking F&B concepts at The Oberoi, Mumbai in your view?

One of our groundbreaking restaurants is Ziya, which has always been regarded as a restaurant where you celebrate an occasion. Ziya’s menu is based on scouring from the local markets and small towns. We are always searching for key ingredients and guarded recipes typical to a region and season, to ensure that the menu reflects the freshest and the finest. Among other initiatives, here are some I would like to mention:

Innovative menus: Our all-new menu features the three elements of our existence — earth, with all its bounty reflecting the freshest; the sea, which offers the catch of the day, from bay to plate; and the land. Highlighted is a celebration of the most exquisite cuts and exotic marinades from the Aravalli to the Nilgiris, prepared with great care and creative imagination.  

Interesting ingredients: The Oberoi, Mumbai was amongst the first luxury hotels to introduce the rare Kadaknath chicken at Fenix. The chicken breed is one of the rarest poultry in India; it is native to Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. The meat is known to have high protein, is low in fat and cholesterol, and makes for a healthy meat option.

Curating new experiences: We have also created a ‘Spice Trail’ as a specialised experience. My team and I have identified key markets our guests can be taken to. The experience includes a detailed guide on the spices available, their unique culinary and medicinal properties, and details about where these spices can be procured from, as well as their use in handpicked traditional Indian recipes.

Promoting organic produce: We are in continuous discussions to promote organic produce, constantly liaising with the farmers. We have had to work around various road bumps, such as an erratic supply, innovative payment cycles and logistical support.

Gluten-free menu: The well-researched gluten-free menu for our celiac guests includes croissants, burgers, pizzas, puffs, pan cakes, and a lot of Indian and Chinese dishes.
Food campaigns: We have initiated and led a Maharashtrian cuisine festival at the hotel to support the state government’s initiative, the ‘Visit Maharashtra Campaign’. We drove the promotion to our other sister hotels in Bangalore, Gurgaon, Delhi and Kolkata. Owing to the popularity of the cuisine, a few dishes from the promotion were retained and continue to be part of our restaurant’s culinary repertoire.

What per cent of revenue does F&B generates for The Oberoi, Mumbai?

The room revenue will always make for a larger contribution to the kitty in comparison to F&B revenue. However, the F&B revenue is growing at a healthy pace. We believe that with growth in the Indian economy and increasing appreciation for experiential luxury, the demand for innovative culinary approaches will grow, driving footfalls to niche luxury restaurants such as Ziya and Vetro.

You have showcasing Michelin-starred chefs from across the world. What has been your experience of working with them?

Vetro is where we showcase the exclusive Michelin-starred dinners. In the past year or so, we have had with us chefs such as three Michelin-star Georges Blanc from Gastronomique Georges BLANC in France; Chef Attilio Di Fabrizio from Belmond Villa San Michele in Florence; Chef Roberto Gatto from Belmond, Hotel Cipriani in Venice; the famous Chef Alain Passard in February 2018 and many more. These exclusive events are a great opportunity to present our guests with the finest culinary offering from around the globe at The Oberoi, Mumbai. It enables the The Oberoi, Mumbai to be a culinary and lifestyle destination. The experience has been extremely positive for both our guests as well as the hotel.