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Recipes for success: the Michelin-starred chef of the Trèsind Studio in Dubai talks about simplicity and harmony
DUBAI: Things could have turned out very differently for celebrity Indian chef Himanshu Saini, who runs the kitchen at the Trèsind Studio in Palm Jumeirah’s Nakheel Mall. Right now, it’s one of the hottest properties on Dubai’s culinary scene: Saini essentially has carte blanche to create his own tasting menus for the 18-seat Indian fine-dining restaurant (he changes the menu every the four months) and established it as one of the must-see places in the city. Tresind Studio was awarded a Michelin star in the first edition of the prestigious Dubai Food Guide earlier this year.
But he almost didn’t come to the Middle East at all. In 2014, the Delhi native was working as an executive chef in Mumbai when he was offered what seemed like a dream job in New York.
“I was looking forward to it. I had this offer from Dubai to open Trèsind, but New York is New York, so I decided to go,” says Saini. “But I was really struggling. in America: I wasn’t happy with the team, I wasn’t happy with the concept of the restaurant, I didn’t have my hands free to work as I wanted, so in a month I decided to come to Dubai and take the opportunity to launch Trèsind.
He hasn’t really looked back since. Which is maybe just as well, because as Saini says, there was never a plan B for him.
“Cooking is something I’ve always loved. I grew up in a big family, living in my grandparents’ house with about 50 people — the extended family. “a family kitchen, it was run like a professional kitchen where everyone had an assigned job. Growing up in these surroundings and in Delhi – which is a big food hub with lots of unique street food – I have always been surrounded by food .
“In India, being a chef – 10 or 20 years ago – wasn’t really a career your parents wanted you to pursue,” he continues. “Everyone in India wanted their children to become doctors, engineers or lawyers. But I was good for nothing else. This career was not so much a choice as a necessity.
Here, Saini discusses flavors, drama, and the importance of simplicity.
Q: What’s your best advice for home chefs?
A: When I cook, I try to maintain a harmony of flavors. I don’t hesitate to use salt in desserts or sweetness in savory preparations. These are all mental blocks cooks can have. A recipe is useful as a reference, but it’s always best to use your own palate. I always tell young chefs that you should cook something you would eat yourself a hundred times over. If it’s good for you, then others will like it.
Is there a single ingredient that can instantly improve most dishes?
The generic answer would be salt. As I said, I don’t hesitate to use it in my desserts. But cooking is not just about one ingredient. And, for me, the humble ingredients of the kitchen are more important than any luxury ingredients: I don’t use expensive meat, I don’t use foie gras, or caviar – I will only use it if I can make better use of it than just serving it on a plate. The tomato is more important in my kitchen than the truffle. The umami in tomatoes is probably as good as the umami in truffles; you just have to know how to respect that.
What is your favorite cuisine?
I always look forward to Indian or Thai food. They are two very tasty cuisines full of aromas.
What is your favorite dish to cook?
My menu will sometimes include three or four broth preparations. It’s something I always look forward to. I find peace when I cook broths. It’s so harmonious: you can have so many flavors. It’s delicate and requires a skilled hand, but at the same time it’s full of aromas and flavors. This is something a lot of people get wrong, but a good hearty soup or broth is something that is one of my strengths. I get all the flavors in the liquid, but it’s still delicate and flavorful. I find peace in simple things: a few spoonfuls of broth can brighten my eyes.
When you go out, do you ever criticize the food?
It depends. Sometimes I go out to eat because I want to see what other restaurants are doing. In this case, I try to choose restaurants that I admire and my professional side comes into play. But it totally depends on my intentions. If the intention is just to relax with friends, then I don’t judge – I don’t think about how the sauce is seasoned or how the pasta is cooked. My brain won’t work the same way as if I go to, say, Ossiano, when I want to know what thought process went into the dish, why certain combinations were used, where the ingredients were sourced from.
So you’re capable of turning off your boss’s brain sometimes?
Yeah. When I’m having a good time with my friends, I shut up.
What customer demand or behavior frustrates you the most?
As we are a tasting menu restaurant, the experience can take up to two hours. We do it this way because, for each preparation, the temperature is important, the way of eating it is important… So I get frustrated when people say to me: “Can you put everything together? If everything is served together, that’s not the experience we want to offer. We want to be sure to serve the dishes at the right temperature, with the right texture. These little details make a big difference to your palate. A dish that has remained on the table for more than two or three minutes, for me, is not as it should be.
At home, if you need to cook quickly, what is your favorite dish?
I would probably make spaghetti al olio. This is my kind of dish: super easy, super fast. My house is purely vegetarian – no meat, no eggs. My wife is a pure vegetarian so I don’t cook eggs at home, otherwise I would have said an omelet.
As a chef, are you disciplinary?
No, I’m the opposite. At Trèsind Studio, we have a maximum of 18 guests at a time, and we rotate around two seats each evening. All the guests face the open kitchen. For me, it’s like a theatre. I really like working like that, I can see every guest and know if they like it or not. In the kitchen, everyone is doing their job and having fun. It’s very peaceful. It’s not a busy kitchen with lots of noise. For me, it’s like meditation. You get that kind of vibe; everyone is calm. Everyone knows what is expected of them and I trust my team and I’m super proud of them.