Celebrating Chefs

Could this be India’s answer to Michelin stars? The first of its kind ranking of the top 30 chefs of India, FoodSuperstars honours the heroes and heroines of our F&B industry. We speak to Raaj Sanghvi, Chief Executive Officer, Culinary Culture – the very culinary platform that has created this annual ranking of top chefs – about the selection process for this prestigious list, the ceremony for which was recently hosted by food journalist Vir Sanghvi.

Sameer Sain, Vir Sanghvi, and Chef Manish Mehrotra

When did you decide it was the right time and need to create this platform for recognizing chefs in India?

Culinary Culture was formed with a mission to honour the people who actually make the food in India. We have many restaurant rating platforms, but no other platform recognizes the chefs. While FoodSuperstars recognizes India’s top chefs, we’ve already launched Street Food Superstars that was India’s first street food awards, and we also did home chef awards during the pandemic. While we hoped to do this in 2020, the pandemic had other plans and we waited till it was safe to do a physical event and have the industry together.

We don't have any Michelin Stars in India - something that rankles with people - is the Food SuperStars their equivalent?

Well, yes and no. We don’t have Michelin stars in India because the Michelin guide which is owned by the French tire company is not in India. But the Michelin guide awards stars to restaurants. While we are in process of launching our own platform, which will do pan-India restaurant ratings, FoodSuperstars is about honouring our chefs. Each chef will be given a plaque that they can display at their restaurants or hotels. If they leave the restaurant and move to another establishment, they can take their plaque with them. It’s for them and not the restaurant.

Please could you explain how you rank a chef - and what does it take to make the cut in the list of Food SuperStars?

FoodSuperstars goes through an exacting process. First, over 40 FoodHunters, India’s most passionate foodies from across the country, nominate the chefs, sending in a detailed explanation on why they deem a chef worthy to make the list. Their nominations are debated at a physical event, where the FoodHunters defend each of their choices. Then, a shortlist goes to Culinary Culture’s Jury of India’s top gourmet experts. This Jury finalizes the list to arrive at the TOP 30. To avoid any commercial considerations or undue influence, FoodSuperstars does not accept advertising or any considerations from restaurants and the FoodHunters pay for their own meals. And finally, the identities of the members of the Jury are kept secret, so nobody can influence them or offer favours. The final list is kept secret till it is revealed at the ceremony and not even the FoodHunters know the final rankings.

While the only criterion that matters, is excellence. The Jury looks for quality, dedication and inspiration. To be considered for the list, the chef has to have cooked at a restaurant or delivery service in India during the period under consideration and things like seniority, other awards or no. of years of work experience do not matter. Lastly, foreign chefs working in India, no matter how good they are, are not eligible for this list.

Chef Manish Mehrotra

Now that the awards are through, it's no surprise that Chef Manish Mehrotra, Chef Himanshu Saini, Chef Prateek Sadhu and Chef Ritu Dalmia and Chef Manu Chandra are in the top 10! It's wonderful to see them recognized in this way – what does this mean for the awardees and for the food and beverage industry as a whole – these recognitions?

No other industry in India has suffered as much as the F&B industry during the pandemic. And in many ways FoodSuperstars is a celebration of the resilience India’s F&B industry has shown. No matter how grim the situation was or how bad things got, Indian chefs kept smiling and kept delivering joy to their customers. At the FoodSuperstars ceremony in Delhi, chefs from around the country flew in and it was heartening watching them meet their colleagues for the first time in two years, exchanging lockdown stories and kitchen notes. We want Indian chefs to know that they now have a platform that has been conceptualized for and dedicated to them. I hope FoodSuperstars fosters a community of leading chefs that will inspire the generations that follow.

How mature is the food and beverage industry in India, compared to other Western and Asian countries – and what are the changes you would like to see in the industry in general?

While it’s unfair to draw comparisons between India and other countries because each country is unique; we believe that along with Bollywood and cricket, food is our superpower and something all Indians should be proud of. I think the only way the industry is going to grow is by coming together, by respecting and cheering for each other. There is no such thing as Indian cuisine, our cuisine is made up of thousands of great cuisines from across regions and eventually it is the chefs and great cooks who are the ones who will take our food forward.

Do you think you would like to take Food SuperStars globally – or focus on India for now?

FoodSuperstars was conceptualized to celebrate India and while we will not take it abroad, we will take it around India. We will rotate the city; the ceremony is hosted in each year and hope to take it to diverse parts of India and have chefs fly in to discover new Indian cuisines.

All 36 FoodSupertars

What is next for you at Culinary Culture?

It’s always been our mission to bring the world’s best to India, and take India’s best abroad. In March 2020 just before the lockdown, we brought down the reigning world number one Mauro Colagreco from Mirazur in France and recreated his restaurant in Mumbai for two nights. This April we are hosting India’s biggest culinary event with the world’s most famous Chef Massimo Bottura and his team from the two-time World number one Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy. While Massimo will cook two small and exclusive dinners, we will organize for a special session with him for invited Indian chefs where they can learn from him and he can learn from them to facilitate a culinary exchange of ideas and knowledge.


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