Bangalore can lay claim on internationally renowned chef Anthony Huang who in his own words is a ‘thoroughbred Bangalorean’. His parents moved to Bangalore when he was one year old and he has grown up, studied and worked here, heading the kitchens of some of the top brands in the city including The Sheraton Grand, JW Marriott, Hyatt and The Oberoi. In this interview he speaks about his influences and his passion for Indian cuisine and culture
Growing up in Bangalore and become a chef here, did you feel it was big enough for someone with your talent?
Anthony Huang: Bangalore has always been exceptionally kind to me. My first exposure to hotels was in Bangalore at a time where everyone called Bangalore a Tier II city and that I needed to move out of the city to really learn. My career took me in and out of the city and I came back to head some of the most prestigious kitchens. Guests in Bangalore are well travelled, unassuming (and in many cases as knowledgeable as you are). This obviously keeps you on your toes all the time, constantly innovating and making sure you are relevant.
You have made a name for your signature dishes with coffee. Did that idea take root here?
Anthony Huang: Having grown up in Bangalore, coffee is something that I take very personally and whose flavours I understand reasonably well. I am a huge crusader of trying to use locally available produce as far as possible and try and do my bit for the environment. There is no doubt in my mind that locally sourced raw materials are always the best option.
This along with a desire to do something different and an opportunity to keep escaping from hotel life into a plantation got me started.
How was it working with Oberoi, Hyatt, Marriott and now Elior? How would you describe each of these experiences? How are they different?
Anthony Huang: Well my experiences with Hotels as a Chef gave me a lot of exposure, taught me new things and gave me the platform to try different things all the time.
Elior now gives me the platform to do similar things but on a much larger scale. I wanted to take a little break from hotels and try out something different. This job gave me the opportunity to set up a new facility, handle huge volumes and I am gaining from it personally in the form of learning something I have never done before.
You have mentioned in earlier interviews that you missed a lot of classes while at college. What is the role of Hotel Management schools in producing international standard chefs in India? Is work experience of more value?
Anthony Huang: Hotel Schools have progressed a lot ever since I have passed out of college. They are today supported by easier access to data, information and infrastructure. There were many things that we heard for the first time like Pasta and cheese. Today’s kids enter college having already tried at least 15 varieties of each, so they start of at a much higher platform so to speak. I have visited my Alma Mater “Christ College” and I must say that I am pleasantly surprised to see the progress that they have made and the quality of students they produce.
Work experience and academic qualification go hand in hand for me. There are just so many things for a professional to learn besides just learning how to hold a pan and cook a few dishes.
You have cooked Chinese, Vietnamese and French food…. and also Indian. What is it about Indian food that appeals to you?
Anthony Huang: Well I am an Indian at heart and an Indian in my head. I have grown up eating some of the best Indian food in my friends’ houses and have always wanted to learn how to cook it myself at home. The memories of Indian food is something that reminds me of my growing years, of my friendships and bonds that I will cherish forever.
Food for me is an emotion and that emotion is Indian. The day I don’t feel it I just don’t enter the kitchen. Only happy chefs can make food that talks to you.
How does one create a clientele who will come back again and again for food in a luxury hotel?
Anthony Huang: Clientele in a luxury hotel looks for that one extra touch of luxury in a plate that a free standing restaurant cannot provide him. Today the gap has become narrower but still has some catching up to do. It could be simply sourcing the best and responsibly grown lettuce or getting your desserts made with the best chocolate. Everyone’s perception of luxury is not the same, the key lies in identifying that perception.
What about your family. Do they like Indian food?
Anthony Huang: My family loves Indian food as much as I do. In fact my 15 year old daughter’s favourite food is “Ragi Mudde”. That says a lot I guess.
How much of food is authentic to cultures. We have ‘Gobi Manchurian’ being more famous than any other Chinese dish, but it is not authentic Chinese food. What are your thoughts on this?
My thoughts are very simple. Some intelligent guy was able to identify what the masses wanted and made sure everyone went home rubbing his tummy. What’s the harm? I believe that a Chefs primary job is to keep the people he is cooking for happy.