Eat well, feel good: Chef Sunil Chauhan, Founder of FabCafe, on how to make the most of the festive season

As we get ready to celebrate festivals amid the pandemic, it is important to keep healthy options in mind, says Chef Sunil Chauhan, Founder and MD of FabCafe. He tells us how to choose the right ingredients, make healthy sweets, and enjoy the season.
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The festive season is synonymous with rich and sugary foods, but it’s important that we don’t undo our health and fitness goals, especially amid the pandemic.

Chef Sunil Chauhan is Founder and MD, FabCafe by FabIndia, and he believes in the mantra “Eat well, feel good”. “So, it is fine to splurge on goodies once in a while, but you should look for healthy and diverse choices whenever possible,” he says.

Sunil Chauhan

Sunil is a graduate from the Institute of Hotel Management, Pusa, New Delhi, and started his career with Old World Hospitality at India Habitat Centre. Later, he joined Jiggs Kalra Food Services, where he honed his skills.

He has represented Team India at multiple food festivals across the globe, like The World Gourmet Summit, Singapore; The World Gourmet Festival, St Moritz-Switzerland; and Ayurvedic Food Festival at Raffles Hotel, Singapore.

'Eat well, feel good' is Sunil's mantra

In an interaction with YSWeekender, Sunil talks about his culinary journey and how to celebrate festivals with healthy sweets and desserts.

Sunil’s says his culinary journey began when he would cook for his brothers as a young boy. The hotel management course gave him the confidence to cook and experiment with food.

“After three to four years, I was more of a table chef, which resulted in being involved in the kitchen and actual food processes. Eventually, I left the hospitality industry and started my own catering business. I have worked on a lot of intensive processes and recipe-driven technology. This R&D-driven approach towards food led to the tie-up with Fabindia.”

Food with a modern twist

The Power Bowl meal at FabCafe

“While Indian food has evolved, a lot of old cooking styles and grains have been lost in the process,” says Sunil “We wanted to bring those ingredients and methods back in our restaurant, which is why we offer healthy variations in our menu, like Jackfruit Wraps, Golgappas with Pomegranate and Pineapple Juice, Desi Ghee Quinoa, Kathal Biryani, Beetroot Sliders, and more.”

His team works with regionally-inspired comfort food to give customers traditional Indian cuisine with a modern interpretation.

Festival frenzy

“We love our sweets, don’t we?” says Sunil, adding that festivals = sweets in India. “We’ve always found an excuse to indulge in gulab jamuns, desi ghee ladoos, and all the wonders that our talented halwais keep churning out,” he says.

“Since many people are unable to keep a check (not that I would blame them) on what they eat during the festive season, it’s important to select and make foods that are good for health without compromising on the flavour.”

Sweets are an integral part of Indian festivals

In India, festivals are celebrated generally around harvest time or during seasonal changes. “Our body reacts to these seasonal changes. Now, as winter rolls in, there’s a tendency to move to richer diets to enhance the body’s ability to retain warmth,” he explains.

In the past, foods made for festivals were cooked with fresh ingredients and were better balanced. Today, this has been misinterpreted to mean sweets and heavy meals, which has led to a tendency to overeat and make poorer food choices. “But it is very important to take care of your body even during festivals by consuming balanced meals,” he says.

Sunil says it is a good idea to opt for homemade desserts like kheer and halwas, but made with natural sweeteners like honey, palm jaggery, dates, and alternative grains like polenta and semolina. “Stay away from refined sugar and refined oil all year round,” he adds.

Comfort foods and delicious sweets

“I remember some sweets vividly like cholai ke ladoo, barfi and gur chikki, which have been around for ages,” he remembers. “These were popular at home and in my school at Mussoorie. Growing up I remember how my mother would work so hard on making sweets at home, from kheer and halwas to sewaiyan and more. I used to tag along with her to understand her special ingredients and, even today, I try and replicate these methods sometimes.”

Tomato dal and rice are the ultimate comfort foods

He has a few tips to offer to those who want to make sweets at home this year.

“You need to remember that the ingredients in a sweet need to be balanced. A small amount of salt is required to balance the sweetness of certain desserts.  You would never imagine putting salt in a cake but that’s what we chefs generally do to have just the right amount of ‘meetha’,” he says.

He also makes the case for precise measurements and the right temperature, because everything goes hand in hand. “There’s a lot of chemistry in food, and even if one step goes haywire, there could be problems with the dish.”

Goodies galore

Beetroot Lotus Stem Tikki Chaat

It the “Season of Feastivities” at FabCafe now and this time, they are offering many special goodies besides meal trays and Park n’ Dine services in select cafes.

“Fabcafe has always been synonymous with healthy desserts and we really won’t have to make any major tweaks in our offerings,” Sunil says. “We make sweets and desserts with almond flour, banana flour, cashew cheese, coconut milk, and desi ghee.”

As for the future

Sunil has no plans for the festive season since the hospitality sector works the most during holidays. “My focus will be on work,” he says. “But when I’m not working, I will be travelling to the hills, jogging, and learning astronomy.”

His team is planning a wide range of FMCG products in the near future and will venture into independent cloud kitchens as well.

(Images credit: FabCafe and Shutterstock)

Edited by Teja Lele Desai