From Farm-To-Table: Meet Pawan Bisht, corporate chef, One8 Commune who is Instagramming stories on food from Uttarakhand
Life has come to a standstill in all parts of India due to the government-imposed lockdown in wake of the pandemic COVID-19.
Stranded in his hometown, a remote village near Nainital, Pawan Bisht, Corporate Chef at resto-bar One8 Commune (Indian Cricket Captain Virat Kohli’s venture) at Aerocity, New Delhi, suddenly found himself with a lot of free time at hand.
During normal times, Pawan is on his feet non-stop. He has taken this pause to reflect inwards and get back to his roots. Holed up at his native village Chhoi on the outskirts of the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, the 33-year-old chef has been uploading a series of riveting Instagram stories on his handle pawanbisht1 (https://www.instagram.com/pawanbisht1/) everyday.
"It was getting depressing with all the news of the coronavirus around us – and the agony and the despair surrounding it. So, to bring in calm I began making, recording, and uploading a series of Instagram stories about food from the region of Uttarakhand.
I first uploaded a series of videos demonstrating how to make Bhatt ke Dubke, made from locally grown lentils called ‘bhatt’. The next day I woke up to a number of messages on how these capsule videos had helped viewers feel positive and how they were looking forward to the next ones," shares Pawan who hails from a family of farmers.
Back to the village
Pawan, who graduated from the prestigious IHM, Mumbai has had his share of struggles manoeuvring his way by stepping out of the closed village life and facing the challenges that city life threw at him at a very early age.
Now that Pawan is back in his village he shares a slice of village life with us city folk via his social media. “Our village received electricity only when I was in class 8, so in many ways I consider myself blessed to have seen both worlds,” says Pawan. “Technology and access to cutting-edge modern gadgets have changed our lives in the city kitchens immensely, so I wanted to share this side of cooking with my friends in the city."
"Here, I use this cell phone and an internet connection to demonstrate, how, back here, we cook in the open fields in natural surroundings without using any modern equipment and the result is absolutely scrumptious and the food is finger-licking good, even if I say so myself," says Pawan.
As the countries across the world have been forced to lock themselves to contain the Coronavirus, Bisht shares how his village did not have access to LPG or even gobar gas for the longest time. “In our village, we have always been self-sufficient, and not enslaved by modern-day instruments and advantages. When we didn’t have LPG, we would use the wood fired chulha for home cooking while the bigger bhatti was used to cook for large family gatherings such as marriages and festivals," Pawan explains.
Cooking in a brick oven
In his videos, Pawan demonstrates step by step how to build a brick-clay-cow dung oven from scratch. Not only this, he even showcases different kinds of brick ovens for regulating heat.
He shows his viewers how to cook meat wrapped in all-natural leaves in a dug-up hole called khadd. To this arrangement, he adds vegetables and covers them with coal for a rustic charred aroma and taste. Pawan has truly championed the cuisine of Uttarakhand and this gave him a chance to bring to his viewers, the intricacies of the cuisine, the local ingredients, indigenous techniques and even the philosophy behind them.
In his videos Pawan goes all out to shares his skills as well as knowledge about local ingredients like jakhiya (Dog Mustard), ihangora (Barnyard Millet), bhang (Hemp), gethi (Air Potatoes), sisson ka saag (Stinging Nettle).
"The other day I made rajjda, a dish made of rice, ghee and paste of bhatt (local lentils) and lasoon ka namak (garlic salt). It is a home remedy for jaundice. One viewer remarked that it is a lost recipe, and no one really makes it now. These comments are truly encouraging and help me in producing better content," admits Pawan.
Working with Virat Kohli
Pawan has a flair for European cooking and has worked with noted Delhi-based restaurants such as the Olive Group, Junglee Billee, Mango, and Verandah, before taking on the mantle as the Corporate Chef for One8 Commune.
At One8 Commune, Bisht describes the experience of working with Indian cricketing captain Virat Kohli as a surreal one.
"Virat Kohli has been truly encouraging from the word go and has the customers on top of his mind. Virat, besides being a foodie, is a seasoned traveller, whose ensures there’s something for everyone on the menu," says Pawan.
Pawan credits his success to hard work and giving his all, a philosophy which mirrors with that of Virat Kohli, and is a takeaway from working with the Indian captain.
After the lockdown
The landscape of the culinary world is changing and evolving, says Pawan. “One of the many challenges that the community is trying to work out is the absence of manpower, as most of the migrant workers have gone back to their native villages.”
The dining out scenario will also change, he adds.
"It is not that people are going to throng to the public spaces, the day this lockdown gets over. Once we get to discuss with our management, we will have to chalk out newer models for our customers, including delivery," says Pawan.
A recipe a day
Meanwhile, Bisht has been spending his time showcasing a new recipe a day and a new method of cooking every three days. He dreams of opening a restaurant serving the regional cuisine of Uttarakhand, with all its local flavours, albeit in a modern setting.
Edited by Asha Chowdary