India is the future for food, says celebrated French culinary expert Alexandre Kerbouz
Renowned French chef Alexandre Kerbouz talks to YS Life about his experiences as a chef at restaurants in Europe and what he thinks of Indian consumers and the cuisine.
French chef Alexandre Kerbouz’s illustrious journey in the world of cuisine spans around two decades. During these years, he has worked with several Michelin-starred restaurants such as Orient Express (Paris), La Maison du Saké (Paris), Bristol (Paris), and Lord of the Manor (Gloucestershire), besides launching a catering business in Japan.
Despite his great stature and reputation in the culinary world, Kerbouz still has the curiosity of a child and an unending appetite to learn.
I could gauge this from a conversation he had with his team of Indian-origin chefs—which I happened to hear—where he jumped at the very mention of a tandoor and its use.
Shortly thereafter, he walked towards me to exchange pleasantries. His beaming smile was visible even from a distance, reassuring me of his warm and genial personality.
The venue of our meeting was Farmer’s Basket, the farm-to-fork fine-dining restaurant, at Pullman, New Delhi, where Kerbouz was showcasing Mediterranean fare—with a carefully crafted menu featuring empanadas, Mediterranean tenderloin, roasted chicken, and more.
Without wasting any time, Kerbouz and I dived into a conversation around his life and work.
Kerbouz stumbled upon an opportunity at the age of 14, which changed his life forever. An older friend of his—a caterer in Paris—required help washing the dishes in his kitchen. Since it was a paid job, Kerbouz decided to take it up and make a few bucks.
Upon entering the kitchen, he couldn’t help but get fascinated by the place, which he calls a “wonderland”. From the equipment to the ingredients, everything blew his mind.
The discovery of the kitchen, with its wondrous possibilities, led him to volunteer at his friend’s catering company over the weekends.
Journey as a chef
A year later, Kerbouz quit school and obtained a professional certification in cooking from École de Paris des Métiers de la Table, an educational institution in Paris that offers apprenticeship in services related to the hospitality industry. Thereafter, he worked for two years at a traditional French brasserie, where he happened to meet Michelin star pastry chef, Loïc Pivot.
Later, at the age 36, he obtained a Chef Pâtissier certification from the prestigious Institute Paul Bocuse in Lyon.
In his impressive career, the chef has worked extensively at restaurants across France, Italy and Japan. He was associated with Michelin-starred restaurants such as Orient Express (Paris), La Maison du Saké (Paris), Bristol (Paris), and Lord of the Manor (Gloucestershire). Kerbouz also launched a catering business in Japan.
“Being a chef is not like every other job. It can be likened to being in the army,” he says. “Everyone needs to be very focused; attention to detail matters more than anything else,” Kerbouz adds.
Even after working for two decades in the world of cuisine, Kerbouz felt something was amiss and wanted to learn more. “That’s why I graduated from the best school in pastry in Lyon,” says Kerbouz, who wants to open his own restaurant in India by the end of this year or the next year. “That means I have to be hands-on on the nuances of a hot kitchen, a cold kitchen, and pastry.”
And this is what he is striving for.
Being a chef can be physically and mentally demanding, with long working hours and the need to constantly push the bar. But Kerbouz loves the pressure associated with his profession. This is what fuels him to be as creative as possible.
While he may be a master of different fares, Kerbouz is more inclined towards French and Japanese cuisines.
So, why did he decide to serve Mediterranean food at Farmer’s Basket?
“When you are a chef, you can’t limit yourself to one area,” says Kerbouz. “You have to be open-minded and versatile. I love learning about new things and concepts. In fact, this time I gained knowledge about the tandoor—it’s so fascinating,” he adds.
Of course, the menu at Farmer’s Basket isn’t limited to typical Mediterranean food alone and also features Italian dishes such as crostini, risotto, lasagne, and even pizza and some French fare as well.
What remains common to the dishes is Kerbouz’s liberal use of herbs.
“Parsley, rosemary and saffron are my favourites. I also use French sea salt. In India, it’s Himalayan sea salt. Sichuan pepper is another go-to,” says Kerbouz, revealing some of his favourite seasonings.
The Indian odyssey
Kerbouz came to India right before the pandemic on the insistence of a friend who lived in Mumbai. Together, the duo started Souffle S'il Vous Plaît, a bistro in Mumbai, which has been temporarily shut.
After the easing of restrictions, post the lockdown, Kerbouz and his family moved to Puducherry, where he is currently based. He found a job at a restaurant but he didn’t find it challenging enough to continue after a few months.
Having lived in India for a few years, Kerbouz is keen to open his own restaurant in the country.
“Absolutely, it is on the cards—in Mumbai and Bengaluru. I will name it Miara, after my kids Miro and Kiara,” he elaborates.
His aim is to appease the new-age Indian consumers, who have changed their outlook towards food and are open to trying out new cuisines and concepts.
“You wouldn’t have even seen restaurants like Farmlore in Bengaluru and Ekaa in Mumbai a few years ago. Things have changed so fast,” he observes.
“Until 15 years ago, everyone wanted to be in the US, then China, but now it’s time for India. The country is the future for food,” declares Kerbouz.
What’s Kerbouz’s take on Indian food? The diversity in Indian cuisine enthralls him and he has a soft spot for vada pav and butter chicken from Mumbai.
Edited by Swetha Kannan