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“To some extent, good food always ran in my family,” Celebrity Chef Gracian D’Souza

Celebrity Chef Gracian D’Souza has several culinary feathers under his hat. Having contributed to coveted names in the gourmet industry for 18 years, he brings to the table a rich international and pan India experience in progressive Goan and European cuisine. While the expert’s work abroad might have had a profound influence, cooking comes naturally to him thanks to his mother and grandfather. For the past 3 years, the seasoned chef has been giving strategic advice and offering his expertise to new and existing restaurant brands. He is also the Consulting Chef for the Mexican Delivery Kitchen, Loca Lucho in Mumbai. Here, Gracian lets us in on some interesting titbits on his culinary journey, essential ingredients, balancing taste and health and more…

“Buy herbs and put a damp cloth on them so that they don’t dry out.”

Home-bred

Growing up on scrumptious and authentic Goan food certainly played a big role in shaping the palate and talent of the chef. He admits, “I come from a family of cooks (largely home cooks) and to some extent, good food always ran in my family. Goa is what inspired my granddad and mother when it came to cooking.”

The culinary journey

While Gracian’s family was supportive in his choice of career, there were some struggles along the way to get where he is today. Keep in mind, this was years before shows like MasterChef series and the media glamorised the culinary world and rightly elevated cooks to celebrity status. He reflects, “When I started cooking in early 2000, it wasn’t a very recognised profession. We have all had our struggles as cooks because of the exposure we had to undergo. 5-star hotels functioned in a very different manner and were very hierarchical. But today, standalone restaurants have evolved and things are much better.”

“India has a long way to go, in terms of ingredients, technique and planning. We still do not have trained cooks.”

Burrito Bowl at Loca Lucho

Having said that, the expert has been a part of some of the most iconic restaurants in the country. He started his career as a management trainee for 3 years at the prestigious Renaissance Marriott (Powai). The chef reminisces, “The Marriott at that point in time had the largest convention centre and I was doing a lot of banquet food. I was mainly on the management trainee program which entailed being on the go, cutting and chopping. Then I remember getting transferred to the MEA (Marriott Executive Apartment), where I worked there for about a year. It was a great learning experience, we had a huge setup and I did the buffet and a lot of the night shifts.”

“For me, it all started with good quality olive oil.”

The culinary artist went on to spend 3 years at the coveted InterContinental Marine Drive and was instrumental towards opening the Dome (the popular rooftop lounge with the breathtaking view) and the Italian restaurant Corleone. The latter further sharpened his knowledge and skills in Italian food as he learnt from the best.

Then came in the international exposure in the food capital London at the acclaimed hotel, The Landmark in Marylebone and the famous standalone restaurant Harvey Nicholas in Knightsbridge. The experience aboard was instrumental in shaping his cooking style and work ethics. He says, “I have noticed that way international chefs function, their thought and philosophy is very different.” When asked about the difference between here and there, he admits, “India has a long way to go, in terms of ingredients, technique and planning. We still do not have trained cooks. More so over even the environment and the ambience of what we have today is very different.”

“Make sure that you are buying fresh produce.”

On coming back, Gracian joined Swedish design hotel Svenska as the preopening Executive Chef (European Cuisine). It then won the best Spanish restaurant for “Miro” at the Times Food Awards. “Having come back from London and spent four years there was probably one of the reasons for knowing what is kind of restaurants were getting the awards. The food we prepared was way ahead of its time and it got appreciated,” he says.

Vivek Jhaveri, Chef Gracian D’souza and Nisarg Doshi

The Loca Locho experience

Grecian continues to impart his expertise and has opened up several restaurants in the country. Along with from soaking up international exposure and spending a lot of time in Portugal, he is also the consulting chef for Loca Locho. A mission-style Mexican delivery kitchen, Loca Lucho is the brainchild of food entrepreneurs Nisarg Doshi and Vivek Jhaveri. It has pioneered a new class of Mexican joint where hearty, soulful food is accompanied by great service, exceptional value and witty communication. He shares, “It was definitely an interesting project and sparked the interest in me. Also, the fact that the guys behind were very passionate about it. I live for passion and the moment.”

“Today, standalone restaurants have evolved and things are much better.”

The menu is healthy and fresh, with signature ingredients such as Chipotle Chicken, Potatoes, Peri-Peri Cottage Cheese, Pork, Charred Cherry Tomato and Pineapple and Sage Salsa and Wholesome Guacamole. He further explains his vision of deciding the menu, “For the kind of food we were preparing, we did not want to overcomplicate things. For instance, there are almost 7 – 8 ingredients that go into the burrito weather it is the rice, beans and guacamole and the other accompaniments. So the idea was to keep it simple and certainly not Indianise it.”

Chef Gracian’s takeaways

The expert dishes out his views and advice…

Balancing healthy and tasty

I believe you start with your produce, everyone at home should begin with buying organic food. A good quality ingredient makes a huge difference. Also, it is important to know your vegetable and fruit vendor. At least make it a point to buy your food from supermarkets as much as you can unless they are labelled, branded or ISO certified (which means they are marked by the FDA). Try not to buy food unless it is from the market or you know it is coming from a clean and sustainable environment. Make sure that you are buying fresh produce.

The deal about going organic

I think it is a great initiative started by a lot of companies, although there are questions as to how much of it is 100 percent organic or not. At the end of the day, it is all about sustainability otherwise as an environment, we will not be able to survive going forward. It is best to stay away from processed food as much as you can.

An ingredient that can transform the dish

For me, it all started with good quality olive oil. I personally don’t buy mine from any supermarkets in the city, because I feel it is all adulterated. I get it from Portugal. In India, the only olive oil I use is from this one vendor I have in Goa. So my advice is to start with quality olive oil. If you are going to use a bad quality one which is something you are going to start any and every cooking with, there will be a huge difference in the end product.

Making home food interesting

Buy herbs and put a damp cloth on them so that they don’t dry out. Make sure you have a good knife, otherwise you will cut yourself!

Tips for fussy kids

I do not have kids on my own so I cannot comment on this. But I would suggest to stop giving your children junk food. I know it is difficult but try to give them fresh food as much as you can and most importantly, that which is not processed. I remember growing up and not having any junk or processed food and am really thankful for that.

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