Associated with the award-winning Japanese restaurant Sakura for 16 years, Chef Swapnadeep Mukherjee likes to experiment with traditional Japanese dishes.
You received a special jury award for the most innovative dish at the World On A Plate festival. Which dish wooed the judges?
The festival had some of the finest chefs and restaurants from Delhi, so the competition was really tough. We presented one of our signature dishes—Unadon–for the live tasting session. The judges were Chef Marco Pierre White and Chef Ranveer Brar. Unadon is a traditional Japanese donburi dish comprising barbecued eel on a bed of sushi rice. The judges were amazed by the combination of the hot eel fish with the cold sushi rice.
Do you feel contests shape the way the world eats?
Yes, to some extent. Today, people are well travelled and have developed a taste for different cuisine. They are willing to experiment. That’s why we see an increase in contests and festivals. For hoteliers, this is a way to update themselves on people’s likes and dislikes.
What do you feel about the food shows on TV?
Food shows provide a platform to celebrate different traditions and cuisines. We can be inspired by such shows, but as a chef, you should not copy blindly. Understanding the food culture of a place and its authenticity is important.
The best dish that you have made till now…
I am proud of all the dishes that I have made so far. But the one awarded is closest to my heart. I give my 100 per cent to any dish I cook. Besides our wide range of sushi such as Sakura Moriawase, Asparagus Tempura Rolls, Shojin Moriawase, Kanpyo Maki, Kampachi Sushi, Genmitsu Saikyo Yaki which is a must try. This is cod fish marinated in soy miso paste.
Is it tough for an Indian to make authentic Japanese food?
I think if you have a passion for cooking or anything in life, then nothing is tough. I have been cooking Japanese fare for over 16 years now and I enjoy it. Some key points to keep in mind are that the Japanese love original flavours. They don’t appreciate tweaking with food, so we have to be as authentic as possible. Feedback from the guests is also important as one has to keep learning, improving and evolving.
Sakura is celebrating 20 years. Tell us about your journey here.
I learnt the trade under the tutelage of four Japanese chefs at Sakura. They taught me the art of blending unique flavours and aromas of fresh ingredients. I visited Japan during my kitchen training. But I developed most of my skills on the job. I love experimenting and pay special attention to presentation. I am happy that at Sakura, we have been hosting royalty and corporate titans for so many years.
Being a pioneer in authentic Japanese cuisine, Sakura opened its doors when the government allowed foreign companies to invest in India. Many Japanese, Korean and people from other nationalities came to India. Sakura led the way in catering to these nationalities.
If you have to talk about Japanese food to a new audience, where would you begin?
Japanese cuisine is a combination of staple food, which is steamed white rice with one or several main dishes and side dishes. The cuisine is rustic, raw, healthy and flavourful. Very little cooking oil is used. There is emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Side dishes often consist of fish, pickled vegetables and vegetables cooked in broth.
Seafood is common, often grilled, but also served raw as sashimi or in sushi. Seafood and vegetables are also deep-fried in a light batter as tempura. Apart from rice, staples include noodles, such as Soba and Udon. Japan also has many simmered dishes such as fish products in broth called oden or beef in sukiyaki and nikujaga.
Which country would you like to travel to?
Africa, specifically the Republic of Congo as the bush people eat raw and natural food.
A message for aspiring chefs…
First and foremost, there should be love for food and the joy it brings. If you have this and are creative, you can create flavourful dishes even with limited means. A chef should never compromise with taste, plating and authenticity.