MUMBAI: Left to himself, Hemant Oberoi usually makes do with a dal-chawal. That would count as a rare luxury though, for Oberoi is the man behind the food at some of the Taj Group’s renowned restaurants. Currently grand executive chef at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai and corporate chef for the Taj luxury division, he’s set to retire in a few weeks after 41 years with the Tata-owned group.
But that doesn’t mean he’s about to get out of the kitchen anytime soon. It’s more like the next course of a rich and satisfying meal. For one thing, there’s the consultancy with the Taj that could continue for a bit. The dream project, however, is a signature restaurant in Mumbai.
“Hopefully, the restaurant will happen soon. I have not yet given it any shape, but I know it will have fresh produce and no fixed menu. Every day will be different and I would like to serve what I feel like cooking that day. The cuisine would most likely be global and fusion. Both my sons would join me as I believe the legacy must be carried on,” Oberoi, 60, told ET.
Fond Memories Remain
So, while he’s looking forward, he can also be persuaded to look back a little for anecdotes about all the famous people he has served in the last four decades. “Food is all about passion, whether it is cooking it or serving it and there are so many people — who I do talk about?” said the man who’s served both JRD Tata and Ratan Tata. While JRD preferred French cuisine, Ratan Tata likes Lobster Thermidor, creme brulee, sushi, seafood and, not to forget, a great scrambled egg for breakfast. Still, Oberoi’s favourite guests all have one quality. “While Mr Ratan Tata is very particular about his food, he is one of the most humble people I have served,” Oberoi said.
He’s understandably a bit hesitant about naming people but he has fond memories of his first big wedding reception, which was that of Kumar Mangalam and Neerja Birla in 1989. Rajashree Birla and Nitin and Jyoti Kasliwal (the bride’s parents) were meticulous in their planning and generous with praise for efforts of Oberoi and his team.
“We served a 900-people sit-down thali dinner, which we did in 45 minutes. All rooms were occupied, from the Ball Room to Crystal Room, at Taj Palace Mumbai and this was all vegetarian fare,” he said. Other big weddings were those of Sahara chief Subrata Roy’s sons in Lucknow — three days and 5,000 people everyday — and the Bachchan son and daughter.
Former British Prime Minister John Major liked the Dum Ka Zaffrani Ghost (lamb curry) so much that he sent Oberoi a note from the UK. The recipe was sent to the Bombay Brasserie restaurant in London so it could be made and dispatched to No. 10 Downing Street whenever there was a request from the occupant. It used to be called “the John Major Curry”, Oberoi said with a chuckle. Major’s illustrious predecessor Margaret Thatcher too was a fan, as are the Obamas. “They really take the pain to thank and appreciate, which is touching,” Oberoi said.