Table Talk: Chet SharmaBy Lucy Shaw
Chet Sharma’s route into food came during part time work at the likes of Benares and Locanda Locatelli while he was studying for a PhD in physics at Oxford. After graduating he headed to San Sebastián in Spain to work under the tutelage of Andoni Aduriz at the two Michelin-starred Mugaritz, then returned to London to work alongside Simon Rogan at Fera at Claridge’s, which won a star five months after opening. Since 2017 he has worked as group development chef for JKS Restaurants, whose latest venture, contemporary Indian restaurant BiBi, is set to open in Mayfair in September.
Describe your earliest food memory….
Eating a mango straight off the tree in my Grandfather’s garden in Mumbai. Sadly, that’s something we won’t be able to do in London, but something I would encourage everybody to try one day.
Did you always dream of becoming a chef or did you fall into it?
Looking back, I think being a chef is the only thing I could have ever done. But it wasn’t always that clear – for a while I thought about working front of house, hotels, events. Always in hospitality, but I just gravitated towards the kitchen.
What is it about the catering industry that has kept you hooked?
There is an adrenal rush to working a service that I’ve not found elsewhere. Historically, there has been a belief that it takes a certain type of person to thrive in the kitchen, but really it just takes the ability to multitask.
What is the dish that you have created that you’re most proud of?
I’m incredibly proud that we’re opening a restaurant that will be telling a different story about Indian food and every dish we’ve created will be able to tell a story. As a produce-led restaurant we can’t get too attached to individual dishes as the menu will be ever-changing.
What is your ultimate food and wine match?
Oysters and Champagne – elegant, timeless and luxurious all in one.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had in your life?
Two days after our wedding, my wife and I ate at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in upstate New York. We had the wine pairing and 30-plus courses of hyper-local food from their farm. The private tour of the farm and speaking with Dan Barber – the chef-patron and culinary legend – made the occasion even more special.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten while on your travels?
Ant egg chutney in the semi-tropical forests of Odisha is going to be pretty hard to beat!
Who is your culinary hero and why?
There are too many to name them all. With a restaurant called BiBi, surely, I can only say my Grandmother.
What’s the biggest blunder you’ve made while on the job?
Within the first few weeks at Mugaritz, I was running during service from the prep space to the main service kitchen, carrying some very expensive glass plates. I fell on the stairs, smashing everything and slicing my hand open. I ended up in A&E needing quite a few stitches. I’m happy to report that I made it back to finish service though!
What is your favourite season for food and why?
In the UK, I think it’s hard to beat the summer for its peas, cherries, greengages, lobster and so much more. That said, my favourite month is probably September as that’s when we get the micro season for tomatoes, sweetcorn and ceps.
What single ingredient do you rely on most in the kitchen?
What is the best bottle of wine you’ve ever drunk?
The most expensive wine I’ve ever had is a Chateau d’Yquem 1912, so that probably should be it. But I have to say that we always keep at least a couple of bottles of NV Pol Roger and wines from Viña Tondonia stocked at home.
What is your guilty pleasure food?
Biscuits – we have constant debates about the best biscuits at the restaurant. Hobnobs are a cult favourite among the team but for me, nothing beats a digestive with English breakfast tea.
If you had to only eat one country’s cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
India – of course! It’s hugely complex and varied beyond belief.