It was in 1994 that CHEF PRADIP ROZARIO started the first Mexican restaurant in Kolkata, the city he was born and brought up in. After graduating from St Xavier’s College, Rozario did hotel management from IHM Kolkata and thereafter, trained in Italy as an intern. He then went on to work for the Taj Group of Hotels for 14 years as a chef. The winner of Best Chef of the Year from the Federation of Hotel and Restaurant Association of India (2006-07), Rozario now owns three restaurants – KK’s Fusion known for creative cuisine with well-known delicacies and signature dishes being cheese fondue and fusion kebab; Mio Amore known for its variety buffet spread and Schezwan Pepper, a food court counter serving fast Chinese food in Kolkata.
Excerpts from an interview:
When did you realise that you wanted to turn into a full-time chef?
I was a teenager when I realised that I wanted to pursue hotel management and be a cook.
How different is Indian cuisine from Mexican gastronomical delights?
To be honest, they’re not very different but regarding spices, Indian food uses many different kinds of seeds (anise, cardamom, clove, coriander, cumin etc) plus chillies whereas Mexican food uses mostly chillies. There are different kinds of chillies and most of them are dried or smoked to give a different flavour.
How has, since 1994 when you opened the first Mexican restaurant in Kolkata, the city accepted Mexican cuisine and which one is the most selling Mexican dish?
The City of Joy had greatly accepted Mexican cuisine and is one of the most popular foods available now. Our Mexican food has always been different than the other focussed Mexican chains, with tacos and sizzling grilled fajitas being the most selling items.
Are there any similarities between Indian and Mexican cuisines?
There are several striking similarities between both the cuisines as well. Like the use of similar spices and the shapes being rice, corn and wheat. Like we use gravies as the base of our dishes, Mexican food uses sauces which is a similarity in itself.
What is it that brings about the difference – geographical location, taste buds, easy availability of spices?
Definitely our taste buds. We Indians love our food spicy and full of flavour.
An Indian dish you would want to give a Mexican twist and similarly, a Mexican delicacy you would want to give an Indian flavour.
In my restaurant, there is a Mexican dish named Pollo Cantina which is a preparation of spicy grilled chicken topped with Mexican sauce served with Mexican rice. I would love to change that up a bit serving the dish with our favourite peas pulao. Several kebabs especially tandoori chicken tosses in a spicy Mexican sauce served with corn tortilla is a wonderful Mexican Indian dish.
Favourite Indian delicacy you relish the most and why?
Being a Bengali, I love my macher jhol and bhaat (fish curry with steamed rice)
Favourite Indian chef, his signature dish and why?
Imitiaz Qureshi, the master chef at ITC Hotels, known for creating the culinary brand of Bukhara and reviving the Dum Pukht tradition of cuisine
A chef at heart or an entrepreneur at heart. What are the three things you think one needs to be successful in the F&B industry?
Being observant is very important to provide the best experience to your guest, being highly vigilant to every minor detail of the restaurant or hotel. It ranges from greeting your guests with a smile on your face, providing impeccable customer service, serving fantastic food. Commitment is very important be successful in the hospitality industry, you must be committed to ensuring customer satisfaction. You must do whatever it takes to keep customers happy and create an environment where customers want to come back. Last but not the least listening and communication skills. The most successful employees of this industry are those who have honed these skills.
What best can you bring to the table in two minutes?
To be very honest, one cannot prepare a good flavourful meal in two minutes unless they’re unwell or lazy. And if that’s case then a hot pot of vegetables or fried eggs with bacon is a fast and easy option.
Favourite Indian restaurant, its signature dish and why?
Nizams at New Market Area in Kolkata is my favourite Indian restaurant. I’ve been going there since I was a kid. The rolls there have been my all-time favourite.