India’s Culture Of Seasonal And Regional Home Food Shall Again Find A Place Of Pride: Suvir Saran

The chef, author, food consultant, writer doesn’t mince his words when it comes to sharing his thoughts on why we need to work harder to bring Indian food out on top.

Published On Mar 18, 2024 | Updated On Mar 18, 2024


Suvir Saran, the culinary director of Bastian Hospitality Group and author of three cookbooks, doesn’t keep up with you, you keep up with him. End of story. If you miss what he’s saying, you’ll have a hard time circling back to that point because by then, the chef has moved on. An absolute riot to talk to, the chef, author and columnist is in short incredibly vivacious, brimming with thoughts and probably has no filters. My kinda guy. 

Having worked in the US for many years, Saran moved back to Indian in 2017 and began his culinary journey once again. I must admit, I had to interview him twice just to make sure I got everything right. From talking about the whole froufrou over hyperlocal to rambling off names of Bengali dishes he enjoys – he left us in splits. Saran was in town last month for a private event at The Leela Palace Bengaluru.


But when it comes to discussions on food, he’s got a thing or two to say, especially when you bring up the subject of the current scene in the restaurant business in India. 

“Mediocrity is thriving,” he says — yes, he does say that — and then goes on to add, “Empty sloganeering that connects to corporate agendas and political messaging are giving food names and flavours that don’t necessarily mean depth of flavour or create delicious alchemy. The restaurant business is in a churn and funk globally. Food is a shining visage of a people’s socio-political leanings. It’s the mirror image of their mind and hearts cravings and comfort. We are a polarised and hyper nationalistic world today and cuisines everywhere are being shaped and changed by the mindsets craving for them and cooking them. India is not far behind. On the flip side, to seem cool and modern, we are seeing “fusion” finding a stronghold across India, that in any other time would be most suspect and looked at with shame. When Jainy Pizza, Cheese Pav Bhaji, Dal Sushi become hot-sellers, you know the food and fork ways are the deeply broken reflection of a challenging time socially." 

Let’s be honest. Some of us don’t really like fusion. Personally, it’s my Kryptonite. Cuisines born out of cultural influences or colonisation is NOT fusion food. It’s a natural progression of a country’s culinary evolution. You cannot compare Nikkei cuisine with something as unnecessary as butter chicken pizza. I mean if you want butter chicken and roti, there’s naan, there’s tandoori roti, there’s the absolutely delicious rumali. WHY the pizza base? 

But there is hope. Saran believes so. “India’s rich and nuanced culture of seasonally and regionally crafted home food shall again find a place of pride, and it is my hope that we turn it into restaurant style cuisine that’s at once tasty, chic, aspirational and sexy,” he says. 

In an attempt to bring that ‘sexy’ back, Saran has his fingers in various puddings. One that definitely piqued my interest was a project in Pune that he’s working with alongside Vardaan Marwah. “We’re curating the offerings at Qora and Murphies in Pune. Located in Koregaon Park (both Qora and Murphies) and Prabhat Road (new Murphies), these are fun dining venues where the people of Pune get to savour and celebrate the comforting flavours that are deeply tasty and also global in their expression. 

Murphies in Prabhat Road is the newest and I can proudly say that it has upped the culinary culture of Pune by many notches. It is a labour of love that proprietor Aman Talreja has gifted to Pune. Every bite is cooked in-house and is responsibly sourced, passionately prepared, served with progressive style and plating, by happy staff in a warm and chic setting, with incredible libations prepared by a team of gifted bartenders led by ace mixologist Shubham Narke,” he says. Murphies also has a pastry kitchen that dishes out desserts that would have long lines in Manhattan, and these are confections prepared entirely with milk and butter, no analogous ingredients, something that is commonplace in most bakeries at five-star hotels or off the street. 

But of course, we had to bring up the subject of “modern Indian food”. And what does he have to say about that? “Modern Indian is rather unimpressive to me as it is that cuisine which in the last 75 plus years since independence has kept Indian cuisine from becoming a food that people crave and celebrate globally without hesitation,” Saran says. 

In his words, simply putting dishes into pretty crockery, serving them in miniature pressure cookers and pots and pans, bringing street food dishes into a restaurant - these small mindless acts do not show the growth associated with modernity. “It actually showcases a lack of passion and commitment from the operators and chefs of businesses to their craft and an utter lack of connection and respect for India. No wonder then that for the last 20 years we always remain the “next favourite cuisine” but haven’t become that,” he adds. 

What we need, in the chef’s words, is progressive cuisine like it was done in the late '90s or early 2000s in NYC and London. “Which is now happening in Dubai, which Rooh brought to Delhi and Masque shared with Mumbai and Naar is cooking in the mountains. When this food becomes what our population craves, it is then and only then that our food will get unshackled from the colonial past and the jail we live in when living inside a colonial mindset,” Saran says. 

Talking about his various collaborations with chefs across the world, Saran says he’s a loner and a private person, but has spent years collaborating with others. “When I must be around people, I feel I must give of myself, I must share and discover, learn and teach, and in doing so, broaden my own horizons and hopefully do the same for another.” 

Hemant Mathur the chef with whom he owned Devi, his restaurant in NYC, was his first collaborator “and remains until now. We found in each other very different skills and also sensibilities, but also very similar morals and standards. Our partnership began almost 30 years ago,” says Saran. Incidentally, Devi was the first non-northern European and Indian restaurant to get a Michelin star in North America. 

“Today I am proud to say that I have two colleagues/collaborators Vardaan Marwah and Harisashv Malhotra who have been with me for over six years. We create, learn, share and live together as culinary professionals,” he goes on to add. 

Then there’s chef Amol Phute, with whom Saran works at Bastian. “He’s a talented culinarian who teaches me daily and has me in awe. Chefs Dhruv Oberoi, Anahita Dhondy, Vaibhav Bhargava, Soumojit Sinha and Manisha Bhasin are people I have enjoyed spending time with and imagine myself most happily collaborating with,” he adds. 

We asked him to pick four chefs from any part of the world that he believes have done incredible work to preserve traditional cuisines, and this is what he came up with. “Iliana de la Vega, cuisine of Oaxaca in Austin, Texas, Chai Siriyarn, Thai food in San Francisco, California, Mourad Lahlou, cuisine of Morocco in San Francisco, California and Najmieh Batmanglij, cuisine of Iran in USA.” If you’ve not heard of these names, hit Google, now. 

Signing off with three things he says chefs in India need to focus on, Saran says, “We need pride in the home cooking of India. We need education in the varied, pluralistic and rich history of India and its people, and last but not the least, education around health and wellness, fact and fiction in relation to diet and healthy elixirs."

Photo: Suvir Saran