For the sixteen or so years that I have known Chef Ranveer Brar, I have always exhorted him to go in for plastic surgery. As soon as his contours are re-moulded to incorporate a pot-belly and his eyes have acquired bags underneath them, he will be taken seriously as a chef. Until then, he will have to content himself with bevies of rather breathless fangirls and hostile, suspicious food writers who cannot believe that someone with rockstar good looks might be able to wield a mean spatula as well.
The problem with Brar is that he is content with a tiny circle of friends. The rest are all acquaintances, to be maintained pleasantly, even cordially, but at arm’s length. Not only will they never be admitted into the inner sanctum, they will never even suspect the existence of a last, final door to the very private world of Ranveer Brar, father, husband and son. The sanctum where the white toque is tossed aside, to be donned again when he’s out in the world at large. So stripped is the private domain that it has none of the appurtenances of the public arena.
I was lucky enough to have caught a glimpse of the brilliance of this wunderkind around 2003, when he worked as a Sous Chef in a hotel in suburban Delhi. We were talking about the zero kilometre ideal of regional Italian cooking and I was ruing the fact that Indian vegetables suffered so badly from an image problem. Brar entered into a bet with me: he would buy tinda and ghia and cook them in classical Italian recipes. I would have to judge them with an open mind.
The next day, the meal that I was treated to, was a revelation of what kitchen technique could do to an ingredient: try caramelizing tori to intensify the sugar content! I was also astonished by how an ingredient could be transformed in the hands of a talented chef who understood the potential of even the most humble, underrated vegetable and strived to make it shine. I think that was the day when I discovered the alchemy of cooking and how closely it was linked to enthusiasm, training and skill.
Over the years, Brar has had hundreds of adventures, not all of them pleasant. However, he has always kept his humility and honesty and has gone the extra mile to help out those in need, whether close friends or total strangers in trouble. Some of the scrapes he has got into have been hilarious and I hope that a couple of decades later, they will go into a book that will outsell Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations, for the mix of comedy, hair-raising adventure and dark moments.
More restaurants within India is what might showcase Brar’s talent and understanding of cuisine. But coupled with TV appearances and the travel that they entail, restaurants in India, run by the man himself, may be some while in the future. Or a tiny cooking school where Ranveer Brar teaches his brand of alchemy: part skill and part magic.