Chef Arif Mohammad, chef de cuisineat Little Miss India and Chef Vinu Raveendran, executive chef at Carnival by Trèsind, know all about striking the perfect balance – while still spicing things up.
What would you say is the essence of Indian cuisine and how do you ensure that your dishes have the right components?
Mohammad: In my opinion, I would attribute the essence of Indian cuisine to be in serving guests with simple quality home-style food using the freshest of ingredients – no modern marketing gimmicks to promote the food, the taste should speak for itself.
We definitely take this into consideration at Little Miss India. After doing extensive research, we realised that guests are sure to come back for simple, wholesome food. I also tend to be attentive to guests’ needs, and this is often reflected in the food I serve my guests. The recipes used at Little Miss India are minutely itemised and codified – contrary to standard methods followed in other Indian restaurants today.
Restaurants in Dubai are hardly consistent. At most Indian restaurants, a lot depend on the hand of the chef at the stove – every time you go, you may have a different experience. To avoid that at our restaurant, all spices and ingredients have been weighed and every dish follows a precise method. All the restaurant’s spices are sourced from Delhi, and are mixed according to my own recipes, whether it’s the go-to garam masala or individual mixes for biryani, kebabs and curries.
Raveendran: If I have to explain the essence of Indian cuisine in one word, it would be “diversity”. Diversity in Indian food is a result of multiple factors, including the country’s size. If you travel from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, you’ll experience a completely different cuisine altogether, because the climate, language – and cooking style – are different in every region and largely depend on culture.
For example, in Bengal, they use mustard oil for cooking. If you go further down to Kerala, they use coconut oil: these small changes make the food look and taste completely different. Dubai is an amalgamation of different cultures, so I never have any difficulty sourcing the right ingredients. High quality seasonal produce comes to the emirate from all around the world.
However, I have to be always in touch with the suppliers and periodical visit markets to understand the changes in seasons globally. For example, we get mangoes around the year in Dubai, when mango season hits in India, I can see the best of the best filling up shelves here in Dubai.
How do you view the Indian cuisine dining scene in the UAE and the region, and what would you say is missing or needs improvement in terms of F&B offerings?
Mohammad: Dubai’s food market is burgeoning with new Indian restaurants, both casual and fine dining. However, most of these have jumped on the molecular gastronomy bandwagon like their predecessors, thereby making the concept mundane, if not obsolete, to say the least.
Hence, we’ve tried to keep authentic Awadhi cuisine as is, so diners are sure to find good quality North Indian food at Little Miss India. We’ve tried to be sustainable with our menu, made with freshly sourced ingredients. Diners nowadays looking for the classic Indian dishes. Our Awadhi-inspired menu is, therefore, heavy on the sort of rich, buttery fare associated with northern India: there’s butter chicken, dal makhani, tandoori raan with dry fruit, roghan josh, different types of biryani, paneer kofta and kebabs for all comers. Even the few items from the other parts of India are what you’d expect — Goan shrimp and Malabar pomfret curry, shrimp stir-fried Chettinad-style and more.
Raveendran: India and the UAE have a history of spice trade, and a huge Indian community resides here bringing lots of demand for Indian food. The industry has boomed dramatically in the past few years, and there are choices available everywhere, from street food and very affordable eateries to home delivery and high-end, fine dining restaurants.
What are your newest concepts and dishes, and what can your diners expect in the upcoming months – and even next year?
Mohammad: We’ve tried to be consistent with our menu, with the occasional add-on of Chef’s Special for the day, so guests are sure to find the same quality food when they visit every time. We aim to make Little Miss India the go-to place for guests to dine at least twice a week, rather than a fine dining place that they can only go to during special occasions.
Raveendran: Carnival is a restaurant which changes its menu very often. We’re running our sixth “season” now, which is mainly about books. Every dish has a story attached to it, so expect more surprises for season seven.
What’s your secret ingredient?
Mohammad: That’s a secret! You’d have to visit Little Miss India and dine with us in order to know it.
Raveendran: Well, it’s no longer a secret since we’re telling Hotel & Catering News ME about it: The secret at Carnival is Kaizen (改善).