Pastry Chef Vishnu Nair originates from the Southern part of India and right after he received a degree in hotel management he enrolled with the Leela kitchen management training program called as KET. He says his first introduction to working in a professional kitchen was with the Leela Bangalore where he got enticed with the magic of pastry and bakery. Moving on from there Chef Vishnu got an opportunity to pre-open and work with TAMBA, a modern Indian inspired restaurant in Abu Dhabi under the guidance of Chef Aditya kumar Jha, Chef Angshuman Adhikari and Chef Elizabeth Stevenson.
“It is from here my inclination with the Middle East and its pastry culture started increasing and which led me to work with Rotana Hotels, Choco melt Restaurants. Back in India I worked with the Oberoi Raj villas as their pastry chef and then moved to The Taj Hotel in Bangalore,” he says. Afterwards he moved to Maldives for a consultant pastry chef role for Movenpick and later on went on to join a German company called Finolhu as their executive pastry chef.
What inspired you to become a pastry chef? You’ve been in the industry for quite some time. Would you have done anything differently when first starting out?
I started my career way back in 2011 with the Leela Group of Hotels, I think the energy, the fun that was prevalent in the pastry kitchen drove me towards it, and later when I started learning more about pastry I understood the endless possibilities in the kitchen (the use of flavors, colorful, vibrant). If not for pastry I would have experimented with cinemas (I loved watching movies so maybe something to do with camera, photography or maybe i would have turned into a film director.
What is the philosophy and ethos behind the food you create?
The natural flavour of the food should be present, the flavor should speak for itself, creating a fine balance on the plate with different components and this is my major philosophy. A good story should be brought out from the plate, as in through the food we should be able to speak about the origin of the dish or the origin of the ingredient and how it pairs with the overall dish.
What’s the latest trend when it comes to baking and patisserie?
I think classics are coming back, we can see a good amount of sourdough breads, Viennoiserie and a lot of flavor pairing from the east to the west like ube, sweet potato etc. We can see a lot of healthy pastry becoming popular, like vegan cakes and pastries, no added sugar, gluten free and keto focused pastry which uses monk sugar as a substitute for regular sugar.
What is one food (pastry) trend you wish would just go away?
I think it will be the pick me up cake which has loads of colored chocolate with sprinkles.
What is your baking style and the philosophy behind it?
Good old rustic baking, true color should be seen, also keeping it as natural and elegant as possible. Combining savoury with sweet in baking and incorporating different styles and shapes and also trying to add in different textures to the food like crunchy, soft and creamy.
What’s your favourite comfort food? What’s your favourite pastry or cake or baked product?
Home cooked food by my wife, I’m a big fan of biryani. Favorite pastry or baked product would be cream roll cakes, linzer torte and chicken puffs from the classic old shops.
Who or what was your inspiration to become a pastry chef?
My inspiration to become a pastry chef would be when I started learning about the craft and found unlimited creativity while dabbling in pastry when it comes to different flavor pairings, different shapes and sizes, various colors and textures being incorporated in a dish. My mentors I would say played a very big role in what I am today, they taught me to think from a different perspective, be limitlessly creative.
What is your advice to aspiring pastry chefs?
My advice would be to learn as much as you can always and keep practicing your craft. Remain humble, learn the basics first, learn as much as you can and take it step by step. Always try to invest in yourself by attending classes as much as possible and reading a lot of books.
I would like to teach professional pastry / bakery in a school, I would like to travel and take classes/ masterclasses and share my knowledge and experience with everyone as much as possible.
Would you consider yourself as an artist? Are you inspired by artists when you create your pastries When you create different products everyday where do you get inspired from?
Yes I would consider myself to be an artist and I’m still learning. I do get inspired by artists when I create something on the plate. I also visualize on the plate how it can create an impact for the viewer. I try to infuse the local flavor of the region into the pastry this helps me connect more with the society and this opens more doors when it comes to pastry making.
The topic of local food, from smaller, specialized and personally known producers, is becoming more important. What are some of your local partners from whom you source?
In Maldives I contacted a local supplier of mangrove apple (kulahava in Maldivian) and he got me the juice of this apple I used it to create a sorbet and no sugar was added it had only the sweetness of the fruit. The fruit itself is filled with health benefits and rich in antioxidants and helps in improving the blood flow. This created a buzz among guests and also helped in the sale of the local mangrove apple.
What would you say is the key/winning feature of your creations?
Flavor combinations always hit the right spot and there is a mix of everything in the buffet which we put out, making the pastries look elegant with not too much of garnish. A dessert in itself would definitely be the key aspect or the winning feature of any good dish.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Local influence of the region, availability of the ingredient, is it beneficial for the customer ? We must definitely look into the health factors that are included in the menu since the customers these days are well traveled and well aware on what they want to eat. The product should be cost effective to the company and a well balanced menu ranging from something heavy to very light and hot desserts to cold deserts.
Have you ever considered being a vegan chef? How practical is it Being a pastry chef?
Yes I have created a few vegan dishes like vegan chocolate cake, vegan lemon cake, chia mango pudding, sago Tonka beans and strawberry pudding just to name a few. Some breads can also be made in a vegan manner but having to create Viennoiserie as a vegan option will be a little difficult and not very practical.
What’s your signature dish?
Yuzu cheesecake with mango passion coulis served with coconut pineapple sorbet is my signature dish.
How can restaurants/ hotels/ chefs communicate the approach of innovative sustainable plant-based food/ food chains to others?
We can do a marketing promotion by letting the customers know that we follow and provide sustainable food, plant based food. The chefs also have to speak to guests and promote such dishes that will create an impact. We can pop up events of such foods and also promote it on social media.
Which is the dish you’ve created that you are most proud of and why?
Recently I created a vegan chocolate cake with eggplant and dark chocolate paired with a sorbet. That was just for 2 people and it became an instant hit, within few days we had to come up with the same dish on request for 50 guests for a sit down event.
Yuzu cheese cake
For the base:
- Butter 200 Gms
- Graham biscuits 200 Gms
- Rolled oats 100 Gms
- Ginger powder 5 Gms
- Powder the graham biscuits and mix the rolled oats, ginger powder in a container and keep aside.
- Add in the melted butter and fold the mixture till it becomes a thick coarse mass.
- In a butter lined steel ring cover the bottom with aluminum foil and spread the biscuit mixture at the bottom and pre bake it in the oven for 10 minutes @160 degree Celsius.
- Allow the base to cool.
For the cheesecake:
- Cream cheese 820 Gms
- Full cream 500 Gms
- Yuzu juice concentrated 60 ml
- Corn starch 50 Gms
- Eggs 6 numbers
- Vanilla bean/paste 2 nos/15 ml
- Castor sugar 200 Gms
- In a machine bowl with paddle attachment, cream the sugar and cheese in a slow speed till combined.
- Add in the eggs and vanilla bean to the cheese mixture one by one.
- Add the fresh cream, corn flour and yuzu juice and incorporate it well until combined into smooth cream with no lumps.
- Pour the cheese cake mixture into the baking ring until the level is ¾ of the ring.
- Bake at 120 for 65 minutes.
After baking allow the cheesecake to cool down and freeze the mixture, so it can be easy to use it the next day.
Mango passion coulis:
- Fresh mango cubes 200 Gms
- Fresh passion fruit seedless 200 Gms
- Lime zest 1 nos
- Icing sugar 75 Gms
Blend all these ingredients together in a fine blend and use this a sauce for the cheesecake.
Coconut pineapple sorbet
- Pineapple juice 500 ml
- Coconut milk 200 ml
- Castor sugar 200 Gms
- Liquid glucose 50 Gms
- Desiccated coconut 100 Gms
- Blend all the ingredients together and freeze the mixture for 8 hours in a pacojet container.
- After freezing, use the paco jet machine to churn the mixture and make into sorbet.