SINGAPORE — I remember sitting at Executive Chef Saurabh Udinia’s Revolver Restaurant and wondering if I might have perhaps wandered into the wrong restaurant. It’s hard to believe that here, amid sleek lines, mood lighting, and sophisticated mise en scene, Indian cuisine rules the roost. Still, I know this is a stereotype I manifested as if to say that classic Indian food should only be identifiable in a place that’s buzzy, loud, slightly casual to the point of nonchalance, and cheap.
That’s why I think what Chef Saurabh is doing with Revolver is essential. Here, he challenges the diner to partake in a feast inspired by classically traditional flavours in India, elevated for a more discerning crowd. He’s not just feeding people; he is changing minds and affecting world views of what it means to enjoy food from India. His is an uphill task, made easier with a dedication to maintaining the integrity of flavours above all else.
What does it mean for you to be a chef?
The closest thing to soul in the world is food, and as a chef, my life revolves around food. I enjoy cooking, I love eating, and it is so enjoyable to feed people with delicious dishes. As an Indian chef, I want Revolver to be a platform to help our guests better understand the authentic flavours of Indian cuisine.
In Singapore, people associate Indian food with briyani, naan, curry and prata, but it’s so much more! Those are really just the tip of the iceberg, and there’s so many different dishes, spices, ingredients, produce and flavours from Indian that’s not commonly found in the city.
These days, what aspect of food gets you most excited?
As you may know, Revolver introduces a new menu every two months. After the encouraging responses we’ve gotten for the first two menus, I’m excited to work on crafting new modern Indian dishes for the first menu of 2022. With Revolver, the intention was always to bring the traditional flavours of India to our diners, so I’m looking forward to exploring different areas of Indian cuisine that I have not touched on in my previous menus. India is huge, and when you venture through the country, the food, spices, traditions, and flavours are all ever-changing based on the locale’s weather and the produce that grows there.
It’s exhilarating to be able to continue experimenting and venturing through the cuisine from the northeast and eastern states and bringing those flavours to my upcoming menus next year.
What is the most significant change your culinary philosophy has undertaken in your career as a chef?
I initially started my career in very large kitchens where the menu was equally big and extensive. That meant that I learned the culinary basics for a wide range of Indian cuisine, be it from the North or the South. It was in these restaurants where I understood the basics of Indian cuisine.
Under Chef Manish at Indian Accent, I was exposed to different techniques when it came to handling ingredients to maintain the integrity of the dish while giving it a progressive spin. That was quite a turning point for me, but I believe that evolution is constant; it’s not like it happens once in a lifetime. Every week is a new experience, and I’m always learning new things about my own country as well. It’s always a learning journey for me.
What is the one most underrated ingredient chefs should use more often and why?
Fresh coriander. Not only is it full of health benefits, but it also balances out the spices, adding a more earthy and warm touch that draws out the flavours of the dish. It’s also highly versatile, working well with many dishes, not just Indian cuisine.
What has been the most unexpected challenge you faced that most people are unaware of in setting up Revolver in the thick of a pandemic?
Most people would think that the most challenging bits of setting up a restaurant in the thick of a pandemic would be common COVID issues such as delays in supplies, opening delays and the likes.
However, the most unexpected challenge for me when it came to Revolver was pulling together a team with extensive experience in Indian cuisine. It was challenging finding the right people with the right skills and understanding of traditional Indian flavours. Still, I’m so blessed to have the current team, who are so eager to learn and have risen to the challenges of wood-fire cooking and grasping the intricacies of Indian culinary techniques.
I would say, though, one unexpected benefit that came out of this was that they bring different perspectives and opinions, which I value during menu creations.
When you look at the state of dining in Singapore today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?
Despite the ever-changing rules and regulations in Singapore, I’m heartened by the fact that people are still eager to dine out these days. Putting aside the dining regulations, the Singaporean food culture is just so amazing and incredibly diverse, and people are so open to new flavours and cuisines. The way they have accepted the authentic flavours of my heritage is beyond imagination, and I’m immensely grateful for that and am hopeful that there’ll be wider interest in authentic Indian food from now on.