Chef Nira Singh @ Chez Nini

Nira Singh Chez NiniIt is easy to like Nira Singh, the chef and proprietor of the French bistro, Chez Nini. She is warm, charming, spontaneous and expressive. When I meet her it is very difficult being Nira Singh too. In quick succession she deals with her accountants, has a rather rude MCD team landing up asking all kinds of questions but are eventually calmed down by her, customers who get upset by the rude MCD team, and finally sitting with me for a talk. We do spend a couple of hours chatting about various things. Here is a structured account of a rather unstructured and enjoyable discussion.

Birthday: 4th Feb | Sun Sign: Aquarian | Place of Birth: Montreal, Canada

Hometown: Montreal | School/College: Computer Engineering (ConcordiNS – , ITHQ Professional Chef

First Job: Babysitting | Currently Doing: Chef and Proprietor, Chez Nini

High Point of your Life: Birth of my niece; Opening Chez Nini

Low Point of your Life: Being unfairly bashed by one particular facebook group

Chef Nira Singh with her grandmomAalok Wadhwa – What got you to start Chez Nini?

Nira Singh – I can’t think of any one particular moment when I wanted to start. I was looking for a place for my bistro, and spent 8 months searching. Then I found Meharchand market, and against all advice, decided to start there. It was later, on my 30th birthday party that I was organising the whole event, and was working round the clock when I realised that this is what I want to do.

AW – Your food philosophy?

NS – No imported ingredients by and large, only fresh produce. Each dish made fresh from scratch for high quality. Mindful cooking is the word that would sum it.

AW – What is the biggest challenge in getting India to like the cuisine, especially given its subtle nature?

NS – Getting the right ingredients like meats and greens; finding chefs with relevant palate and sensibility.

AW – If not a Chef, then what?

NS – In the art world, probably as a curator.

Chef Nira SinghAW – Do you remember the first dish you cooked as a Chef?

NS – Chicken liver parfait

AW – Who was the biggest influence in your life for you to reach the stage where you are today?

NS – My life experiences and French artist Louise bourgeois

AW – Your food’s best compliment

NS – Diners saying “we feel love in your food”.

AW – Your family…

NS – Two sisters, parents

Nira SinghAW – What is your favourite dish? Any Indian dish or Street food?

NS – Sheermal and galauti kababs, chhole bhature, golgappas

AW – One Chef you look up to?

NS – Ferran Adria

AW – One dish of your mom, which you can never replicate?

NS – Mom is a phenomenal cook. I can never replicate her lasagne and even rajma

AW – How did you learn cooking French food?

NS – At ITHQ in Montreal

AW – What fascinates you about French food?

NS – Extracting the real nature of the ingredients

AW – One kitchen tool, you cannot live without?

NS – My knives of course

AW – Which is your favourite food holiday destination?

NS – Montreal and Paris

AW – One tip that you would like to those wanting to have their own little bistro?

Nira Singh nowNS – It is like adopting five kids at the same time. You better love every part of it and not be afraid of getting your hands dirty. If you don’t keep tasting your food, it will never be great

AW – What keeps you on your toes?

NS – The thought that I have such a long way to go

AW – What scares you most?

NS – losing sight of my faith and what is important

AW – What’s next?

NS – I am opening up a fifty seater upstairs, getting my website started and I have been invited to cook for James Beard foundation.

Please share one of your favourite recipes with our readers.

Eggplant caviar

Ingredients:

• Onion (finely chopped)
• Garlic (finely chopped)
• 6 large roasted eggplant pulp (finely chopped)
• lemon zest
• 1 tbsp balsamic
• salt
• 1 tbsp green olives (finely chopped)
• pinch red chilli flakes
• cumin dash

Steps:

1. Cut the eggplant in ½ .
2. Score the center and salt for 10 minutes.
3. Squeeze out the water.
4. Flavor with garlic, thyme, bay leaf, olive oil, salt and pepper.
5. Put the two halves back together and wrap the eggplant in foil.
6. Bake for 1-1.1 hour at 200 degrees till it is cooked down into the center.

Notes:

• Try to serve the eggplant caviar warm and add mint and coriander when taken off the heat.

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