A chef’s meal for one

Their demanding roles usually have them cooking for crowds of 300 or more, but what when they’re making a meal just for themselves, what do they like to cook? Gargi Ranade asked a few of the finest chefs in India.

Most artists use their medium to express themselves better, or to satisfy their aesthetic needs. Readers, listeners and viewers become secondary to the process because nearly all art is personal. But while cooking is also romanticised as art, it would seem that a chef’s creation is usually meant for an audience. Thereby, cooking becomes one of those singular forms of art that is elevated by the service it provides.

Perhaps there is an inherent flamboyance when one is cooking for 300 hungry people waiting for you to impress them, and the pressure of pleasing the crowd becomes part of the technique. But what when the number is just one, and the crowd is your own self? Is making a meal still an indulgent and grand affair? Or does it become a low-key chore of making a simple, wholesome meal?

We asked a few of the finest chefs in the country what they make when they're cooking just for themselves.

Hanisha Singh

For Hanisha Singh, food is the bringer of instant happiness - a bad mood, the worst day - there’s nothing a meal, or better yet, a comforting dessert can’t fix! Although she eats at irregular hours, she likes to make sure that everyone around her is well-fed at all times. Evoo in Delhi is her latest brainchild.

Who usually cooks at home?

My husband and I are both chefs and till we had a baby we pretty much divided the load. Now we cook breakfast together, lunch our cook does and for him (husband) dinner is at work and I cook and eat dinner with our daughter.

What led you to this profession?

I come from a family where we are practically obsessed with food. The desire for good food and cooking it myself lead me to the kitchen at an early age.  One of the first kitchens I was introduced to served almost 3000 people a day! It was the langar at Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. I went every Sunday with my grandmother and made rotis. As a young girl I made my first few bucks by catering for my parents and aunt’s small parties. I would shop, cook from appetizers to dessert, serve and clean. I just knew I had to make a career out of this. I loved every bit of it.

After a long day in the kitchen, do you look forward to making a meal for yourself?

Not at all! I just want to put my feet up and on most days just skip the meal altogether unless someone is feeding me.

Do you ever attempt to recreate food you are emotionally connected to or feel nostalgic about?

I am always trying to recreate things my grandmom made. I don’t have recipes she used but the memory of the way things use to taste.


Steamed Ginger Scallion Fish

Marinate fish with soy sauce, finely sliced garlic, ginger julienne, fine julienne of spring onion - white and greens, sliced fresh red chili and 1 ml sesame oil

Place on a plate in the steamer and steam 7-8 mins till cooked

In a pan heat oil add chopped garlic, add 5 ml soy sauce, vinegar add spiralised or julienned carrot and zucchini and sauté.

Add blanched noodles and toss, add sesame oil and seasoning

Serve fish on a bed of noodles, garnish with spring onion greens and coriander sprig


Auroni Mookerjee

Auroni Mookerjee gets the chance to cook for himself only once or twice a week, but whenever he does, he picks something rustic, regional and comforting - his favourite is Maach’r Jhol/Rajma Chawal, or Sambaar and Dosa. When he’s cooking, he likes to set the mood with some heavy metal or jazz. After his much loved pop-up, Grandma Mookerjee’s Kitchen at Mumbai, Auroni now works at The Salt House in Kolkata.

Did you always enjoy cooking for others? What makes it enjoyable? 

I always made it a point to challenge my skills and palate. But the challenge aside, nothing makes me happier than seeing my diners light up after a bite of something they enjoy. It’s a kind of nourishment that goes beyond just the body and belly, hits a chord in their hearts and souls as well.

After a long day in the kitchen, do you look forward to making a meal for yourself?

The rigours of the job always get to me. I almost never cook for myself after getting back from work. But, quite often mix a cocktail or two.

How is cooking for yourself different now, from say when you didn't cook professionally? Is there any difference at all?

It’s gotten a lot more basic and a lot lighter. Since I’m tasting and working with complicated preps and dishes through the day, I like to cook far simpler preps at home. Think one pot curries and stews, simple roasts or pasta (like a carbonara or cacio pepe). Only if it’s a wine club dinner do I do anything elaborate.  

What are the quick guilty things you make that are perhaps not so refined but easy to make on a busy day for yourself?

Egg Tarka, a classic Kolkata Dhabha staple. Essentially one scrambles a spicy Anda Bhurji into a Daal Tarka (which they usually prepare for our restaurant family meal on most days). Goes great with roti, rice or toast.

Carbonara or Cacio e Pepe as well. There’s always some eggs, good parmesan/ pecorino and bacon in the fridge.


Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe

Boil the pasta in some salted water, till 80% doneness. Drain, drizzle with some olive oil and set aside. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and add the black pepper. Once the pepper is well toasted (15 - 30 secs), add the stock and butter and bring the sauce to a simmer. Now add the pasta and cook it to your desired doneness. As soon as the pasta is cooked, take the pan off the heat, and stir in most of the cheese while gently tossing the pasta.

Serve piping hot with a sprinkling of some more cheese. To take things to the next level of indulgence, you can also sprinkle on some crispy pancetta or truffle oil.


Megha Kohli

Currently the head chef at Lavash by Saby, Megha Kohli has been fond of cooking for as long as she remembers. She abandoned journalism in favour of becoming a chef, and now loves tweaking her mother’s recipes, and eating everything her mother makes.

Do you cook for yourself often? What do you like to eat when you're not the one cooking?

I love to cook for myself , as it makes me experiment with new flavours and techniques. But when I am at home, I only want my mom to cook for me though.

Do the rigours of the job ever get to you, or do you still like to come back and cook for yourself?

I can’t cook for just myself after a long day at work as the thought of cooking for myself after 12 -14 hours of cooking is exhausting! However, if you ask me to cook for anyone else I will happily do it.

What was the first thing you cooked professionally?
Eggs Benedict - and it remains one of my favourite dishes till date.


Spaghetti aglio olio

1.Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons of salt and the pasta and cook according to the directions on the package. Set aside 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water before you drain the pasta.

2.Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a pot large enough to hold the pasta, such as a 12-inch sauté pan or a large, shallow pot. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until it just begins to turn golden on the edges-don't overcook it! Add the red pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds more. Carefully add the reserved pasta-cooking water to the garlic and oil and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add 1 teaspoon of salt, and simmer for about 5 minutes, until the liquid is reduced by about a third.

3. Add the drained pasta to the garlic sauce and toss. Off the heat, add the parsley and Parmesan and toss well. Allow the pasta to rest off the heat for 5 minutes for the sauce to be absorbed. Taste for seasoning and serve warm with extra Parmesan on the side.

Hussain Shahzad

Chef Hussain Shahzad of O Pedro is part of a team that serves at least 250 people everyday. Originally from Chennai, he has spent most of his adult life in Mumbai, ever since his internship right after college, at The Oberoi. After so many years of cooking in professional kitchens, cooking at home is just exhausting now, he says, even though he still loves the process all the same.

What made you take up this profession?

It was by accident, I was spending some time with my mum in the kitchen one day and I figured this is exactly what I want to do. I didn’t know it was such a strong urge, I figured it would be something I enjoyed, I didn’t know I would take it up as a profession.

Did you always like cooking for others?

You know you get happiness out of seeing people get happy after eating what you’ve made. And the whole sense of community around the meal… because I’m Bohri and I grew up in a household where there was a lot of sense of community around meals. We’d sit together and eat and that’s how it’s always been at my house. That time in the day, when everyone would just come together to sit down and eat, that gave me a lot of joy, being a part of it or being able to provide for it, that made me happy.

What are the quick guilty things you make that are perhaps not so refined but easy to make on a busy day for yourself?

Perfect hangover foods or late night meals - eggs and hot sauce! Sriracha is my killer companion. Bacon and eggs, or just throw a bunch of salami on eggs, so versatile, i could have eggs everyday. And pasta! Pasta and eggs is pretty much all I have at home, honestly.

Since you aren't from here, do you miss any food from home? Do you ever attempt to recreate it? Do you miss it?

Oh of course I miss it. I do kind of try to replicate my mom’s mutton curry because I miss that the most. That’s the one thing that ties me down to home, really and that’s one of my first meals when I get back home every single time. Even in the kitchen there’s a dish on the O pedro menu that’s quite similar to it, it’s not there yet, it’ll never get there, but I never tell her that!

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Spaghetti with salted anchovies, garlic and capers

Heat water in a heavy bottom saucepan and boil pasta following instructions on the packet.

In a sauté pan over a slow flame, add in 3 tbsp of olive oil and the garlic and anchovies and sauté.

Throw in the pasta with some pasta water and toss.

Add in the capers with a little bit of the brine (taste as you go).

Finish with salt if need be and take it off the heat and hit it with a generous squeeze of lime.

Jahan Bloch

The first thing that Jahan Bloch ever cooked professionally was a cake. She says, “I started my own home baking business in 2012.” Soon after which she, along with her husband Ronak Nanda, opened The Omakase Kitchen in 2017 in Bandra serving Japanese and Korean food. She loves eating sweets, and unsurprisingly, her forte is desserts and breads!

Who usually cooks at home?

Husband! Perks of marrying a chef.

Did you always enjoy cooking for others? What makes it enjoyable?

I think the reaction is what makes all the sleepless nights worth it. When someone loves the food you cooked, it gives you a different kind of high.

After a long day in the kitchen, do you look forward to making a meal for yourself? Or do the rigours of the job get to you?

Post service, a meal is always more about giving fuel to your body than enjoying a meal. Mostly its take out unless we have prepared something before hand.

Do you ever find yourself ordering or taking doggy bags from the restaurant?

Yes. It’s part of the job. The more you eat the more you learn.

What’s your favourite thing to cook for yourself?

I love baking cookies. It is something that can be made ahead, the dough can be frozen for months and they are a delight to eat.


Cappuccino Snickerdoodles

Preheat the oven to 175 C.

Sift flour, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in a bowl.

In a small bowl mix 3 tablespoon of castor sugar and 3/4 tablespoon of cinnamon and keep aside.

Using the paddle attachment of the stand mixer / hand mixer, cream butter and the remaining castor sugar, and brown sugar till light and fluffy, for about 4 -5 minutes on medium speed.

Add eggs, vanilla, and instant coffee powder in the butter – sugar mixture. Mix for 1 – 2 minutes until combined.

Add the flour mixture. Add the vinegar. Mix until everything is combined.

Scoop the batter with a tablespoon on your hands and roll it into a ball. Coat them in the cinnamon sugar prepared before. Place them on a cookie sheet 2 inches apart. Bake them for 12 – 15 minutes or until brown.

Tips –

Make ahead – You can wrap the batter in a plastic wrap and store it in the freezer. When needed, remove it from the freezer. Let it thaw till its soft, and continue with scooping, rolling and coating.

Gresham Fernandes

Unlike a lot of other chefs, Gresham Fernandes almost stumbled into this profession after he attempted regular college. The one thing he wants to do now that he’s in the position of a mentor and organiser as the Culinary Director at The Impressario Entertainment and Hospitality in the professional kitchen, is to cook more for his two-year-old daughter.

What made you realise you love cooking?

My grandparents, actually, because both my parents worked. I kind of liked to eat, and they didn’t make it (cooking) seem difficult or impossible, it was fun. I mean I’m not saying my grandmother and I sat together and bake cookies. But despite everything those two hours spent cooking for the family were pure joy and pure love. She was never pissed off about it. Just that sense of calm helped, so I’d ask what’s this, can I help, what’s happening. My grandmother handed me a knife when I was 5! That generation wasn’t so afraid or walking on eggshells around their kids, there was no hand holding, she was cool with me being around fire.

This one time I remember going on a hunt with my grandfather and we got a rabbit and we cooked it. All of this sort of played a big role in my becoming a chef.

Also I think grandmothers are cool!

After a long day in the kitchen, do you look forward to making a meal for yourself? Or do the rigours of the job get to you?

There’s nothing romantic about me cooking for myself, I make the most simple things. I’ll take some bread, break an egg, add some sausage, I love bacon and I love chorizo! Sometimes it’s just sourdough with butter! Otherwise it’s ramen or khichadi, or some one-pot thing, nothing too elaborate.

What space do you prefer cooking in, your kitchen or the restaurant?

Restaurant any day. At home, my wife and kid are the biggest critics, they’re simple eaters. There’ll be questions about the smoke, the number of pans I’m using and all that.

We have another place called St Judes bakery, it’s like a second home to me, all my books there almost 300 of them. I look for combinations in them, try them out, try to place them on menus in different restaurants.

Do you cook for yourself often? What do you like to eat when you're not the one cooking?

Nope, but when I'm sick a khichadi or a bowl of soup gets done


Fry 2 eggs like you would, top it with sliced spanish chorizo and add salt and pepper to taste! Pair this with sourdough bread/baguette.

Kainaz Contractor

Kainaz Contractor, even though a defence child with connections to more than one city, currently lives in Delhi, where she was also born. She also has her own restaurant there, Rustom’s Parsi Bhonu. But she still thinks of Mumbai as her home.

What's the nicest thing you've cooked for yourself?

After my trip to Italy, armed with a whole lot of cured meat, mushrooms and olive oil, I recall making a earthy porcini mushroom risotto but with Farro which is an Italian whole grain derived from wheat - chewy in texture like pearl barley and nutty in taste. I stirred in some mascarpone to make it indulgent and topped it with some Parma ham and artisanal aged balsamic vinegar.  

Do you eat alone, cook only for yourself often?

Yes, quite often actually. In fact my interest in cooking stems from my adolescent years where I would experiment in the kitchen, trying to recreate dishes that we would eat in restaurants. My elder brother was my guinea pig. Now, whenever I travel I make sure to get back a suitcase brimming with food souvenirs so that i can recreate those dishes at home.

Who usually cooks at home?

Truth be told, after being in the kitchen at work all day, I rarely feel like cooking up a storm in my home kitchen. But on my off days I always find myself gravitating towards comfort food that reminds me of home or freestyle with 'clean out the fridge' cooking.

What do you like to cook when you're alone?                                                                                                                   

My style of cooking is very instinctive. I am not much of a recipe follower, i like to give them my own spin. Being Parsi some of my favourite things to cook are eggs in every imaginable way, meaty curries and roast chicken with all the trimmings. I am always put to shame by how little I cook for myself at home so I recently joined a cookbook club called the 'Cereal Killer Cookbook Club' which not only feeds my cookbook addiction but has also helped in reigniting the spark for home cooking. What's even better is that I get to share my cooking and talk about recipes endlessly with a group of like-minded cookbook fiends.  


Farro with mushroom and mascarpone

Soak the farro in hot water and drain after 30 minutes. Also soak the dried porcini mushroom in 1 cup of hot water for 30 minutes and drain. Save the mushroom water and add to chicken stock. Heat the butter over medium heat and add the onion. Once it begins to soften, add the sliced mushrooms and cook until browned. Add salt to taste, garlic and your choice of fresh herb - tarragon / thyme / rosemary. Cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes and then add the farro and the Porcini mushrooms. Fry the grains of farro for about 3 minutes. Pour in the wine and cook, stir the farro until the wine is absorbed. Add the stock and simmer the farro with the lid on for 45 minutes or until tender. Keep stirring the farro every 10 minutes, it’s not as starchy as rice so it doesn’t need constant supervision like a risotto. Once the farro is cooked stir in the mascarpone, taste and add salt and pepper as per your liking. Top with shavings of proscuitto and a drizzle of EVOO or balsamic vinegar.

Written by Gargi Ranade

Illustrated by Harshita Borah

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