Hanisha Singh: The Chef Behind EVOO, Shibuya & More Culinary Gems

She grilled up a storm at Grub Fest with her famed pulled pork sandwiches. She had the capital swooning with her creations at EVOO Eatery & Pizzeria within a week of opening doors. She built a wormhole to Tokyo, in Delhi, with her Asian fare at Shibuya. The magic of Hanisha Singh spreads far and wide across cuisines and culinary trends. Kick-starting my little food company (MLFC) in 2012 as a means to test the waters with her own venture, food consulting soon metamorphose into her calling. Leaving her food-print around the country, the dark chocolate fiend has gone from strength to strength consulting restaurants, conceptualising menus, and curating culinary experiences that are here to stay. Catching up with the chef, consultant, and founder, #DSSCSecretConversations brings you the powerhouse that is Hanisha Singh.

What inspired your journey as a chef?

The time I spent in the kitchen with my grandmother is where it all began — the need for good food and the need to cook it myself. Sourcing ingredients, cooking multiple courses or laid out buffets, getting my hands dirty in the kitchen, and waiting for beaming faces, I loved every bit of it.

How was the experience of training in a professional kitchen?

Oberoi Hotels are the best trainers in the business. I thought the training would be about cooking and being happy, but it was akin to an MBA with the addition of crazy hours in the kitchen. Made to believe getting in to Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD) was hard, it was getting through the next two years that was truly challenging.

Living by the rule book was not my thing and neither was sitting in a classroom for endless hours or drowning in assignments, projects, and appraisals perpetually. However, it was the grind then, that made all of us better chefs and managers. The sense of discipline instilled at OCLD holds strong even today. But, the pressure was also accompanied by (never ending) fun. Most days we worked 18 hours, partied till wee hours in the morning, and were back at it (on time) the next day.

my little food company plated dessert class

How were your early days on the job?

Starting as a Kitchen Executive at The Oberoi, everything was very structured — executing established recipes, following standard operating procedures, and working within set parameters. Attention to detail was key while leading a team of people whose years of experience was equivalent to your age and dealing with chauvinistic superiors.

Moving to Smoke House Grill a year later as Sous Chef, the opportunity to work with exceptionally creative chefs, Shamsul and Gresham, aided my creative thought process. Pushing to think outside the box, create, recreate, and give my own spin to things, they gave me the freedom to experiment, develop seasonal menus, and run the kitchen my way.

Setting out to take a break, what inclined you to institute my little food company?

I got bored and wanted to get back in action as soon as possible! Unsure about where I wanted to settle but fancying a venture of my own, without too much investment, I started working on modules for cooking classes. I’ve always had people requesting me to teach and a restaurant with a cooking school had been on my mind. I set up a kitchen studio at home to begin and within a week had something up and running.

Initially apprehensive about baking, what led to your collaborations with KitchenAid?

I always had a sweet tooth, but also a lack of patience — that’s why I feared working in a bakery. As fate would have it, when I started MLFC, there was a rising wave of home bakers and a growing demand for indulgent desserts. My dessert classes would sell out within hours of posting. Thus, I started experimenting more with baking. Receiving great feedback and making people happy left me sated.

Diving deeper into the world of sugar I collaborated with Bake Box for some fun events and was introduced to KitchenAid. As Asia-Pacific consultant for the brand, the travel, the exposure to local ingredients, and the work with chefs from all across the globe helped me expand my repertoire of skill and knowledge. Though devouring meals at local favourites across South-East Asia was the best bit, and those memories always find their way into my kitchen.

Left: River Sole on a bed of risotto at EVOO Eatery & Pizzeria; Right: Crème caramel at Narendra Bhawan

What are the facets of restaurant consultation that drive your experiences?

I like to learn something new with every project, work with people who know what they want, and am always up for a challenge. The process begins with people who are passionate and willing to invest time once we hand over the reigns. The curation is guided by quality produce and a goal to serve the best food possible. Training the staff is also key.

Majority of the workforce at restaurants has no formal education or culinary degree. They are cooks who have worked in homes and then various restaurants. They value knowledge above all else — learning about different ingredients, cuisines, and techniques. Demonstrate, hand hold, and make them practice. We follow a very methodical approach, everything is documented so that it can be replicated with ease. The staff is given the freedom to experiment and put their specialities on the menu post trials. I never forget to compliment or appreciate a job well done, but I will also, honestly, criticise the unacceptable. I am not embarrassed to learn from my subordinates.  

Proving the perception, ‘family and business do not mix’ wrong, your work with Jamsheed Bhote is the very definition of top notch. What was the experience of working with your spouse like?

When we started out we could have killed each other! We always helped, but never really worked together before. I was chaos in his organised world.

However, we started dividing work according to our strengths. We’d collate at the end of the day, and I ended up learning a lot from him. We were elated with the end result of Narendra Bhawan and EVOO, reinventing French classics and creating heart warming rustic Italian fare. My husband has made me a better chef. I could always cook, but he inspires me to be a better leader. Pushing me every time I start slacking, he gives me that occasional kick I need.

Image: The eponymous honey toast at Shibuya by Hanisha Singh

Balancing the personal and the professional seamlessly, what is your magic formula for multi-tasking?

I love what I do and I’ve had tremendous support from my family. Starting out with Shibuya, I made sure that Zoraya, my daughter, and I had a set routine from day one. Knowing what my child will be doing through the day, I could plan my day accordingly. It’s easier said than done of course, as babies initially have no pattern or routine and each day is new with them, but I kept at it. I made sure to spend the morning with her and be back by bedtime to tuck her in. Jamsheed is a very hands-on father and has always filled in for me. Whilst I’m constantly running between Zoraya and work, everything is getting done, and done well. I think your child gives you a gear you never knew you had.

What are the philosophies that drive Chef Hanisha Singh?

Today as a chef, I believe the team is key. Treat them the way you would like to be treated. People may forget what you say, but they will never forget how you make them feel.

My food is simple yet refined, its creative, comforting, and seasonal. Taste is personal and I can’t make everyone happy, but, I believe as long as you focus on quality produce and cooking technique, it will be accepted well by most. Over time, I’ve also learnt to be more flexible and give people what they want to eat.

As this culinary cracker gets set to showcase her wizardry once again, with a side of European persona, at an all new restaurant in #OurCity (you know you’ll get first spoils here), we bid adieu, but not without indulging in the signature DSSC Rapid Fire first.

 

The best perk of the job?

Constant access to good food.

The worst pitfall of the job?

Unhealthy lifestyle — eating randomly or not eating at all throughout the day. Most nights you end up eating extremely late and then hitting the bed, with no gap between the two.

Favourite spot for tipples in Delhi?

Home; in my pyjamas, with my favourites.

Inspiration behind the famed pulled pork sandwich?

Chef, the movie.

One piece of advice for upcoming chefs?

Be consistent and patient. Working the line is about mindless unvarying repetition. No shortcuts. People only come back for consistently good food.

What does DSSC mean to you?

Best curated events; quality content; super spies (you know too much about everyone!).

 

This conversation is a part of the DSSC Secret Conversation Series, where we get candid with the ace industry disruptors who map its course one masterstroke at a time.