Interview: Talking food with Dayashankar Sharma
From honing an impeccable reputation across 28 years of culinary experience, award-winning chef Dayashankar Sharma has become recognised for pairing time-honoured tradition with contemporary ideas and stylings.
As former head chef of the critically acclaimed Imli and Mayfair pinnacle, Zaika, and from leading teams of 12 to 14 chefs, he currently heads up the kitchen at Grand Trunk Road in South Woodford, who just won Best Restaurant at the Asian Curry Awards 2018.
We sat down with this leading culinary heavyweight and discussed everything from his favourite ingredients to work with to the most important considerations when crafting a menu.
What inspired you to become a chef?
An ever-present need to understand the intricacies of time-honoured recipes. I’ve never not been interested in discovering the origins of taste and of dishes that have travelled along the ages and still have a devoted fan base even to this day. It always fascinated me how the popularity of certain combinations and flavours may adapt or change form but are essentially ageless.
What influenced you to open your own restaurant?
Grand Trunk Road was launched following a trip I took along the legendary stretch of land – sampling ingredients and gaining a deep understanding of the place. I wanted to communicate the depth of flavours that were steeped in history. It presented a challenge and a technical joy for me to pursue.
I think that every chef relishes the element of control that comes with operating your own kitchen. My previous posts within international airline kitchens and high-profile Indian establishments allowed for a certain level of creativity – but opening Grand Trunk Road with Rajesh Suri meant that we could fully indulge in our passion for ancient dishes prepared with original cooking methods.
What is your signature dish?
Our Hyderabadi Royal Lamb Shank has certainly become one of the stars of the show. While exact cooking time allows for a softer, more sumptuous end result, I believe smaller gestures, like pairing Kashmiri chilli powder with a small measure of rose water, is what makes this dish one of more popular and constantly requested.
When are you happiest?
I genuinely enjoy the exhaustion that follows a busy evening catering for a happy and satisfied clientele. Any chef will tell you that you need an inordinate amount of energy to the job, so when you are finally able to pause and enjoy the fruits of your labour; a crowd of happy faces, it really puts a cherry on top of your day.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menus?
Creating an indulgent experience via authentic methods. Grand Trunk Road employs methods and flavourings that have travelled for thousands of years – it’s the authenticity of our dishes, paired with an unforgettable experience of flavour, that I want to communicate.
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a chef?
I am not sure I remember not wanting to be a chef. Perhaps a being a farmer, something that would still keep me close to ingredients.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Since I am from Rajasthan, I love cooking Laal Maas – a lamb dish cooked with red peppers and chillies and saffron, one of my favourite dishes.
What is your favourite ingredient?
Paneer: Indian cheese; I’ve always found it to be one of the most diverse ingredients as it can be used in so many ways; I use it to make Pakoras, four different style of Curries, it’s even perfect for dessert.