Talking food with London’s leading female chef Shilpa Dandekar
Shilpa Dandekar has developed a reputation as one of London’s leading female chefs. She honed her skills as a trainee chef with India’s famed Taj hotel group. Having arrived in the UK, Shilpa immediately took to cooking modern British food in various pubs before embarking as a sous chef at London’s renowned Michelin-starred Indian restaurant Quilon.
Following on from Quilon, Shilpa moved on to working under Raymond Blanc OBE, with whom she was part of the opening team for the very first Brasserie Blanc in London near Bank, before being promoted by him to become the head chef.
Subsequently, in 2014, Shilpa and her husband Faheem Vanoo opened a successful takeaway and home delivery unit in south west London before launching her PURE Indian Cooking restaurant in Fulham. Committed to using only very fresh, seasonal ingredients, Shilpa combines British produce with Indian spices to create dishes like chicken with cashew nuts, fresh mint and black peppercorns.
We sat down with the highly talented Shilpa and discussed everything from her culinary inspirations to her favourite dish to cook at home.
What inspired you to become a Chef?
A constant and ever-present interest in flavour. Experimenting with everything I could find growing up in Mumbai before moving to Europe, where I worked under Raymond Blanc and developed a passion for the European intricacies not common in the cooking I knew in my younger years. He appointed me Head Chef of the first Brasserie Blanc, which was in London near Bank – a real starting point for me.
What influenced you to open your own restaurants?
The pairing of ancient Indian dishes with more modern flavours and techniques found across dishes in Europe. I genuinely believed that there was not enough creativity on offer in contemporary dining and wanted a base to offer fabulous dishes not commonly found on the menu in an Indian restaurant.
What’s your signature dish?
I find that around 50% of chefs love answering this question and 50% don’t.I enjoy the classics, but I’m not a traditionalist. One of the things I love most about what I do is the emergence of new dishes I create. Recent favourites have included Scallops strawberry & fresh mint, with rhubarb ginger chutney & roasted almond and Crab kokum fry, which is Devon crab claw meat with ginger, green chilli and kokum. My signature is about newness rather than repetition.
When are you happiest?
When I get time to spend with my daughter, she is 5-years-old now and just keeps growing! She used to come along with us when we launched Pure Indian Cooking, but now, because of her school timings and our schedules at the restaurant, it is becoming difficult to spend quality time – so uninterrupted fun with her is a real treat.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menus?
Inventive thinking and optimum flavour. I’m interested in creating a curiosity with dishes, putting familiarity next to the adventurous. I’ve always believed that food offers more opportunity to experiment than anything else. All of our ingredients are seasonal and as fresh as possible – this allows me to keep things new and interesting, all of the time.
What would you do for a living if you weren’t a chef?
Cooking and creating food is all I ever wanted to do. If I weren’t a chef I would have been a homemaker and taking care of my daughter and husband… probably still spending as much time as possible in the kitchen!
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
Absolutely my mom’s recipe of Fried fish, Dal and rice with potato bhaji – this is the coastal food from my region and it’s always a favourite to return to.
What is your favourite ingredient?
There is no favourite ingredient as such; I try to blend spices to get the right flavour and texture out of the dish. The final product should always be my creation. There are already some dishes on the Pure Indian Cooking menu which have now become synonymous with the restaurant; like Patra chaat made from colocasia leaves rolled with spices served with yoghurt, date and tamarind chutney, pomegranate, onion and tomato – this my interpretation of contemporary street food – building on what I thought I knew day by day, always learning, allows every ingredient to be my favourite!