INTERVIEW – In Conversation with Chef Michael Swamy

Interview NuevaChef Michael Swamy, the rising star of the culinary world, talks about his new role as the Chef Patron at NUEVA – India’s first Latin American restaurant in New Delhi. In an exclusive interview with Rangsaa, Chef Michael gets personal and shares his journey and inspiration behind his dream project Nueva…and his insane love for tea!

1. How did your love for Latin American food and tea, both commingle and inspire you to start Nueva, your dream project?
MS: I was brought up on magazines like NatGeo, BBC Wildlife, SPAN and others, which gave me glimpses of global culture and inspired me. One of the magazines had a feature on Spain and I remember getting intrigued back then too. Spanish cuisine is a vibrant cuisine. It’s based on home cooking styles and local ingredients and travel! The Spaniards travelled the world and took ingredients with them. It’s a cuisine that’s close to my heart.

Latin America was another region that intrigued me because of its colorful culture and the brilliant images I saw of the Amazon jungles. When I studied the food aspect that also fascinated me. And tea… I have a deep personal relationship with tea. My Nana (Mother’s mother) lived with us and had been a matron in hospitals during the British Era. So she followed many British customs and teatime was a serious affair in our house. Her friends knew this and those who travelled always brought back different teas as gifts. So I have grown up tasting different kinds of tea and have always loved it. So, when I got the opportunity to do a restaurant I decided I want to do something new and something, which will definitely have some element of tea in it. I also cook with tea!

2. Tell us about your target audience and why Nueva is a must visit place for all our readers?
MS: It’s for the adventurer, the expat, the person who wants to try out new things and most importantly for the person who loves, respects and understands food – not just because some cuisine is trending. It’s for those who understand the timeless quality of food. It’s a must visit place for someone who wants authenticity, flavor and taste, the connect of art on a plate and the ability to enjoy food at leisure. It’s for those who come to a place with an open mind.

3. Share your inspiration behind your unique menu at Nueva.
MS: The menu takes on all the aspects of nature. From nature we receive and to nature, one must give back. It’s about sustainable foods, local ingredients. The exotic is kept to a minimal. The inspiration is nature and the seasons, and so we have divided our menu as per garden, sea, mountains…

4. From interiors to your menu, everything is so artistic and well selected in your restaurant. Are you a chef, who is also a poet and an artist?
MS: I am all of the above. One has been given talents and it would be criminal not to use them all. The designers and architects put together our vision of nature and design and the concept of minimalistic to good use and gave us a restaurant one can walk in and be comfortable. I do dabble in poetry and yes, the artist in me came to the fore as a food stylist and photographer. Having said that, I believe that every chef is a poet and artist… after all the food is the chef’s poetry and art translating onto a plate.

5. Is there a chef you admire the most? Tell us who & why?
MS: Chef Claire Clarke who instilled in me the art of bakery and perfection. She was a chef to the House of Lords and has worked in several Michelin restaurants. Seeing a woman achieve so much in a man’s world as inspiring enough, not to mention her penchant for perfection that she instilled in everyone around her.

6. Which is your favorite tea? And your favorite time of the day you enjoy drinking it?
MS: I drink tea at any time of the day – even in the middle of the night! My favorites are white tea, Lapsang Souchong and silver tips. I also enjoy orange pekoe.

7. Tell us your favorite dish on the menu and what makes it so special?
MS: Since all of them are my creations, I cannot choose any one. All are my favorites also because they have evolved due to my chefs’ inputs and suggestions. The Lamb Osso Bucco Stew, Slow-cooked Pork Belly with Vindaloo Glaze and Duck Moile are my favourites. Also, the Vegetable Lasagna and Mixed Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta would be the ones I would suggest people try out for sure.

8. Define “a perfect cup of Tea” and your favorite tea pairing of all times.
MS: For me, a perfect cup of tea goes well beyond how hot the water should be and how long the tea infuses… my perfect cup of tea is also all about the moment, the atmosphere, the place, the comfort of the silence or hustle around you. Because whether it’s during the day or night, I like to sit back, relax and sip my tea. It’s not just the brewing that makes it perfect. It’s the setting and the emotions running through you.

9. Working in the industry for so many years, what one advise would you like to share with our urban-generation of tea lovers?
MS: Try every kind of tea there is, whether hot, warm or iced, with or without milk, plain or flavored. It’s soothing, it’s comforting and it’s the story of India in a cup so take the story of it to the world.

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