Food Services just met up with Chef Suman Roy to ask him a few questions about his culinary background and his various food loves. Here’s what we found out!
What is your idea of a perfect meal?
Nothing beats a home cooked meal, especially one where I’m sitting with my family and making it from fresh, local, simple and flavourful ingredients. I like to call this “Breaking Bread” together, when great company, amazing conversation, and the silliness of my 2-year old accompany the meal.
What is your favourite food memory?
I have two to share.
One of them is from a few years back when I took a food tour through Singapore. A few chefs from the US and Canada were invited by Singapore Trade to visit the country on an official culinary tour. Singaporean cuisine is an amazing mix of Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and Tamil influences. As part of the tour, we had this one meal on a beach, and the local chefs prepared a couple of signature Singaporean dishes. One was chili crab. Traditionally, Mud Crabs are used for these delicacies. The fresh crab was stir-fried in a sweet and savoury tomato chili sauce. The other dish was pepper crab, this is when the mud crabs are sautéed with loads of black pepper, oyster sauce and kecap manis. I can close my eyes and still smell and taste the flavours.
The other favourite food memory is similar to the chef’s tour that I did in Greece. Now, when you’re taken on an official food tour, the hosts always take you out for the very best food and it’s always their high end, Michelin star restaurants and not the simpler food of the regular people. While I was there, I met a local cook book author. So I asked her, hey, where would you want to go and eat, tell me so that I can go check it out.
She gave the name of a place, and it really took me a while to find it! From the outside, you would never even have known that it was a restaurant; it was just this tiny whole in the wall place. The owner was the chef, the waiter, the janitor and everything and he didn’t speak a word of English. It’s the kind of place where it doesn’t matter what you want to eat-he makes two or three dishes every day, and that’s what you eat. So that day, he had a chickpea dish and a calamari dish. They were perfectly executed, bursting with simple flavours and the marriage of herbs, spices and hint of tartness. They just had the perfect taste. In both these examples, the winner was “comfort food” – simple, perfectly executed and delicious. No frills and pomp, just yummy.
Do you have a special, secret ingredient that makes everything better?
Butter. Butter makes everything better. I prefer salted, but my favourite is clarified butter, which in Indian cuisine we call ghee. Here is another secret, to impress my guests at the dinner table, I like to churn my own butter, right in front of the guests – it is really simple… Take Heavy Cream (35%) in a mason jar. Close the lid tightly and shake, shake, shake vigorously until you see the solid separated from the liquid. Rinse the butter with running cold water, and voila, you have fresh butter. Isn’t that impressive?
Who or what inspired your love of cooking?
That would definitely be my mom. She’s an amazing cook and very passionate about food. I grew up in India, in a household where food was very important. Food was not only for mere sustenance, but it was the culture. I believe that you can really tell if people like you or not by the food they offer you and prepare for you. Growing up, I don’t remember a time where someone who drop by the house and there wasn’t fresh food to offer them. When I was young, we didn’t have a refrigerator and we didn’t get one till high school, so fresh food was made every day, just for that day.
Every morning, my dad used to wake up early, read his newspaper, have his cup of tea, and then head down to the market to buy fresh food and vegetables. He would then come back and give it to my mom, to cook the delicacies. Of course, there were restaurants where we lived, but that was a very rare treat, maybe once a month. The culture of food was always in my home when I was growing up, and that’s where I get my love for food.
If you could have a dinner date with anyone living or dead, who would it be?
That would definitely be Chef Anthony Bourdain. I’ve met him quite a few times before at events and he’s got a very interesting perspective on world foods. I’d love to get into his head and see the world through his eyes and even talk about the parts of Parts Unknown that had to be edited out! I have always respected him, he’s a real straight shooter. (PLEASE NOTE: This article was first published prior to the death of Chef Bourdain. Our sincere condolences to his family.)
If you could go to any country, live there for a few months and learn their cuisine, where would it be?
I would say I’d go back to India, back to my roots. One of the main reasons that I would want to go there is because there are so many different cultures, cuisines and flavours within the country. There’s so much there that is still unknown to me. I was born in the eastern part of India and grew up in the west, but in terms of northern, southern and central culture and cuisine, I haven’t even scratched the surface there. There’s so much more to learn. And that does not even include the “modern Indian cuisine”. Indian cuisine is rich in heritage and culture, and keeps growing and diversifying. There is so much to learn.
What is your idea of comfort food?
Comfort food to me is something that’s local and fresh, simple but delicious and executed properly and perfectly. So, this leads back to the food memories story. The chickpeas and the calamari I had in Greece, this is comfort food. It’s fresh and local and cooked right. The calamari was caught that morning. So the comfort is in knowing that it’s fresh. Similarly, I have a real love for another cuisine, Newfoundland food. I love the fresh, fish, seafood and the game meats; they are all foods that they literally get right from the back yard. It’s no frills, comfort food.
What is your favourite cooking utensil? The one you cannot live without?
I’d say my chef’s knife, no particular brand, just a proper, 10 inch chef’s knife, sharpened properly-that’s my comfort zone. A lot of people prefer other tools or knives but I love the big handle and the big blade, that’s the first thing I reach for in any kitchen that I’m in.
What are the top five things that everyone should learn how to cook?
The first one would be how to cook eggs, then how to properly cook, and not overcook things on a grill. Rice is another thing that’s important to learn, how to properly cook rice. Next would be soup – nothing beats a hearty soup. Just when you or your loved ones get under the weather, it is hearty soup to the rescue. So it is important to learn how to make it. It’s the ultimate comfort food.
Lastly, any one dessert of your choice – this is the “Dress to Impress” of your culinary repertoire. A good- looking, yummy dessert makes a lasting impression on everyone, so mastering at least one can will always get you great “brownie” points. I remember, when I was in high school, I learned the recipe for how to make a perfect chocolate mousse. In my early dating days, that chocolate mousse came in quite handy, when I needed to impress.
If you didn’t cook for a living, what would you do?
If I wasn’t a chef, I would be a politician. I’ve always been interested in politics. Food is very near and dear to my heart, but we can’t talk about food without talking about food insecurity. So for me food insecurity is not just a food issue, it’s a poverty issue, it’s a transit issue and it’s a high child care cost issue, it is a housing issue. It is my belief that a politician has the power to address these issues and can make a difference in the day to day life on people.