It is not often that I get the opportunity to sit down and chat with the Head Chef at the establishment of which I am dining but I was recently invited to speak with Abhijit Dasalkar, Head Chef at The Greenway Hotel & Spa in Cheltenham, so I was very much looking forward to meeting him.
Although Abi only arrived at The Greenway about a year ago he is very much part of the Eden Hotel Collection family having spent seven years previously at two of the collection`s sister Hotels, The Arden Hotel in Stratford Upon Avon and Mallory Court Hotel & Spa in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire.
Mackerel: Oriental Cured Hackmen, Fermented Fennell, Wasabi Yogurt & Pickled Gooseberries.
I sat down with Abi after enjoying one of his finest breakfasts and began our conversation by asking him, “Why did you decide to pursue a career as a Chef?
“My mother was a cracking cook; she was my biggest influence when as a child I realised that I had a great passion for cooking. She simply loved cooking, there were always family & friends around the house enjoying her food. She would get up at two in the morning to prepare food & cook for everyone. She exposed me to a wide range of cooking, techniques, dishes & foods.
Caprese: Marinated garden Tomatoes, Burrata, Chilled Gazpacho & Basil
You could say that Cooking is in my genes. Growing up as a child in India, my mother was praised by many for her delicious flavours, the colours on her plate and the diligence she gave every home cooked meal. I wanted that kind of recognition, so I began to take a keen interest in cooking from a very early age. My tongue had enjoyed many different flavours as child. Because of my religion & culture I had enjoyed nothing but a pure vegetarian diet until I was twenty years of age, so I had never eaten or cooked meat. But because I had developed such a strong passion & interest in cooking, it was not an issue. I don’t like to do anything half-heartedly, so it was a bridge I had to cross to realise my dreams!
Pork Three Ways: Slow Cooked Pork Belly, Roast pork Fillet & Braised Pig Cheek, Mashed Potato, Apple Sauce , Garden Vegetables & Cider Jus
Abi graduated in Hotel Management over four years in India before moving to London where he gained a diploma in French Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu in 2004. He then moved on to Raymond Blancs Petit Blanc in Birmingham for four years and enjoyed a short spell at The Swan, Oxfordshire. Abi finally became a chef in 2004 and attained his first Head Chef role in 2012.
“ I am a very moody cook” said Abi, “ At home I like to prepare Indian dishes for the family, especially Chicken Dum Biryani, which is my favourite food to cook & eat! It is a one pot meal which has everything! Textures, aromas, tastes & flavours, it is a complete meal!
Rabbit Two Ways: Parmesan Wrapped Rabbit Saddle, Leg pie & Courgette Three Ways.
When I cook at home it is not what I would cook at work. I like to keep home & work separate. I don’t practise new dishes at home. I would come to Greenway very early in the morning or stay late in the evening to perfect any new dishes I was planning to add to the menu. I am not trained as a pastry chef; this may be a weak area of my expertise but if I were to choose something from the dessert menu it would have to be a dish with chocolate in it or I would choose from the cheese options.
Chocolate & Coffee: Chocolate Delice, Pastry Cigars filled with Tiramisu Mousse & Chocolate Soil
“ I love to cook a Beef Wellington, but I don’t really have a signature dish I would call my own. Gloucester pork belly is one of my favourite local ingredients to cook with. I would describe my cooking style as fresh, seasonal, bold, and authentic in flavour. The way in which I like to breakdown my menu is by including a couple of seasonal foods, one chocolate, one pudding and a cheese option but the most important aspect of a chef’s cooking is consistency, which is essential for the chef & the kitchen team
Cherry & Meadowsweet: Meadowsweet Mousse, Cherries, Chocolate Aero & Cherry Sorbet
Abi offered some advice to budding cooks like myself, “When cooking always use fresh seasonal ingredients, remember to taste regularly during cooking and do not be afraid to experiment.”
“I change the menu every three months to reflect the seasons and I work closely with the rest of my kitchen team; My Sous Chef was with me at Mallory Court, so we work very well together. We eat with our eyes, so colour is very important to me. After all presentation is everything! I don’t get much time to watch television, but I do love to watch MasterChef UK as it is more focussed on the food & chefs than the Australian, American & Indian versions. I tend to follow food trends by reading a lot of food magazines and watch the Staff Canteen YouTube channel which I think is very good because there are many Michelin chefs featured on the programmes.
I asked Abi, Currently there is a great deal of interest in food as evidenced by the number of food programmes on television, what would you say to a young person considering a career as a chef?
“ If you are really enthusiastic about making the grade as a chef, there is another side to the glamorous portrayal shown on television programmes. It is a job, the hours are long & vey unsociable and after you have stood peeling 5kg of onions the glamorous life of a chef might not appear so appealing, but if you really have a passion for food, it can be a hugely exciting, satisfying and rewarding career. If you are doing something you enjoy the long hours don’t always feel so bad. Look at it as a job first of all and your passion for food & cooking will help you enjoy your work. ‘Stay focused, always work hard and keep an open mind to current ideas. Always listen to your seniors and don’t try to run before you can walk.’
Besides the day to day running of the kitchen and all food operations Abi is also responsible for the training of his staff. “At Greenway I have inherited a young & enthusiastic group of people. I enjoy collaborating with them, instructing them, and seeing them grow & progress. That is a very rewarding & satisfying part of my work.
“Cooking is my passion; I would choose to be a chef over and over again.
Having enjoyed a wonderful meal in the Garden Room at The Greenway Hotel & Spa I am really looking forward to visiting again in the New Year when Abi & his team are planning to introduce a new six course tasting menu in the Brasserie. I am looking forward to enjoying a feast of Indian flavours!
You too can relish a 3 AA Rosette contemporary fine dining experience at their The Garden Room restaurant where you can enjoy their wonderful à la carte menus overlooking the stunning Cotswold Hills. Or why not dine in their Spa Cafe Brasserie with its chic interior décor, serving internationally inspired dishes? I found the table service to be discreet, knowledgeable and attentive without being intrusive, ensuring a memorable dining experience.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank both the Eden Hotel Collection for arranging for me to meet with Abi and to thank Abi for taking time out from his busy schedule to speak with me and to wish him all the best with his future career.