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Meet Akanksha Dean, the first Indian to train under chef Massimo Bottura

Curiosity in culinary arts began through Sunday meals I prepared with my Chef father, says Akanksha

Surbhi Gloria 

Akanksha Dean trained under chef Massimo Bottura
Akanksha Dean, at the Parmigiano Reggiano

Delhi girl has just completed a 3-week internship in Modena, Italy, at the three Michelin-starred Osteria Francescana. What makes this even more special is that she had the chance to train under the most celebrated chef She also happens to the first Indian to train at Francescana. 

A little background on Bottura - the king of Modena. His three-Michelin-star restaurant Osteria Francescana won No. 1 in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016 and came in at No. 2 at this year’s awards. Since then, it has become a culinary tour de force. Most recently his restaurant was featured on the new season of the much loved food-centric show, Master of None. 

In a conversation with Business Standard, shares her unique experience.

Q1.How did you get into cooking?

Food, I believe comes full circle, thanks to my family’s deep culinary traditions with my mother being a food and travel writer and father being a chef. It is in my genes. I realised there is nothing else I can do. My curiosity in culinary arts was ignited at a young age through the Sunday meals I prepared with my Chef father. Having had the opportunity to do some globetrotting owing to travelling for cuisine and culture being common ground for the family, I have ( If I may add humbly) built quite a refined palate of my own. Travelling for local food and culture has taught me to develop a completely original perspective on everything, by rewarding innovation and fresh thinking.

Q2. You are the first Indian to train at the world’s best restaurant. What was your experience like? How did you get in?

My experience was extraordinary, never in my life have I come across a kitchen like chef Massimo’s. It is absolutely world class, the is exceedingly organised, everything takes place in an efficient manner. The Kitchen team is exceptionally warm and friendly - it is like one big family under one roof. You absolutely do not feel the pressure of working in a 3-michelin star kitchen, because there is such a positive work environment around you …It isn’t a wonder Chef has managed to make “Osteria Francescana” the world’s best.

I really attuned myself to the workings of a kitchen, read a lot, worked hours in the kitchen to master my practical knowledge. To stand in front of such culinary maestros and be cooking with them in the same kitchen meant I had to really up my game. I left nothing to chance and worked really hard in the months preceding my selection.

Q3. What’s the famous Massimo like?

Chef is no ordinary chef. His creations elicit admiration from critics and the public alike and for good reason; they are unique in concept and execution – quite simply, you won’t find anything else quite like it in the World; He is one of a kind...A true inspiration for chefs across the world. He is passionate towards what he does and is meticulous at the same time; all his recipes that are produced in the restaurant are vastly exceptional. He is a chef who doesn’t mind sharing his knowledge. Rather than keeping it to himself, he believes in educating his staff and encourages them to play with their creativity to come up with new dishes. A recent addition to the menu was the “Tiramisu Soufflé”, that was created by my friend Edward, which Massimo absolutely loved, and said that it was the best Souffle he has ever had.

Akanksha Dean with Chef Massimo Bottura
Chef Massimo Bottura

Q4. Do you have a speciality dish? Do you prefer a particular style of cooking? 

No, I don’t have any specific speciality dish, I enjoy making all kinds of food, but yes, I do prefer the Japanese style of cooking. I find it simple yet complex at the same time. I love the use of fresh ingredients that take place in this fascinating cuisine. Kondo Takahiko fondly known, as “Taka” senior chef in Chef Massimo’s kitchen, has been a major source of inspiration, to experiment with Japanese food, I remember him coming up with a unique Japanese dish that was inspired by Mexican flavours.

Q5. What are your plans for the future?

I have been selected for Marriott’s global leadership training program ‘Voyage’. So I look forward to my 18-month specialised Culinary program with the Marriott which is an interesting mix of On The Job and Class Room Training and learning through a Mentor. I aim to evolve as a dedicated and professional Junior Sous Chef at the end of the program. After my orientation at the JW Marriott Juhu in Mumbai on July 17, I start my culinary Voyage at the JW Marriott Hotel Aerocity. So it’s a lot of learning from now on.

Akanksha Dean with her family

Q6. Despite huge changes in kitchen culture, very few professional chefs in the world are female. Is its reputation for being a tough, male-dominated job still putting women off – or is that image unfair?

I feel this image is absolutely unfair! Ana Ros put Slovenia on the World Gastronomy map. Dominique Crenn runs successful restaurants in San Francisco. Having trained under Chef’s like Alain Ducasse Chef Helene Darroze is known to be the inspiration behind the Colette character of the famous film Ratatouille. Elena Arzak is the joint head chef of restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian in Spain. Who hasn’t heard of Julia Child, Ritu Dalmia, Nigella Lawson, Cat Cora…just to name a few!! Need I say more?

Akanksha Dean with her mother and father
with her father and mother

Q7. Who is your inspiration when it comes to cooking?

My inspiration has always been my father Chef Bakshish Dean when it comes to cooking.


First Published: Tue, August 01 2017. 09:30 IST