Shahzad Bhathena, the former head chef and R&D chef at the Indian Summer Restaurant in Colombo, is a budding global icon at just 24 years of age! Leading the team at Indian Summer is just one of his many accolades and accomplishments. Shahzad has gained experience at Michelin star restaurants in various parts of the world and is currently in Santa Monica, USA. We had a chat with Shahzad about his passion and profound journey in the culinary arts and the hospitality industry.
- Give us a short introduction about yourself.
I am Shahzad and I was born and raised in India. I moved to Bahrain a few years later and I started my professional career as an apprentice at The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bahrain. I worked across multiple restaurants stationed in the hotel, cooking a variety of cuisines and catering for large-scale functions and weddings as well. I later left for Spain to complete my bachelor’s degree in Hospitality, where I graduated with honours and distinction from Les Roches Institute of Hospitality in Marbella.
- Were you always inspired by the culinary arts? What was your inspiration behind starting your career in the culinary arts?
If my memory serves me right, I always loved food ever since I was a kid. I grew up with my grandparents, who were both fantastic cooks. I was always intrigued by them and was inquisitive as to how they made simple ingredients taste so good; I would always end up sneaking into the kitchen to get a peek or two while they would cook. Eventually, my grandmother started teaching me how to cook; she taught me recipes passed down from one generation to another. And once I was cooking in the kitchen, there was no turning back, and I knew that this was what I wanted to do. I used to spend all my free time in the kitchen, trying new recipes, and eventually, the kitchen turned into my safe haven. Cooking was what I would do to relieve stress. Furthermore, as I grew up, I came to realize that the culinary arts embody a much broader spectrum of activities than what people believe. It provided me with a platform to explore my creativity while simultaneously doing something I love!
- Which restaurants have you worked at throughout your career of being a chef?
My professional career started when I was an apprentice at The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Bahrain. Afterwards, I went on to work as a Stagiaire at ‘Benu’ in San Francisco, which is amongst the 50 best restaurants in the world and is also the recipient of 3 Michelin stars. After my stage at Benu, I was offered the opportunity to gain further experience at their sister restaurant, ‘In Situ’, located at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. In Situ had also received 1 Michelin star, and I worked there for roughly a year. During the pandemic, I worked as the Head Chef and R&D chef at Indian Summer Restaurant in Sri Lanka. During this time, I spearheaded the launch of a new restaurant called Global Kitchen. Meanwhile, I also carried out a consultancy role for the restaurant 343 Degrees North in Nigeria. Currently, I am at Mélisse in Santa Monica, a restaurant that has been awarded 2 Michelin stars!
- How would you describe your experience working at Michelin Star restaurants?
I learned so much from working at Michelin star restaurants, and I was really able to polish my skills and push myself out of my comfort zone to deliver what’s expected of me every day. The quality of the service at Michelin Star restaurants is top-notch, so everyone in the kitchen is extremely disciplined, focused and hardworking. I was also able to put my creativity to the test when experimenting with various flavors and plating dishes in unique ways.
- Tell us about your journey being the Head Chef of the Indian Summer restaurant in Sri Lanka?
It was definitely a very challenging role for me as I was moving into a managerial position at a young age, and I had to learn how to work with people who were twice my age. But the challenge is what made the journey worthwhile and successful.
- What is the Global Kitchen and what is the idea behind this street food concept?
The idea of Global Kitchen came to me one evening while I was eating at the food stalls by the beach at Galle Face in Colombo. I noticed that the presence of street food from different parts of the world was missing at these stalls and that people were not aware of it. Thus, I came up with the concept for a restaurant which would collectively serve the best street food from different parts of the world! Global Kitchen is currently located in Kandy.
- What is the creative process like when you develop recipes and experiment with different flavors?
The creative process is not as beautiful as how the final dish turns out. There are always ups and downs, and many times, you need to go back to the drawing board and brainstorm to get things together. But the trial and errors are what help in the creative process. It all starts from an idea, and seeing that idea come to life is the most satisfying feeling for any artist or, in this case, chef!
- Tell us about the 343 Degrees North restaurant in Nigeria and its significance?
343 degrees North is a restaurant which provides a unique experience like no other place does in Nigeria. Dining and visiting the restaurant is almost like making a statement and embarking upon a journey for an unforgettable experience. Being a consultant, I tried to create a menu that would not only suit the local food palette but also work in perfect harmony with the vibe and atmosphere of the restaurant.
- What is one of the most valuable lessons that you have learnt during the span of your career in the culinary industry so far?
I would say that the most valuable lesson I have learned is that there are no shortcuts to getting to the top in the culinary industry. You have to be prepared and willing to put in the hard work and long hours to get to the highest level. And having a great mentor during this process is essential since you will pick up those habits and practices early on in your professional career. As long as there is passion, the sky is the limit in this industry.
- What is the future like for Shahzad? What are some future goals that you are working towards achieving?
I’m currently under the guidance and mentorship of Ian Scaramuzza at Mélisse in Santa Monica. We have already received 2 Michelin stars, and my team and I are pushing ourselves on a daily basis to gain the ultimate accolade of the culinary world, 3 Michelin stars!