The Suitable Chef

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Sous-Chef from Sunda – the gift shop of Hotel Windsor and the pandemic gives birth to ‘Ansari Indian’.

The rising star Nabil Ansari’s fifteen-hour butter chicken infused with apple or cherry wood of his choice of mood, taking this smoky bird to new heights enabling him to draw a line between fine dining and traditional recipes. Blending in his twist strictly traditional yet modern.

“You cannot write about me without tasting my food. I am the star that falls in your plate only to shine.”

The pandemic has definitely changed the future of dining, takeaways, and on the flip side -inventions of new business ideas. One such business venture is the Ansari Indian by Nabil Ansari – the recently promoted sous-chef this year at the two-hatted restaurant Sunda dining by Chef Khanh Nguyen.

Disclaimer, our new chef, is just ‘27’ years of age from Mumbai, Ghatkopar, who came to Melbourne in 2015. What really inspired me to write about Ansari was his passion, not giving up during this covid crisis and making his own survival journey. That is inspiring!

In March Nabil’s career came to a halt as Sunda’s new sous-chef due to restaurant’s being shut and that meant he was not eligible for job keeper. What did it mean to him? For Ansari, it meant going back to the drawing board. So, while he and his partner were figuring things out to pay their bills they ordered few takeaways and the next thing what he did was just unique. Not expecting anything he dropped a refined menu on his Carlton apartment block mailboxes. The magic of Indian food got him a couple of orders but then it turned to 30-45 covers and then a couple of weeks later he struck gold with 180 covers- from word of mouth. His takeaway menu from his apartment consists of Palak paneer, butter chicken, keema pav and fish.

Ansari Indian is now born and running from the kitchen of Hotel Windsor.
Let’s backtrack to this young man’s origin of food. Growing up to a catering family business in Saudi Arabia and then later moving to Dubai he was always surrounded by food. Always fascinated by his mother’s cooking all he wanted was to cook but then coming from an Indian family meant studies before everything. He completed his degree and then googled William Angliss, Melbourne in 2015. There was no looking back for Ansari from here. He tells within his two years of diploma all he wanted to do was to be diverse in his cooking and luck was on his side. Ansari was offered a job at the European in Spring Street. This is where he learned the nitty-gritty and the true pressure of the kitchen. It didn’t take him long to cross over to the opposite side of the street to Hotel Windsor. Here he was trained by the best fine dining chef Joel Alderson. Ansari did everything there, from room service to bar service and soon he began to create simple bar menus. But the word was soon going out as the hotel was launching Sunda dining and Khanh was exploring the idea of a new sous-chef.

Ansari and Khanh share the same palate and as they travelled together to Vietnam on research. This was the turning point for Ansari as he not only bonded with the Maestro but he learned the most important thing, that is to care about food, 100% commitment to the produce. It is no denying that he is the prodigy and a new kid that has so much to offer to the world of food.

Meanwhile, Ansari is popping up in newspapers around Melbourne about his food from Dumpukht Lamb Biryani that is inspired by the shepherd pie. The best thing in this biryani is you can eat the dough and relish the crisp biryani with pistachio and combination of other nuts.

I just couldn’t resist not reviewing the butter chicken, takeaway delivered by Ansari himself. As humble as his new stardom, I say. Well! My dinner was done. My lonely Sunday night muse – me and a bowl of butter chicken in lockdown 2.0. What can I say about this 15-hour butter chicken? Infused with cherry or apple wood smoke and slow-cooked overnight leaving the skin of the tomatoes to break and release the colour. Sometimes he uses ghee or vegetable oil, but it’s the technique of the applewood smoke that makes this butter chicken exotic. My mouth was tingling with love made by the woody smoke and the spices. The chicken just melted in the background. I made jeera rice to compliment the butter chicken but I just ate it as it is. So, in the back of my mind I was thinking as Ansari is making a bold statement with his butter chicken – watch it! I am saying not only the future of butter chicken is changing after the lockdown but it will be a whole new dimension for Indian food. As young Indians popping up giving it their own spin and certainly Ansari has embossed his own signature on the butter chicken. I recommend – must try.
It’s just not his curries or biryani but his ice creams are also something to ponder upon too. His father’s recipe for example Chai ice crème a concoction of ginger, cloves, cardamoms, and red label tea. The sorbet- a mix of guava, lime and Kashmiri chilli which is next on my list.

This was in June! Now as Sunda is opening on the 19th November Ansari goes back to becoming the sous-chef for Khanh Nguyen. I wondered what will be the future for Ansari Indian? As Ansari Indian will be serving its last meal as on the 8th November but saying that we can still continue to order Ansari’s ice-cream from Hotel Windsor Gift shop. Assuring me, Ansari Indian will be back in the future. As he wants to do pop up and private dining – cooking for a maximum of ten people. That’s saying, he tells me, something exciting is on the horizon – so watch this space.

He wants to thank everyone who has ordered from Ansari Indian during this lockdown making this experience one of a kind- almost shooting to stardom. This whole process has given him a new perspective on Indian food and taking it to the next level. Ansari says he has grown as a person with the Indian food.

As for this Sunda sous-chef, who has brought Mumbai to Melbourne, I ask him what the future is? He simply replies fine dining is not for him as he wants to continue with the authenticity of Indian flavours and keep the techniques as it is. I secretly believe Ansari Indian one day will be a mix of fine plating whilst maintain the traditional flavours.

As I dig into another spoonful of Ansari’s butter chicken for the last time I close my eyes and Mark twain comes to my mind – “The secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.”

By Nandita Chakraborty