In Conversation With Chef Hemant Oberoi of Yantra!

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He is a kitchen superstar, not a regular one at that. He has served the likes of Hilary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Barack Obama and Angelina Jolie. Talking to him is like walking through an era of delectable Indian food history. You can spend hours listening to the anecdotes of where the recipes originated from  and drooling over the pictures of the food he has created.

We met with Chef Hemant Oberoi, the 62 year told chef who started his career with Taj and became the hospitality chains chief chef, over a hot cup of coffee. He only retired early last year from Taj and now is the head honcho chef at Yantra by Hemant Oberoi in Singapore. He showed us what is new at Yantra.

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What have you changed about Yantra?
Everything about the restaurant has been changed – from the decor to the menu. The way food is served, what food is served, the taste and a lot of other small things have been changed for experiential dining. The regulars of Yantra would know, we changed the entrance too.

The new menu features dishes, flavours and elements from all over India made with spices flown in from the country.

I am very particular about the spices I use. There are particular masalas that have to come from those very place. No compromise on that. Like the chilli has to come from Raja chilli’s from Nagaland. I make sure the aam-papad is made by one particular vendor in Mumbai, the black chaat masala from another in Delhi and no one else. I do not sacrifice even 1% for real taste / flavours. Some of these vendors are the same back in Taj and some relationships are new.

The new menu at Yantra features my creativity and incorporates unconventional ingredients such as edamame and quinoa, and also features creative dishes such as tandoori avocado and chicken tikka fondue to suit Indian taste buds. For the ones who cannot dine without the conventional, there are also the usual dal makhni, biryanis and chicken or paneer dishes, only better than any other place in Singapore.

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I spend a lot of time in presentation too. You can’t ignore the miniature of chairs we have created to serve papdi chaat. There are small aam papads on it acting like leather and then there is a papdi.

I say one should also try the ghee roast chicken. The recipe is from 1930’s, we dug it from a book in Coimbatore’s library. The recreated the same recipe keeping the traditional flavours, but making the presentation contemporary.

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Heard of keema pav, vada pav, how about crab pavs? We are working on that. So the creativity has gone very deep

We have also done a chaat trolley and a barbeque corner. There is a beautiful alfresco dining set up and hosting events.

You have to come and try this place out again to know the difference. It is a destination in itself.

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His food story is not limited to just cooking the food or serving it on usual tableware. He find the perfect tableware for his dish and if not that, he gets it created. Like the tiny kadhai serving prawns, small chairs to serve papdi chaat with aam papad, the biryani glass container which not only is used to serve but to cook it too, or the baingan bharta container in shape of a brinjal. He says he don’t want to compromise on that too.

This is because he doesn’t want dining at his restaurant to be a boring affair. He says, when 4 different people order different dish, each order should look different. One should feel wow.

Thepla Tacos, Chicken nuggets with a fondue – the names excite us and so does the presentation. The combination of ingredients, the taste and the presentation is a treat for mind, tongue and eyes alike.

We have the prefect excuse for you to dine at Yantra by Hemant Oberoi – The Diwali buffet from 28-30th October. The menu features over 50 dishes for Diwali celebration over dinner. Vegetarians – you won’t be shortchanged, about half of the dishes are vegetarians. And with SGD 59+, we say it is a steal.

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Urbandesis

We are a bunch of desis, very much like you, who moved to this urban land and are trying to call it home. For us too, it doesn’t matter which part of the world we go, we carry our desi likes and dislikes with us. We explore, like and love all things new, but cherish and miss the old. We do not stop by the temple so often now, but we still close our eyes and silently pray as we pass by. We explore, travel, evolve and make new friends but we stay close to our roots and loved ones. We love pizzas and satays, but nothing matches the tandoori tikkas and idli dosai from back home. We are busier in our lives than ever before, but we never miss celebrating weddings and festivals in our own grand style. This is us – you and me – Urbandesis!

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