Chef Vineet Bhatia creates Bollywood-inspired menu for IIFA Awards

Foodies can join celebrities in eating a menu of street food and classic Indian dishes with a glamorous twist at the W Abu Dhabi — Yas Island

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Sipa USA/REX/Shutterstock (5737702a)
Michelin-starred Chef Vineet Bhatia during an exclusive interview with ht48hours-Hindustan Times, at Ziya Restaurent in Oberoi, Nariman Point, in Mumbai
Vineet Bhatia photo shoot, Mumbai, India - 09 Jun 2016
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Vineet Bhatia, one of the two Indian chefs to have first led a Michelin-starred restaurant, has created 22 dishes for the International Indian Film Academy Awards.

While the Bollywood award ceremony is taking place at the Etihad Arena this Saturday, Bhatia’s a la carte menu is available for celebrities, hotel guests and the public to sample until Sunday at the W Abu Dhabi — Yas Island.

In a freewheeling chat, the chef talks to The National about creating food that is unique but can be enjoyed by all.

His collaboration with the awards is a case of life coming full circle, he says.

“The UAE is extremely close to my heart today, but that was not always the case," Bhatia says. "When I left India for the UK in 1993, I changed flights in Dubai. In those days, the waiting time was 11 hours, and they put us up at a hotel around Karama. I did not have the best experience — it was a hot May day, there was nothing to see or do and, unfortunately, I also got food poisoning. I thought to myself, I don’t think I will ever come back.”

Cut to 2004, and Bhatia was invited to the UAE to start a restaurant in the Grosvenor House, which was being built at the time. “I flew down from London, where I had settled by then, and I was amazed at the change," he says. "From the airport and roads to dining options, Dubai had transformed. I’ve had a connection with the UAE ever since, and my restaurant Indego by Vineet has been operating since 17 years.”

In February, the chef whipped up a meal for UK national day hosted by Expo 2020 Dubai to celebrate Prince William’s visit (in keeping with Bhatia's role as culinary ambassador for his adopted country), while creating a menu for the ceremony — “my first Bollywood award show” — further cements his connection to India.

Prince William dined on special dishes created by Bhatia at Expo 2020 Dubai. Getty Images; Antonie Roberston / The National

So what’s on the menu? Bhatia has categorised it as street food-inspired, from the tandoor, from the stew pot and from the halwai. He describes the dishes as “very Indian, but with a bit of Bollywood drama”.

For example, the golgappa chaat pairs typical streetfood pani puri with beetroot yoghurt, with the red signifying the flamboyance Bollywood is associated with. The methi roti comes stuffed with either cauliflower or fish tacos, and the tikki is made lighter with edamame as the base.

“We’ve taken out some of the heaviness of the dishes in their traditional form, and put in some glamour instead,” says the chef.

Other dishes include Indian favourites such as butter chicken, spinach saag, biryani, cumin pulao and paneer tikka. For dessert, Bhatia is offering guests a traditional malai kulfi and a cheesecake made with India’s national fruit, the mango.

“It sounds simple, because we keep the classics, yet add an element of surprise," he says. "The idea is for guests to go home with the feeling of a memorable meal, which happens to be Indian.

"I want Indian food to be comparable to the best cuisines around the world.”

When it comes to superlatives, Bhatia knows a thing or two. Not only was he one of the first Indian chefs to have a restaurant win a Michelin star, but he’s also a proponent of the Michelin Guide coming to Dubai — which it finally will this June.

Speaking about whether the guide will come or not in 2015, Bhatia previously told The National: "I remember saying there's not much here that deserves a star. Now, lots of chefs are coming in. Standards have gone up. There is so much happening, it’s just a matter of time before Michelin looks at it."

Today, Bhatia says: “Dubai has been ready for the guide for some time now. It brings a lot of pressure, but if chefs are dedicated to their craft, are honest and do things from the heart, the acclaim will come.”

However, Bhatia says he’s never fretted over industry accolades. “A Michelin star is basically a pat on the back for doing things well and pushing the boundaries," he says. "But the pressure of being evaluated does not give me sleepless nights, because I will continue doing what I love best — feeding people memorable Indian food.

“It’s like the IIFA, whether artists get an award or not, they will not stop making movies. Whether it is the film industry or the food industry, the show must go on.”

Scroll through the gallery to see the Bollywood celebrities arriving in Abu Dhabi.

Updated: June 02, 2022, 9:20 AM