Dubai celebrity chef on experimental vegan cuisine
Akshay Nayyar tells us what drew him to creating unique vegan dishes and why the lifestyle is catching on fast.
Nearly 10 years ago, Akshay Nayyar arrived in Dubai with eyes full of dreams. Today, at 32, Akshay is a celebrity chef, a TV host, and an entrepreneur whose passion has led him to deliver scrumptious culinary works of art.
Apart from running restaurants in India and being the face of the Middle East’s biggest reality food show Foodshala, Akshay has also had the honour of serving India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Soon after Akshay travelled to the UAE, his success earned him another accolade — the most promising chef in the UAE by Chambers of Commerce, Government of India — at the India-UAE global summit 2016.
While Akshay specialises in modern Indian, Italian, Mexican and many other cuisines, his latest project involved elevating vegan food. It is no surprise that countless people are moving towards veganism because of the healthy lifestyle it promotes.
Akshay, whose formula involves exploring maiden recipes, has collaborated with Epitome restaurant in Dubai to deliver a chef’s table experience. Akshay exclusively curated a chef’s table menu that includes starters, main dishes, desserts and signature handcrafted cocktails and mocktails.
We speak to Akshay about his stance on veganism and how serving a global audience in Dubai helped further his career.
Many people are turning vegan now; what do you think drives people towards veganism?
There are two aspects to this: fashion and health. Some choose to be vegan as it’s trending all over the world with many celebrities endorsing this as a new diet plan. Others do it for better health and lifestyle. Choosing to be vegan is a great opportunity to learn more about food nutrition, understanding your ingredients like never before and trying out new recipes. To me, it’s improving your diet, lifestyle and food indulgences.
Getting your nutrients from plant sources allows more room in your diet and healthier options like whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables, which are packed full of beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals. Eating right while being a vegan and knowing all about your food is the golden rule.
As a celebrity chef, how do you plan to give veganism a personal touch?
I always believe in creating recipes and dishes that do not exist or have never been experimented with before. This is my prime responsibility towards the industry and my guests who are always looking forward to trying exclusive delicacies. Increasing vegan options with my menus that include dishes like Vegan Shrimptini and Turmeric & Sultana creamies gives me satisfaction and makes my vegan diners happy.
How has social media impacted your life as a chef?
Being a cook is my passion and being discovered as a ‘chef’ is my choice. Over the last decade, digital platforms have given me an opportunity to reach a broader audience and serve guests from across the globe. Compare the ’90s to the 2000s and we will realise the Herculean power of this digital transformation of the F&B Industry.
As a highly regarded chef in the region, how did you deal with the pandemic?
My father says ‘Don’t you worry, don’t you worry, child… See heaven has got a plan for you.’
The biggest thing that worked for me was ‘me time’. Planning what to do and what to leave helped me in framing a brighter future. Money can’t buy you time and I used this time right. I am blessed with a beautiful family with whom I could get some quality time.
Looking back at your career, would you have done anything differently?
I look back into each passing day of my life every day. I learn like I am still a culinary student, it boosts me to beat my own goals every day.
As Dubai is a major tourist destination, describe the experience of serving a global audience.
That’s exactly the beauty of this city; it’s a dynamic and versatile mix of gourmet diners from all over the world. People in Dubai are much more open to trying out a variety of cuisines, and they appreciate the evolution of the culinary world.
Describe a memorable moment in your career.
I recall two times serving the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi who was hosted by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, along with other ministers. I had planned a seven-course sit down pure vegetarian meal on both occasions. What an experience!
How has Dubai helped you in your career?
I was a 22-year-old boy who came here with my eyes full of dreams and Dubai welcomed me with open arms, appreciated what I wanted to do and made me what I am today. Having hosted a decade of food shows with 10 seasons on air of Foodshala, I can proudly say Chef Akshay without Dubai is just Akshay.
As a chef, how do you view Expo 2020 currently being hosted in Dubai?
I am thrilled to be a part of this as I see Expo 2020 bringing in 10 times more value to F&B Industry. And, with the recent launch of Epitome in Dubai, I promise to deliver that change.