Nepali chef’s French connectionBringing French dishes to Kathmandu and incorporating techniques and flavours of both cuisines
Few cuisines in the world could be as poles apart as French and Nepali. While the French place great emphasis on complex techniques, Nepali food is characterised by familial cooking and a diverse range of spices.
But Rajeev Shrestha, executive chef at Aloft Hotel in Thamel, is all set to bridge this gap and introduce Kathmandu to fine dining, while incorporating the techniques and flavours of both cuisines.
“Traditional Nepali ingredients are brought to a new plane via French culinary technology,” says Chef Shrestha, who has had a lifelong infatuation with French food. “But I also want to blend French culinary elements into Nepali cuisine by incorporating wine pairings and creating ornate tasting menus.”
Born in Kathmandu, Shrestha began his career in hotels in Bangalore and Goa as a management trainee, gaining exposure to fine dining. Inspired by the epicurean delights, Chef Shrestha made the switch from management to gastronomy, seeking experiences and education that would enable him to realise his culinary dreams.
Starting out as a Chef de Partie, he gradually rose up through the ranks, gaining the experience and confidence to become a chef in his own right before returning home to Nepal.
Today, Shrestha is one of the leading figures in Neo-Nepali cuisine. And to mark the 75th year of the Nepal-France friendship in October, he was invited to the prestigious Toques en Chablais International Gastronomy Festival in France to demonstrate Nepali cuisine, making him the first Nepali chef to have done so.
The visit was a collaboration between Aloft Kathmandu, the Charles Baudelaire Institute, and the Nepal Academy of Tourism and Hotel Management. Shrestha not only presented the wonders of Nepali cuisine but also showed the extraordinary power of food to allow people to connect and bridge cultural differences.
The trip’s highlight was an interactive workshop led by Shrestha and attended by distinguished diplomats, French culinary students, and Michelin-starred chefs who were introduced to the intricacies of Nepali cooking techniques.
“A stand-out dish for both the European audience and myself was Yomari,” recalls Shrestha about the Newari delicacy filled with sweet molasses often shaped like a fish or a conch shell.
He adds: “There in France, Yomari became more than a dish but a gateway into not only Nepali cuisine but culture. The French were enthralled.”