“There is something magical about the hospitality industry; you are part of this beautiful thing which keeps the circle of life moving.”
An Executive Chef specialising in simple, clean and precise cooking, The Wordrobe meets Sameer Taneja of Michelin-starred Benares in Mayfair
What inspired you to become a chef?
I’m originally from Delhi in India and this is where I first developed an interest in food. I was academically challenged as a student, and a degree was mandatory, so I decided to explore culinary arts as a qualification at Mangalore University on India’s South West Coast.
I actually never planned to be a cook nor was it a hobby, it came about by accident, and I now consider it one of best decisions of my life! I have always looked up to Chef Pierre Koffman – my mentor! Cooking is a religion for him rather than a job and his presence in the kitchen is amazing.
Where did you train? Tell us more about your culinary background…
My first job, prior to moving to the UK in 2003, was at the Rajvillas Jaipur, India – part of Oberoi Hotel Group. After that I moved to the UK and worked with luminaries such as Pascal Proyart of One-O-One Restaurant (2003-2009); Michel and Alain Roux of three Michelin-starred Waterside Inn (2009-2010); Joel Antunes of Brasserie Joel (2010-2011) and Pierre Koffmann of Koffmann’s (2011-2012) where I gained my skills and techniques in classical French and Indian cuisine that I now use in my dishes at Benares.
You’ve cooked at a lot of major and high profile events. Do you have any favourites?
I have cooked in many events. However, there isn’t an event I can single out as a favourite, as all events are equally important for me, regardless of their profile and demographic.
What’s your favourite summer dish?
One dish very close to my heart is a refreshing Porlock Bay Oyster and Cured Seabream Chaat – perfect for summer! It brings joy to my tastebuds, and reminds me of my mother’s cooking, as well as my travels. I enjoy cooking with fish in summer – whether it’s baked, steamed, cured or simply fried with lemon, served alongside lighter, spring baby vegetables.
What can guests expect from a meal at Benares?
Our ethos at Benares is entirely produce-led – to use the best quality, natural and sustainable ingredients in dishes which are grounded in tradition but create excitement on the plate. Guests can experience innovative Indian food containing the freshest ingredients in our Tasting Menus, A La Carte or Set Menus.
Describe your cooking style in three words.
Simple, clean and precise.
What does hospitality mean to you?
There is something magical about the hospitality industry; you are part of this beautiful thing which keeps the circle of life moving. What you see on a plate at a restaurant not only reflects the food itself, but also the traditions, the culture, and emotions of the country. Hospitality allows so many people to come together and celebrates difference and diversity.
Name your three favourite restaurants.
That’s a tough call – there are so many brilliant restaurants. But, to name a few, Daastan, Sabor and Cornerstone.
What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs?
Push, push, push and repeat (but always with a smile!) Be continuously hungry for more, document every recipe and, most importantly, handle criticism well.
What do you think will be 2022’s biggest food trend?
Moringa – the new superfood gaining a lot of popularity. Originally used as a herbal remedy in India, often in South Indian kitchens, the leaves are very nutritious and can be used in powder form, thus easily added to dishes. On the A La Carte menu at Benares, we’ve developed a Moringa Marinated Celeriac which is packed full of flavour!
Finally, what’s next on the cards?
We are continually looking at ways to challenge ourselves and think progressively when it comes to our menu and offering. I’m particularly proud of a new dish we have on the menu – a Tandoori Poached Egg on English Green Pea Khichdi – which will soon be published in a book! (The Great Indian Khichdi by Flavel Montiero). We look forward to continuing to innovate throughout 2022 with interesting flavours and concepts.