How do you cook something you are allergic to? Chef Dhaval Ajmera explains

Chef Dhaval Ajmera

Chef Dhaval Ajmera | Picture: Arkadev Ghoshal/Times Of Food

Dhaval Ajmera found himself in a quandary when he first realised back in 2004 that he was allergic to shellfish: It could put paid to his career as a chef!

However, Ajmera was not about to give up. Over the years, he has devised his own methods to cook prawns — often a signature when it comes to the fine-dine experience.

On Saturday, December 15, he opened up to Times Of Food on how he goes about a seemingly impossible task.

The difficulties

The odds were stacked against Ajmera to begin with. For starters, he is a Gujarati, and had been a vegetarian until his profession compelled him to expand his horizons.

Ajmera, who currently works as executive chef at ITC-owned WelcomHotel in Bengaluru and its newly-opened restaurant Mahjong Room, first found out he was allergic to shellfish when he tasted it at the age of 22.

As we have mentioned above, this was back in 2004. Since then, he has used his culinary knowledge and also developed a system to ensure that he can deliver the best prawn and seafood dishes his that discerning clientele demand.

And he has proof at hand for it! He recently managed to cook a full meal — including three-four seafood dishes — for a group of guests at his current place of employment, and the feedback for it was excellent!

Even this reporter can vouch for the quality of the seafood, having partaken of it at a bloggers’ table at Mahjong on Saturday, December 15.

Sesame Prawns, by Chef Dhaval Ajmera. | Picture: Arkadev Ghoshal/Times Of Food

The Dhaval Ajmera formula

So how is it that Chef Dhaval Ajmera manages to rustle up delectable seafood without even tasting it?

One part of the secret is culinary knowledge. According to Ajmera, learning how a recipe will translate to on the plate is something chefs learn over time.

The second is the senses. “The eyes and nose play as much a role in evaluating food as the tongue,” explained the young chef.

“We eat with all three of these senses. That is why people often cannot recognise food or flavours in blind tastings,” he said.

The third and final part of the secret is feedback. Every time Ajmera cooks a seafood dish, he serves it to multiple people, and then uses their feedback to improve the dish.

Of course, sometimes people give very vague feedback. Ajmera recalled the time when someone tasted a dish and simply said: “Punch nahi aa raha.” Meaning, the dish lacked punch.

It is at this juncture, he said, that the chef has to use all of his or her expertise to guesstimate from the response exactly what is lacking in the dish and how to improve it. Not an easy task, but Ajmera seems to be managing it quite well!

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