Chef Varun Inamdar shares his interesting career journey and the many highlights that have positioned him as one of the country’s best known chocolatiers By Sudipta Dev
India’s celebrity chocolatier Chef Varun Inamdar has many unique achievements to his credit – from the creation of India’s first lifesize edible chocolate mannequin to be appointed as the Cocoa Brand Ambassador by the government of Ecuador. Interestingly, he reveals that some of the most important milestones of his career journey was unplanned for and the opportunities came to him on their own.
An Oberoi Centre of Learning & Development (OCLD) alumnus, Chef Inamdar started his career with The Oberoi Group. “With OCLD, I travelled to Delhi, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Agra, Udaipur, Jaipur, and other places,” he says. He worked at The Trident and Oberoi Hotel at Nariman Point, Mumbai for nine years. Then he went to Kuwait to work for the royal family there for a year and a half. Revealing more about his tenure there he mentions, “We also opened a few cafes and pastry shops for them and a perfumery. The name of the perfumery was The Fragrance Kitchen, I was told to just concentrate on the flavour combinations. We took the sheikh’s grandmother’s recipes and created the perfumes. It had nothing to do with me and my forte but we managed. Then we opened a pastry shop called 21 Karats, which was unique because it went beyond food – we had perfumes on sale and clothes (by the biggest artists and fashion designers of the Gulf). In the Gulf they want to see grandeur – they will not settle for five to 10 pastries, they want 200 pastries from which they will select the best. And the portions are huge. Their biggest forte is that they do not think of cost, it is not a barrier for them.” He admits that as a chef anywhere else in the world, cost is a barrier that is always there in the mind.
Chef Inamdar returned to India because he wanted to do something of his own. Revealing how his career took an interesting turn and he became a writer by chance, he says, “I opened a Facebook page, and did a whole trail of restaurants in Colaba and wrote about it. I got a call from a publisher in Chennai for a food magazine, followed by a call from BBC to write for them. Later, I was approached by a magazine in Durban, South Africa to do food writing for them.” However, he soon realised that writing (like a journalist) was not his true calling, and he started promoting chocolates as a medium as he had expertise in the field. “I started taking workshops which became quite a rage as people started coming for my name. I did not realise for sometime that I had created a niche for myself. I started getting invitations from food studios who asked me to curate menus for them. People started using terms like Master Chocolatier, then television programmes happened,” he points out, acknowledging that he had not taken a planned route for his career progression.
“I get good opportunities as a chef and brilliant opportunities as a chocolatier as well. I dabble well between both. The YouTube show, The Bombay Chef where I am a hardcore chef, gets a phenomenal response in terms of viewership, subscriptions and comments,” he says reminding that when he started working as a chocolatier, India was not ready to absorb a lot of experimental flavours, but now the trend has changed. “Today you can give people something as random as black cardamom to taste with chocolate and they will lap it up. With Barcode, the chocolate range that I have launched, we have created an amazing range – from Banaganapalli mangoes and Teja chillis which is particular to Guntur district in Andhra Pradesh and people have started taking a liking for it. India has more than 80,000 varieties of mangoes, people know only a few variants.” Barcode is artisanal chocolate, which is 100 per cent egg free. He has just launched Volume 1, including states like Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Sikkim, Jharkhand, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. Flavours have been taken from these regions, e.g. kinnow and ajwain from Punjab. “There is a story behind it – it is not a random flavour. Kinnow was the first crop grafted by Punjabi farmers, there is history to it that nobody knows. We paired it with an indigenous spice like ajwain. It is an unheard of flavour,” he explains. These are single origin chocolates – from Equador, Ghana, Java, Belgium and other places.
Chef Inamdar is currently moving his entire operations to Gujarat because of better logistics and distribution. He wants to tie-up with Incredible India and the state tourism boards to ensure that these chocolates with unique Indian flavours reaches Indian embassies abroad. While Barcode is for classes, he wants to launch a new range of chocolates for the masses.
The chef has been the Cocoa Brand Ambassador for Ecuador since 2014. He is also associated with universities like Central Plantation Crops Research Institute (CPCRI) near Kasaragod in Kerala. He keeps going there to understand what is happening in the world of cocoa in India. “The breed here is Nigerian by origin so what is grown here is not Indian but Nigerian. As a common man we just open the wrapper and eat it, but there is so much that goes behind the little piece of chocolate. Whatever I get to know internationally I tell them and visa versa, for instance the Malaysian Cocoa Board has developed a formula to eradicate cocoa pests. It is a serious problem as the cocoa plant has a lot of pests.”
Chef Inamdar still considers himself a hardcore chef. “For this reason I do sometimes gala dinners like a recent one with Vikas Khanna for Smile Foundation and Virat Kohli Foundation,” he avers.