Every guest at the Hard Rock hotel, Goa can attest to one unanimous fact; that this proud member of the global family does the brand proud. However, when the chips are down, there exists a team of rock stars working behind the scenes, to whip up the tantalizing five-star cuisine, lip-smacking cocktails and awe-inspiring desserts that make the Hard Rock experience what it is. At the forefront of the culinary wing, stands the Kurt Cobain de la cuisine, Head Chef Arun Vats.
Coming as an unexpected twist to the story, Arun never originally dreamt of donning the chef’s hat at any point in his early life. In his mind’s eye, a younger Arun envisioned himself in the proud khaki fatigues of the Indian army, a rifle in hand, rather than a carving knife. However, as fate would have it, life had other plans for this bright lad, and it brought him to a battlefield better suited to his capabilities, the kitchen.
A second passion of his, though second to none, food now began to take centre stage in Arun’s life. A voracious foodie without equal, Arun’s fascination with the culinary arts began from an early age, as his grandmother cooked up a storm before his eyes every day. His parents, additionally, did nothing to dowse this growing flame within him, as each of them was a chef in their own right. His father, who had a uniquely developed sense of taste, as well as his mother, who would compete with him to plate up a better dish, only fanned the flames that would one day lead their son to his true calling. Dish by dish, his taste buds became acquainted with the finer details of the craft and his epicurean journey began.
After completing his formal education, Arun went forth to enrol at the prestigious IHM, Gurdaspur in Punjab, one of the top 3 institutes for culinary studies in the country. As he persevered through his course, he enjoyed the way the institute and its teachers challenged him constantly and delivered the ideal content for him to absorb and add to his skill set. It was here that his hard work and tireless efforts earned him his professional degree and he donned his toque blanche as a full-fledged chef.
As a chef, Arun has always enjoyed a good challenge, both from his peers, himself and the constant one he wages against his idols on a global scale. He, in particular, strives to fight on equal footing with the likes of Chef Marco Pierre White, Chef Massimo Bottura, Chef Heston, Chef Rene Redzepi, Chef Vineet Bhatia, Chef Atul Kochar, Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Gaggan Anand, Chef Aron, Chef Magnus Nilsson, Chef Dan Barber, Chef Grant Achatz, Chef Francis Mallmann, Chef Alain Passard and Chef Jiro Ono. Aside from their achievements, what he admires about their work is how they have taken the gourmet experience to another level entirely, a feat he endeavours to bring to the table every day.
A good distance away from the master chef kitchen, however, Chef Arun, began humbly, doing odd jobs in his places of employment. He would undertake the smaller jobs in the kitchen that most would shy away from, yet it was these mundane tasks that would later propel him further in his career. Where most would see an uneventful, menial assignment, Chef Arun took joy in his work and learned the finer details of preparing overlooked food items and side dishes entirely from scratch, such as French fries, tomato concasse and a wide range of sauces.
As time went on, Chef Arun moved up the ranks steadily, earning himself a name and reputation for delivering innovative dishes of the highest calibre. His climb eventually brought him to the kitchens of Goa’s premier tourist hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel, Goa, where his brilliant style and attention to detail raised him to the rank of Head Chef.
As a stickler for perfection, Chef Arun believes that in any cuisine, the freshness of the ingredients is of pivotal importance. This belief is one that can be witnessed first-hand by all who sample his cooking. Among his favourite styles, you will find that he leans more towards Mediterranean, French and Italian, owing to their adherence to using garden-fresh ingredients.
Known to experiment greatly with different ingredients and cuisines, Chef Arun confesses to enjoying the subtle art of rustic cooking above most others, as he is partial towards the little innovations and subtleties in flavour, perceivable to the trained palate. Among the top of his signature dishes is Ceviche, a Peruvian novelty dish made from raw fish cured in citrus juices. A distant cousin to it, Tuna Tartar joins the dish at the top of the list, made with raw tuna and his special blend of seasonings. Duck Confit or Confit de Canard is yet another feat of culinary skill that not many can attest to accomplishing, other than Chef Arun, of course. To him, however, the dish that takes the cake every time is Pan Seared Scallops with green pea puree, nutty butter, caramelized shallots and pumpkin chips. A surprisingly intricate dish, hard to remember, and near impossible to master is yet another feather proudly adorning this chef’s tall hat. On a more local scale, he is deeply familiar with Goan cuisine and revels in taking a unique stab at traditional dishes, so as to add more zest to the Goan palate. His research goes so far as to say that there exists a remarkable difference between North and South Goan dishes, each drawing inspiration from its villages, each having its own story to tell.
Far from being restricted to traditionalism, this versatile chef has delved into molecular gastronomy in the past as well. He reveals that there is a great deal more to it than meets the eye and that it requires a fair share of patience to pull off. Each element that goes into a molecular dish requires precision and a technical mind as, in his professional opinion, the culinary canvas extends beyond the plate. In many ways, Chef Arun hopes to extend his culinary prowess beyond even the reach of his kitchen, by passing on the knowledge he’s garnered over the years to the underprivileged in the future.
Life has its own plans for each of us. Though wrought with its own share of ups and downs, one slightly different turn may have led Chef Arun to the front of a war zone, instead of the back of a kitchen counter. A great deal of passion and commitment goes into either career, so it’s safe to assume that Chef Arun may have made a good fit as an army officer as well. Though, after experiencing the surreal dining experience he dishes out at The Hard Rock Hotel first-hand, I’m definitely not complaining.