Nepali chef Basant Ghimire is used to long days. His alarm is usually set for 5:45 a.m., ahead of his lengthy-but-scenic drive from downtown Ras Al-Khaimah up to the peak of Jebel Jais, where he works as head chef at the UAE’s highest restaurant, 1484 by Puro.
Standing 1,484 meters above sea level — hence the name — the eatery offers diners the chance to eat surrounded by breathtaking views of rocky Arabian canyons, akin to the mountainous landscape of Morocco or Arizona.
“The view (motivates me). We have to make the best for this place,” Ghimire tells Arab News.
Ghimire’s 10-year culinary career actually began in Saudi Arabia, and has since led him to Qatar, and even briefly to Osaka, Japan, where he worked as a sous-chef, preparing Japanese-Italian fusion cuisine, before he came to the UAE in 2016.
Here, Chef Basant talks about childhood cooking memories, offers advice for amateurs, and provides a recipe perfect for those with a sweet tooth: A chocolate brownie with pecan nuts. “It’s comfort food,” he says. “If there is one universal aspect of eating, it is the pleasure and comfort it gives.”
Q: What’s your earliest food memory?
A: My mom was always the (main) influence on my life, career, and cooking. When I was young, she used to own and manage a village guest house, where I used to assist her in the kitchen, preparing the daily meal — a simple yet delicious Nepali Thali.
When you started out as a professional, what was the most-common mistake you made?
I think I would say, not tasting the food while cooking. As chefs, we have to taste the dish before it goes to the table, to make sure it’s well-balanced.
What one ingredient can instantly improve any dish? (And why)
I would say salt. Simple as it is, salt can make or break a dish. It can enhance the flavor with the right amount, but too much or too little can ruin the dish.
Are you a disciplinarian in the kitchen? Do you shout a lot? Or are you more laidback?
I’m quite strict about the taste, ingredients, kitchen hygiene and personal hygiene, but I don’t shout at the staff. I wouldn’t call myself a disciplinarian, but I’m quite strict for two reasons: I want every member of the culinary team to learn the discipline necessary for the job and I want to make sure that the end product will truly satisfy our clients.
Speaking of clients, what customer behavior most annoys you?
I don’t (get annoyed by customers). Sometimes, when it comes to a simple dish like pasta, you offer different sauces and people have so many requests: “I want this and this..” When it’s very rushed, that can cause complications in the kitchen. But we always have to please; it’s because of the guests that we’re here.
What’s your favorite dish to cook and why?
Braised lamb in various Nepali spices. It’s a childhood favorite that my mom prepares for special occasions. I love cooking this dish when I’m at home because not only is it delicious, it has lovely memories connected to it.
When you go out to eat, do you find yourself critiquing the food?
When my order arrives, the first thing I look at is if my food is plated well, then the quality of the main ingredient, the texture, and the flavor of the food. When a restaurant fails to evolve its menu, the whole experience becomes stale and boring.
What’s your top tip for amateur chefs?
Be goal-oriented, motivated, and passionate. Passion will make impossible things possible, and practice makes perfect.
Chef Basant’s chocolate brownie
630gm chocolate chips; 430gm unsalted butter; 500gm white sugar; 240gm light-brown sugar; 350gm flour; 150gm chopped pecan nuts; 4 tablespoons cocoa powder; 2 teaspoons iodized salt; 2 teaspoons vanilla essence; 10 eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 350F (180C). Line the inside of baking tray with parchment paper. Spread butter or spray lightly with cooking spray.
2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water.
3. Whisk together the flour, salt, cocoa powder and pecan nuts.
4. Once the chocolate is melted and smooth whisk in both sugars. Remove from heat and whisk in the eggs (one at a time), along with the vanilla extract.
5. Sprinkle the flour mixture and — using a spatula — gently fold in the dry ingredients until they start to combine. Do not overmix (there might be a trace of flour in places).
6. Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for roughly 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached.
Do not overcook the chocolate-butter mix. Chocolate will split if overcooked.
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