Durga is the culinary brain behind South London’s most interesting new local restaurant and destination dining venue.
He’s a quiet, naturally shy, cheffy type that’s clearly happier in the heat of the kitchen than out on the floor talking up his achievements, but we weren’t going to let him get away with that, he’s far too talented and interesting! So I’ve taken it upon myself to drag him out of his comfort zone for a quick coffee to find out more about him and his incredible creativity.
Rather than a boring CV, here’s Durga’s Career Path in a Meal
After failing to achieve his boyhood dream of joining the army Durga accidentally got into a cooking school in India. “I fell in love with the profession almost instantly. The discipline which attracted me to the army was also the magnet that first pulled me into the kitchen!” he says. But during his training in Madras he came across the lives of some great French cooks like Anton Careme and Escoffier in the school library and “so started my love of France and French cuisine.”
Durga says his ‘career proper’ took off in 2002 when he arrived in the UK to take up a role with Pascal Proyart at renowned fish restaurant One-O-One in Knightsbridge.
But his career really began to fly when he joined Eric Chavot’s team in 2004 at the 2 Michelin star Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge. Durga says: “He fed me with the basics of Cuisine Francaise and taught me the finer details of flavour combinations and subtleties …. which have helped me so much to now build my repertoire.” This was followed by stints at La Petit Maison before his first head chef position at Kitchen by Joel Antunes and then returning to the Chavot fold to head up the kitchen at Brasserie Chavot in Mayfair.
Clearly the cherry on the cake for Durga is his first enterprise as chef-patron – the opening of Bistro Vadouvan in conjunction with old university friend and acclaimed London restaurateur Uttam Tripathy.
Citing it as his greatest accomplishment to date he tells me, “Creating the dishes for Bistro Vadouvan has been an incredible journey. For the first time being the person actually creating, defining and deciding on each dish. It’s been a lot of pressure but unbelievably rewarding – especially now that we can see the customers really enjoying them and appreciating the effort we have made to bring out different flavours.”
We’ve taken this metaphor about as far as it can go but this self-deprecating man is also refreshingly honest about the challenges he’s faced stepping up into this role. (Interestingly, it appears this is a chef’s rite of passage, as Chavot tells me he was the same in his first solo venture -he kept looking over his shoulder to see if Pierre Koffmann was checking up on him!)
Durga says: “I am a novice as a businessman and it’s all been a really steep learning curve! Almost everything has been a challenge but I am really lucky to have a business partner and great friend in Uttam who such a lot of experience in running a very successful restaurant with Potli in Hammersmith. His good judgment and calm business ability has really helped me in every step.”
He’s also had the most-over qualified commis in London helping smooth his path during the opening, with Chavot himself regularly seen tinkering in the kitchen and keeping Durga’s confidence up.
Durga readily acknowledges “I’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of my former mentor Eric Chavot, who has been quietly providing guidance and words of wisdom to help me develop the food side – not just creating dishes that taste great but that work for the restaurant, within the kitchen we have!”
Look out for our next blog where we look at these dishes, what the driving forces for the flavours behind them are and how they have been created.