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Rahul Akerkar: 'Food Should Take You Somewhere'

The culinary genius sets the benchmark really high with Qualia, his brand new culinary adventure, which is a feast for the senses and joy for the soul

Qualia is off to a terrific start. W hen did you start conceptualising it?
It took about a year to set it up but in terms of the conceptualisation, it kind of evolved over a period of time. I was initially thinking of doing something else but when we saw the space, it spoke to us. It felt perfect and that is when the initial concept for Qualia started coming together.

We understand you got the name from a book. Do you remember which book it was?
Yes, of course. It was The Tell-Tale Brain by VS Ramachandran. It describes the unique aspects of human nature from the neurological point of view.

How does the concept of Qualia translate into the decor and menu of Qualia the restaurant?
I will explain the concept first and then we can take it to the restaurant. There is a condition of the brain called synaesthesia where lesions are formed in the brain and because of that, a condition develops where inputs from one sense can be read by another sense. For instance, when you see red, you might see music instead of seeing the colour red. So, Ramachandran, who is a brilliant neuroscientist talks about the quality of those sensory experiences in his book. If you talk about the qualia of a tomato, then it is the quality of the redness of that tomato.Now that being said, it doesn’t really translate into the decor except for the fact that Qualia has very warm interiors. It is casual chic, which is very inclusive and not intimidating at all. With regard to food, we have been playing with pickling and fermenting. It is something that I thought about a lot when I took twoyears off. I started thinking about the food I like, which is chaat and sushi and I am very fond of a sweet-sour texturein food. It’s a little different fromUmami, which hits you viscerally.Ours is a little bit different. We areusing our pickling and fermenting techniques to really make the ingredients shine.

We often speak of balance in a dish. What does it actually mean?
The balance of a dish is something everybody can sense by tasting it. They may not have the vocabulary to express it but everybody instantly knows whether they like something or not. You could eat something and instantly know that you do not like it and that is primarily because the balance of the dish is not right. Across the entire universe of cuisines, the ones that are the most loved have a common thread. That is the reason why street foods work, because they combine a variety of aspects in perfect proportions. The balance is all about the way food sits in the mouth. It is about a variety of factors coming together – acidity and base; sweet and salt; soft and crunchy. That is the balance of a dish.

You have defined and achieved some of the highest benchmarks in your profession. What inspires you today?
I really don’t know. I love what I do and I love it when plates come back empty to the kitchen. But, am I trying to make a statement? No. Am I trying to push the envelope? No. See, the quest for perfection will always be a key part of everything I do but it is not to make a point. It is just how I am. At the end of it all, I love it when someone tells me, ‘Thank you, for such a lovely meal.’ To me, great food is about sparkingoff a fantastic journey to the past or creating a reference point for the future. Food should take you somewhere.

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