CHEF HEMANT OBEROI
Founder, OB Hospitality and Hemant Oberoi Hospitality Goa
Founder, Michelin Selection Martabaan by Hemant Oberoi
Hemant Oberoi, a veteran in the culinary world with a 50-year journey, continues to be a perennial source of delightful surprises.
Hemant Oberoi held the prestigious title of Grand Executive Chef at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, a unique position created exclusively for him. He also served as the corporate chef for Taj Luxury Hotels, overseeing a vast empire of over 200 restaurants worldwide. Furthermore, he has authored his first cookbook, “The Masala Art: Indian Haute Cuisine.” Oberoi oversaw the 1,241 chefs in the Taj luxury division and was the creative mind behind its famed restaurants, including Zodiac Grill, Wasabi, Varq, Souk, Blue Ginger, and Masala Kraft.
Chef Hemant Oberoi also has a movie to his name called “Hotel Mumbai,” a 2018 action thriller film directed by Anthony Maras and co-written by Maras and John Collee. It’s an Indian-Australian-American co-production inspired by the 2009 documentary “Surviving Mumbai,” which depicts the 2008 Mumbai attacks at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in India. Anupam Kher plays the role of Chef Hemant Oberoi, who was the Grand Executive Chef at the Taj Palace at that time.
Oberoi’s culinary journey is nothing short of extraordinary, considering his humble beginnings as a trainee chef earning a mere Rs 150 in 1974. What makes his journey even more remarkable is that his initial aspiration was to become a doctor. In that era, chefs were regarded as little more than cooks. Even after gaining admission to New Delhi’s prestigious Pusa Institute of Hotel Management, Oberoi admits that he lacked enthusiasm for culinary pursuits. However, upon joining the Taj, his perspective underwent a transformation. Driven by the goal of becoming an executive chef, he dedicated every waking hour to the hotel.
Today, with 25 years of shaping the Taj’s culinary offerings, Hemant Oberoi exudes a confidence that arises from being the first choice for the country’s most prominent figures when they plan a celebration. He has witnessed three generations of India’s wealthiest families perusing his menus and was recognized on the streets long before the era of celebrity chefs in India.
In his early days, Oberoi’s culinary contributions took the Taj’s gourmet business to unparalleled heights, introducing pioneering cuisines and restaurants that offered world-class fare. Oberoi has an inherent ability to recognize successful concepts and cuisines ahead of the curve. While many restaurants embraced the Thai curry trend over the past decade, Oberoi charted a different course by introducing Blue Ginger, the first Vietnamese restaurant at the Taj West End in Bangalore. He identified that Vietnamese flavors resonated well with the Indian palate and only required expanding vegetarian options. Blue Ginger’s success, both critically and commercially, prompted the opening of a second branch in New Delhi.
Oberoi’s most recent venture, Prego at Chennai’s Taj Coromandel, reflects his keen understanding of the Indian diner. In a city not known for adventurous culinary tastes, his restaurant offers Italian cuisine without pizza. While the flavors remain authentic, the presentation incorporates a minimalist Japanese aesthetic. Contrary to public perception, Oberoi recognized that Chennai was prepared to transition from casual Italian dining to a more refined version. The restaurant’s sales validate his intuition.
Oberoi’s prescience and research are complemented by a profound understanding of his clientele. During his overseas trips, he utilizes local sources to identify popular restaurants and ensures he dines at these establishments. He was a featured attraction at the World Curry Festival in Leeds and a part of the international panel of chefs invited by the Singaporean government to create a special dish.During his visit to Leeds, he dined at a different place every night. An encounter with Shepherd’s Pie at a bistro inspired thoughts about creating a version infused with boti masala. Prior to launching Prego, he spent a month touring Italy, dining at Michelin-starred restaurants to grasp the innovations of contemporary Italian chefs. However, he harbors doubts about French cuisine since he has not “seen any Indians at Alain Ducasse’s restaurants.”
This mindset led the Taj to become the first hotel in the country to offer contemporary Japanese cuisine. Around 2002, Oberoi persuaded the establishment to establish a Japanese restaurant. However, after visiting Tokyo, New York, and London, he observed that most Indians preferred the contemporary menus of Nobu and Zuma over traditional Japanese cuisine. He also recognized that South Mumbai’s affluent residents and potential patrons of a trendy new restaurant were predominantly vegetarian. Wasabi by Morimoto at the Taj Mahal Palace became a resounding success, not only due to its collaboration with Chef Masaharu Morimoto but also for the entirely vegetarian menu conceptualized by Oberoi.