Naman Kochhar – Chef de Cuisine, functions
I grew up in Amritsar, Punjab, with a big Indian business family, who are all just big foodies. When all the family members eat together, it seems like a special gathering. I miss those days.
At the very young age of 9, I often found myself watching mum in the kitchen making the base of all gravies (curries), asking her a lot of questions related to all the spices she was using. One thing she told me, that has stayed with me is if the base of any curry is well cooked, it’ll turn out to be a very good dish, whether adding veg or protein to it. Just keep it simple and flavours will follow.
I came to Australia in 2006 and studied hospitality in Melbourne. My first job was in the Italian restaurant chain, la Porchetta at St Kilda. When I realized it was the most enjoyable job I had held, I chose this as a career path to move forward with. I enjoyed every bit of working in the kitchen, from peeling vegetables, to helping chefs. I made my way to becoming an all-rounder in the kitchen and even running sections in absence of the head chef.
Later, I moved to Sydney where I got an amazing opportunity to work for SCEC ( Sydney convention & exhibition centre ). It was massive, with mesmerizing state of art kitchens and chefs from around the world. JACKPOT it was. While with SCEC served events and functions from 30 to 4500 pax, and I learnt a lot. To be involved in the Food and wine show, and then see myself working alongside Chef Gordon Ramsay meant a lot.
Further, I worked in a lot of pubs, clubs, at International Convention Centre, and finally at 2 hatted restaurant Me-gal at Taronga zoo as a senior Sous.
When I decided it was time to return to Melbourne, I was offered jobs from other big venues but my main reason for joining MCG Hospitality is Executive Chef Dylan. His vision and guidance enable anyone to grow in this profession. During COVID times I even end up Uber driving, and his words to me were to do anything needed to support the family, but never leave cooking. He motivated me massively.
The MCG is a fantastic place to work, internationally known and a big challenge. It gives me great pride and satisfaction to share with friends and family that I am working here.
Favourite lazy dinner at home to make?
There is no such thing as a lazy dinner for me, I always want to eat tasty food. I would prefer sleeping without eating than eating something that isn’t tasty. I love cooking stir fry at home. It doesn’t take long to cook and there can always be a twist by adding different sauces to it.
Best take out place in Melbourne?
The past few months I have loved eating at the food trucks in Werribee. It feels like being back home with street food, no wonder Melbourne is the food capital of Australia.
Best fine dining place in Melbourne?
I haven’t tried a lot of fine dining in Melbourne, but something close I have experienced is Red Spice Road in Melbourne CBD; serving contemporary southeast Asian style cuisine.
An ingredient you loathe to cook with and avoid?
I love to cook using eggplant, as there are so many different things that can be done with it. Curry, stir fry or go for a healthy option making Smokey Babaganoush dip.
Favourite food as a kid?
My favourite food as a kid was Tandoori chicken. It is full of flavours and luckily for me coming from north India, I could just eat it every week.
Where do you draw inspiration from as a chef?
My inspiration for cooking is my mum, she is the one who let me pursue this career and make it my profession. It was never easy to convince my father and grandfather back in 2006 to let me go to Australia, as they both wanted me to join the family business.
Don’t know if I was selfish or stubborn back then, but now I am doing what I always wanted to do, cooking.