Interview with Vikram Garg
IndeBleu, Washington, DC
What's your favorite new ingredient?
Argan oil from Morocco. It's beautiful for finishing salads and soups. It has a nutty almond flavor.
What's the most versatile spice?
Black pepper. Most people use it as seasoning. For me it's a spice.
What's the most underused spice?
Mace. It has a wonderful flavor and changes the whole aroma and flavor of a soup or sauce.
What items should be in every pantry?
Any salt, sugar, pepper—the classics! To make anything, you need salt and sugar for seasoning and pepper for spice. If I have to substitute one, then salt, pepper and flour. You can get away without sugar.
What country makes the best olive oil?
Italy, with Spain a close second. For using raw, I like Italian, and for cooking, I like Spanish.
What's your favorite knife?
F. Dick makes great knives. They're high carbon stainless steel. They're as sharp as a sword.
What's your favorite pan?
A Staub cast-iron pan—it maintains temperature and is very versatile. You can do anything on it.
What's your favorite place to buy equipment?
Sur La Table. Every time I want something, they have it.
What's your favorite mail-order source?
Hamakua Farms for fresh palm hearts from Hawaii [hawaiian-heart-of-palm.com]. They're the best palm hearts I've seen in my life. They're so fresh. I eat them raw—slice them and put them in vinaigrette—and they're so tasty.
What's the best restaurant dish you ate in 2005?
Coconut tapioca with passion fruit sorbet and basil syrup at Gramercy Tavern [in New York City]. We were fighting with spoons to finish it.
What's your favorite place to go for wine?
Wide World of Wines [in Washington, DC].
What's your favorite sushi place?
Sushi to Go on Canal Street [in Washington, DC]. It's like a mom-and-pop joint. I always get eel and tuna from him. Those are two of my favorites, and I love when he has fresh octopus.
What restaurant in your city would you want to eat in once a week?
Zaytinya. I love [Middle Eastern] food. They have small plates—fresh, light food. I like the feta cheese with tomato marmalade; it's awesome.
If you were going to open a fast-food place, what kind of food would you serve?
A kati kebab and dosa place. I call [kati kebab] the Bombay burrito on my menu and it is a hot seller. My favorite filling is chicken tikka with vinegar, lemon, sautéed peppers and onions, with a fried egg. It's stuffed into a crispy lentil wrap.
On a scale of one to 10, with one representing an emphasis on using in-season ingredients as simply as possible and 10 championing high-tech, scientific cooking, where do you rank yourself?
Seasonal ingredients are important to me, so maybe a five.
Which newfangled piece of equipment (i.e., sous vide equipment, the Pacojet, the Thermomix or a dehydrator ) do you think will gain a real place in home kitchens?
Sous vide. It could begin to eclipse the microwave. It's very healthy, maintains all the flavor and it doesn't dehydrate food like a microwave. It's the future.
Spanish chef Ferran Adrià has been a big influence on chefs recently; what or who do you think will take his place?
No one as of now, although I do keep track of the chef at [England's] Fat Duck, Heston Blumenthal.
What's your favorite cookbook?
Larousse Gastronomique is my favorite. I always keep it with me. It gives you the foundation of cooking. It's more like a reference book.
If you were given $10 to spend on new equipment, what would you buy?
New silicon oven mittens from Sur La Table or Bed Bath & Beyond. As an alternative to putting on a whole mitt, they snap on your finger and thumb—for when you're pulling out trays from the oven. They look great hanging on the oven door and are easy to use.
If you were given $1,000 to spend on a restaurant, where would you go?
I would go to the Inn at Little Washington [in Washington, Virginia] and experience the whole place. Buy a meal, get a room—it would be great.
If you were given $10 to spend on a restaurant, where would you go?
Potbelly Sandwich Works is about three doors away from IndeBleu and I love their A Wreck sandwich. It's salami, ham, roast beef, turkey, cheese, cucumber, tomato and lots of chilies, served on a baguette or whole wheat bread.
Do you have any food-related superstitions?
Yes. I always present food in odd numbers. I'd never serve two scallops—only one or three. One, three or five, seven. I'd do three smaller scallops rather than two big ones. I worked with a Japanese chef and in Japan they have a superstition about doing even numbers, and it stuck in my mind.