The lunch service was ending when we arrived at Bombay Dreams, but head chef Devi Singh and senior chef Sanjay Dhyani were still busy at their stations. Sanjay hovered over the two traditional tandoor ovens and Devi deftly scooped ingredients for a curry into a heavy pan.
Both worked quietly and without any exchange of words, but together, they are a tour-de-force dishing out complete courses. It is this chemistry that won the hearts of Hong Kongers and gave accolades such as the Michelin Bib Gourmand. We sat both chefs down after the busy shift for a chat on their favourite memories working in the kitchen.
Devi Singh, head chef
Devi showed us the spices used for the handi murgh (a chicken curry) that he had prepared. “Many spices are used in curry but there are really just two types: for flavour, such as pepper, and for aroma, like cumin.
The best curries achieve a balance between these two. Besides the spices, we also use specific garnishes for each dish. Not only does it add colour and flavour, it distinguishes which type of curry it is – especially when we cook for delivery!
My favourite dish to cook is the rojan josh – an aromatic lamb dish of Persian origin – because of the Kashmiri gravy. Everyone has a different way of making rojanjosh, which makes it an interesting dish to piece together.”
“I picked up my skills from working with my family that has been in the hospitality business for forty years. I was the first chef to work for Bombay Dreams. Back then, we were in a very different kitchen. We moved to this place in 2004 and now we have this open kitchen, so customers can see the entire cooking process!
Despite the move, every dish has remained the same. Sometimes we change menu items but we have always kept the classics such as butter chicken, roganjosh & daal makhani. We also have the biggest buffet in Hong Kong!”
“Every dish is created from scratch, prepared when the customer orders and not before. We will always deliver all the dishes at the same time to each customer. However, one weekend we had an order for a set of curries and we prepared every single one of them. But the same group ordered the same set all over again! It was really funny and frustrating, but we finished it anyway.”
But even regular customers have their own quirks. “Many customers order the same dish every day – most times we start preparing the dish just by looking at the name on the order!”
“But we do it anyway. We just want everyone to be happy.”
Sanjay Dhyani, senior chef
Sanjay threaded six prawns on the tandoor stick meticulously. “Prawns usually curl up when they are exposed to heat. This technique stops it from doing that and prevents the loss of flavour. The tandoor oven is heated manually using charcoal.
One tandoor oven has several temperatures – with the hottest being the deepest part of the oven and the least hot being the area just around the opening on top. We typically cook the meats at the bottom and the breads on top.
Prawns cook very quickly! We need to make sure that the heat is evenly distributed and the marinate is fully absorbed. This is why we insert the tandoor sticks and turn it quickly based on how much each side is cooked. We hang the stick vertically to let the meat rest once the cooking is done. Look, the prawns are not falling off the stick!”
“I started to work in hospitality in Delhi in 1993, and discovered that I loved cooking. I worked at a handful of hotel kitchens, before moving for Bombay Dreams in 2004”
Sanjay mused over his favourite dish to cook. “The Indian kitchen is very vast, there is not a specific dish that we would cook over and over again. There are many different sections. I would work more at the tandoor section and he (Devi) at the curry station. We can do both very well, but we have our (personal) favourite.”
“There was a time when someone ordered the entire menu. We made every single dish, one, one, one (sic), from the appetiser to the dessert. And then delivered them all to the customer!”
“There is a regular customer who orders only through foodpanda, and would always want to customise it. For example, once he wanted green chilli in his butter chicken… and sometimes no dairy products, or no onion, no garlic in other curries.”
But we make it anyway! It’s not a problem at all. There are so many ways to cook curry and it is always a challenge to try different ways.”
Bombay Dreams is a Dining Concepts restaurant. It just celebrated 15 years creating beautiful Indian dishes in December 2017.