We rushed to take part at the opening of the newest Indian restaurant in Bucharest, especially as we are for a long time now, admirers of the owner-chef, Mr. Arun Kumar. No small was our delight when we saw that Mr. Arun Kumar’s long experience in the field has been brilliantly transposed into these amazing dishes that taste and look better than ever before.
How many years have you been working as a chef?
There are almost 20 years, including 14 only in Romania. I can say that I worked in almost all Indian Restaurants in Bucharest.
When did you realize that this is the job you want to follow?
Straight after I finished school. This was the only job that allowed me to travel to different countries, so I started the chef school in India and the courses last for 3 years. Afterwards I went to Singapore, where I worked as a chef for another year and a half.
Why did you choose our country? Why Romania?
When I finished the contract in Singapore, I returned for a few months back to India and one day someone gave me the opportunity to open the first Indian restaurant in Bucharest. That happened back in 1995.
What does it mean Indian cuisine? What are the traditional foods?
As with many other cuisines in the world, there is no limit nor about the type of food neither in the spices that can be used in the preparation of a dish. There are hundreds of varieties of spices, thousands of types of food and combinations, from soups to appetizers (Onion rissoles, chicken roulade, etc.)… Our restaurant is based on the Nordic Cuisine region where food slightly more spicy. We serve mainly chicken, lamb, seafood, fish, vegetarian or cooked vegetables prepared in many different ways. We are importing these vegetables from England, because there we find all the products needed in Indian cuisine. In addition, they meet EU standards and have passed all quality tests. The British import them in turn from India, but for us it’s difficult to do this because bureaucracy is very high and many papers are required, each product must undergo a review and have a certificate of quality.
What do you think about Romanian cuisine? Have you learned to prepare any specific Romanian dishes?
Yes, many. To be honest, for the customers and guests I cook Indian food, but personally I love Romanian food. Afternoon, for example, I eat a soup, a stew … As I said, each cuisine around the world has something special, and the Romanian cuisine made no exception to the rule.
Which other cuisine from around the world draws your appreciation, apart from the Indian and Romanian cuisine?
I can cook also Arabian, Mexican and even Chinese foods but apart from the Indian and Romanian food, I also like the Thai cuisine.
How big is the difference between Indian cuisines and the Thai one?
Both use roughly the same ingredients, but differ in how they are used. In general we are frying the ingredients, especially the spices, while they boil the ingredients in soups and other dishes. They eat very spicy while the Indian cuisine is not necessarily spicy, but flavorful. Each flavor has its own special effect in foods.
What do you think should be the main qualities of a professional chef?
I can’t tell you a few fixed rules. I think first of all the one must be hardworking and passionate about what he does. I have live for 14 years in Romania now and I got to know many people, many personalities in public life and I can say that we made in time, a study with their help. We never asked how they have found our food, but if they would like something else. Each with his inclination… They were saying: “Look, I want to eat chicken with onion, tomatoes, chilies … make it hot and sweet… “While talking with the client I automatically imagine type of dish he wants. Then, later on I was going and asking them to score the dish If I would have been given a 7 or 8, then I would have asked what I’d missed, and for the second time I’d tried to get a 10. I always got the note 10 of my clients, wherever I worked and that’s another reason they always returned to me. Same thing I am sure that will happen here.
What’s the concept of the new restaurant?
It is my first own restaurant, where I worked from head to tail. Until now I worked for others and I learned how things go. The chosen area (Pipera) has much potential thanks to the visiting foreigners and is one of the main residential areas of Bucharest. Indian cuisine is now received in Romania as exclusive, but our restaurant is not very expensive. The menu is mainly traditional Indian one, and the ingredients are authentic.
What is new, what differentiates Agra Palace of other Indian restaurants in the country?
A restaurant is not just about food. It should be a comfortable place for customers with a pleasant atmosphere, the music as … Waiters must be not only kind but also friendly, calm, polite. In addition, other restaurants do not offer many services. We have a room for parties, separate rooms, a dining room for smokers and one for non-smokers. If a customer doesn’t have a place, he can stand up to the bar until a place is issued. For business people we have a top salon with cigars and cognac, where they can talk freely, where you will feel like a true gentlemen. We have a children area where they can play while parents eat or, if they stay for dinner, I ordered special seats for them, so they will feel comfortable. In summer we have two open terraces and in the back yard, a place for barbecue. I think I have tried successfully to meet all customer needs and to make them feel as good here.
What is the reaction of consumers in Romania to Indian cuisine?
There are more and more Romanians who are trying Indian food, and when a customer does not know a way to eat, I explain what this is about. Often I try to convince them to try new meals. Romanians are not too impressed with the lamb dishes but I always ask them to try it first and if they still don’t like it, I always have something else prepared just in case. We have 120 types of food and also we make meals on request, so people can come to us every time if they are willing to try something new. 14 years ago the Romanians were afraid to eat spicy, but now require spicier and spicier dishes. Constantly trying different dishes they have adapted 100%, which is amazing even for me as an Indian.