Dushyant Singh, Director of Culinary Experiences at The Camby, an Autograph Collection hotel. (Photo: Anuja Madar)
For most, a “limited” pantry means a few spices, ketchup and perhaps a fancy mustard. For chef Dushyant Singh, it means condiments—and a lot of them. “I don’t cook at home,” he says, “but I have to have a chili sauce, a soy, a ponzu; a lot of Asian flavors.”
This combination of international and unexpected perfectly defines what the New Delhi native brings to his role as Director of Culinary Experiences at the Artizen Restaurant, The Bees Knees and Wade Poolside Bar, all inside the Phoenix hotel, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection.
Singh left India in his late teens and studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. He’s been in Arizona off and on since 2005, his career taking him to hotels across the country and in front of the camera, where he was a competitor on the Food Network’s Chopped: Grill Masters in 2012. After his most recent stint in Chicago, Singh decided it was time to come home.
Singh took time out of the kitchen to chat with Marriott TRAVELER about the local food scene, where he finds inspiration and what it’s like to cook on TV.
You’ve left Arizona a few times but always come back. What do you like about it here (other than the weather)?
I think people underestimate the food scene. You look at the restaurants we have and the accolades that they’re getting, but people think it’s still the Wild, Wild West. I love how you can take the Southwestern cuisine and Mexican influence and put your own twist on it. I like the camaraderie that local chefs have (it’s pretty unique). I’ve been here for so long that it’s a comfort zone as well. I know the purveyors, the clientele and people in the industry.
You were on Food Network’s Chopped: Grill Masters. What was that experience like?
It was fun, but I was surprised. There’s no TV time. When the competition starts and you have 20 minutes, you really have 20 minutes. There are no takes. Grilling is not something I’d hang my hat on, but I took it as a challenge. When I got chopped in the second round, boar was one of my ingredients, and I had only cooked it once before. After that, I put boar on our first menu so I could play with it a bit more.
How is cooking for TV different than cooking IRL?
The pressure is different. Working on the line, it’s “show time.” You have to be ready. What I enjoy more about cooking in real life is that you get satisfaction instantly. If you see that people like your food, are enjoying it…That’s beyond explanation. When somebody appreciates whatever you put into something—it’s amazing.
You run all three of the hotel’s dining outlets. What’s it like to cook for hotel guests?
The biggest joy is making it a home away from home. Some people are on the road for a long time. The entire experience makes them feel comfortable. The best part is when they leave and still remember. The challenge is that people perceive hotel restaurants as not trendy or cool. If you create a restaurant where locals are coming then hotel guests will come, too. To do that you have to create a vibe. Sometimes hotel restaurants can be too relaxed or too formal, or you’re trying to please everyone with the food. We tried to simplify that, creating an environment where people feel it’s not too stuffy and it’s still exciting.
The menu at Artizen is seasonal, but what kind of experience can people expect year-round?
My biggest thing was to come up with dishes that intrigue people in the sense of the flavors, textures and the uniqueness of the ingredients. I want some kind of mystery. And instead of filling up on one dish (because that’s not how I eat), people can order a lot of different stuff, share and have a conversation about food.
How do you incorporate local ingredients?
We do a bone marrow dish but then we use pickled cholla [cactus] buds. Dates are huge in Arizona, and we use them instead of sugar to make our burger’s bacon jam. We have a lot of cheese (goat cheese is prominent here), and our olive oil comes from Queen Creek, 50 miles away. We use Cartel, a local roaster, for coffee and Shamrock Farms for dairy. Our lobby’s “destination taste” is a butter pecan cookie (Arizona is a big producer of pecans).
Who or what inspires you?
I like to go where chefs are using different techniques and flavors and having fun. Sometimes we chefs tend to cook what people want. The best approach is to cook what I like to eat because that’s how you can be true to yourself. I like to see chefs taking risks, pushing the envelope and using global ingredients. I’m done with boring food.
How did growing up in India influence your cooking?
It gave me an opportunity to use ingredients that some people might be hesitant with. Cardamom is such an under-utilized spice, and I don’t know why. I also love ginger more than garlic. In my early cooking I was either not comfortable or didn’t have the playground. I’ve started to enjoy incorporating these kinds of flavors more and more.