Ashish Gagneja

Ashish Gagneja

Born:

Ambala, India.

History: 

Food has always been a large part of my life. In the bustling, bubbly streets of my hometown Ambala, mouth-watering snacks and delicacies never end. 

At home my mother would cook most simple but indulgent dishes, all natural and health-oriented, meals that we all devoured within minutes. 

I never imagined that one day my cooking style and choice of simple ingredients would come straight from my Mum’s kitchen. 

I did my engineering education and started working as a software engineer but my love affair with eating food and cooking wholesome food for my family never stopped. 

Six years ago, my passion became my profession when my brother proposed to open Chakra, a progressive Indian restaurant, like no other in Perth. 

I felt as if I got wings to fly and give real shape and form to my imagination. 

Our extended family who own a chain of restaurants in Brisbane were kind enough to train me in the commercial side of the cooking. After extensive training and blessings from my family, we opened Chakra. 

Chakra is five now but I still feel the same vibe, energy and enthusiasm that we used to have five years ago. 

My kitchen provides me with a semblance of home and takes me back to those bustling streets of India with the yummy food. It is a place of worship and I find it very calming, like a second home. 

My philosophy is ‘simple is beautiful’ and it’s very apparent in my cooking. 

I choose simple, whole herbs and spices, local produce and couple them with traditional cooking methods to create magic on the plate while still providing a plethora of flavours by marrying right ingredients. 

I am on a mission to break the notion that ‘Indian is spicy’, it’s not about all about chilli. 

At Chakra we serve flavoursome home style cooked food which is not spicy and gentle on the belly. 

Have you always wanted to be a Chef?

Growing up in an academically focused family, I never had the choice to think beyond achieving high grades, bagging glorious degrees and landing a high-paying job in the software industry. 

I have been owning and operating Chakra as Head Chef for 5 years but still I consider myself as a learner ( a trainee). I am living my dream creating food and serving each and every guest as an extension of my own home. 

I believe cooking wholesome food and serving it with love is really most satisfying feeling for me. 

What is your feature flavour these days? 

I focus on using seasonal ingredients and creating flavours based on the seasons. 

Currently, my focus for our Winter Menu is black sesame and mughlai lamb shank. Both are perfect Winter warmers. 

My all-time feature flavour is ghee (clarified butter made from home churned cream). Ghee adds elevates the flavour of all Indian dishes and I can’t work without high quality GHEE!

Obsessive-compulsive about? 

Working in a busy kitchen brings a lot of challenges. I am very particular about my kitchen, my team and my guest’s experience. 

I am totally and most compulsively obsessed with using whole herbs and spices instead of pre-packaged spices or masalas. I know it’s very easy to get the flavours using these pre-packaged masalas, but they are not gentle on the bellies. 

Your greatest culinary influence: 

There’s is definitely so many to choose from, including my mother, who holds a very special place in my heart, but I will have to say Chef Vivek Singh is my greatest culinary influence.

Chef Singh is from the Cinnamon Club in London and has very similar morals and values as me, especially in terms of cooking, which I was very drawn to. He has definitely been a large inspiration to me these past couple of years and I am so inspired by his successes and story. 

What do you love about this business?

Chakra is an extension of my home which makes me feel safe. I love absolutely everything about Chakra. 

We are blessed to have a dedicated and loving team. The most amazing thing about Chakra is the belief of the team in Chakra’s philosophy of ‘Atithi Devo Bhavah’ which means ‘Guest is equivalent to God’. 

We have been blessed to have absolutely supportive guests and the community around us.

Every trial, every creativity and every experiment are welcomed by our guests and so we can openly share our ideas and failures with them.

Chakra is not a place of transaction of money for food but is an experience-based journey.

Everyone is also immensely giving, with this year being the 5th year of Chakra holding an annual Christmas Eve homelessness Free Meal event, alongside so many other charities and events we are actively involved in and constantly working for. I feel so blessed to be able to cook and provide food that touches hundreds of lives every single day. 

An ingredient you can’t live without? 

Fresh homemade ghee. Growing up ghee was used in majority of the dishes and meals I ate, making it a staple in my diet.

I use freshly churned ghee in the restaurant as well, in majority of the meals, which adds an extra flavour level and makes the dish extraordinary. Ghee is sacred to me, as even now when I eat, I adore the warm buttery taste and the complexity that it brings to a dish, just with a few spoonfuls.

Most ‘eyebrow-raising’ menu item?

Butter Chicken Kulcha - small pockets of naan bread stuffed with creamy, tangy, smoked butter chicken served with kasundi and beetroot chutney. 

Signature dish: 

Dhaba chicken - dhabas are roadside stalls in India known for their bold and boisterous style of cooking focusing on the generous use of onion, tomatoes and spices, making food larger than life.

They are every Indian’s go-to place to eat while travelling by road. The taste on the palate is bold and tangy, with a balance of long grain aged basmati rice and burnt onion, tomato salad. 

What do you think COVID has taught restaurants and Chefs about their diners and the industry in general?

It has definitely provided us with a larger sense of community and value for those around us. During COVID, we saw so many in the community stand by us and support us through the tough times, which was a morale booster to us. 

We value these guests so much and are extremely thankful for their endless love and support, prominent even now. 

We have also learnt how to be a lot more flexible with our meals, delivery options and restaurant. We safely managed and made our way through these tough times and we have definitely been instilled with a lot more confidence in our products and business. 

We can operate in different circumstances, which we have seen and this is very beneficial when navigating through these upcoming events and daily obstacles.

Tell us something no one knows about you? 

It may sound surprising working in an Indian restaurant and all, but I myself am not a big fan of chilli or overly spicy items. I can’t handle the spice in a lot of our dishes, but shhh…don’t let anyone know.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Training young minds and Chefs and teaching them the same values I grew up with and follow to this day.

I would love in 5 years to be helping others and supporting them through their journey of self-discovery and food. To see these wonderful people blossom and succeed in life would be a dream come true for me and I certainly hope that I have the opportunity to do so. 

Chakra

Chakra

Expect an avant-garde Indian dining experience at Chakra on Beaufort Street in Inglewood. This family-run Perth restaurant showcases unexplored iconic dishes from the sub-continent in moody surrounds of polished wood floors, carved screens and splashes of red as guests settle in with a Karma cocktail of saffron-infused gin, to peruse a menu that satisfies traditional and modern tastes. Activate your chakra with entrées like fried flatbread, stuffed with lamb tarka and masala potatoes, with rich mango chutney, fried green apple and dried figs; before signature mains such as goat curry, cooked on the bone, with khameeri naan, grilled pineapple, roasted fox nuts, pickled onion and mango pickle. Finish sweetly with a mystery choc pot, saffron mousse, gulab jamun, Oreo dust and pistachio soil.

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