Pickwick, Claridges Hotel, New Delhi
4 May 2022
I struck gold on a Sunday brunch outing at the Pickwick Restaurant, known as the best Japanese Sushi restaurant when I asked for the Chef Borja Special Sushi Boat, mentioned in the Table Brunch menu. Besides the amazing sushi (including bhelpuri-inspired veg sushi), I also got to meet the Japanese Sushi Chef Borja, smiling toothily one minute, and very intense and stern once behind the Sushi counter.
The best culinary export from Japan that the whole world can’t have enough of is that tiny morsel of delicacy – SUSHI. The reason for its global popularity has been the topic of debates, seminars, research papers, et al, for long. The burst of flavors and textures, carefully packed into one bite, and that sushi has adapted well with the local flavors of each region globally without losing its elegance, and unique status is a good enough reason. Beyond the DIY kits, quick takeaways, and endless YouTube video recipes, sushi making is a highly specialized craft.You can only find the perfect sushi at specialized Japanese sushi restaurants. It takes years of training to become a Sushi Chef in Japan Restaurant, a prestigious title not easily acquired. It is the Sushi Chef who ensures the correct sourcing of the freshest seafood, the delicate balance of ingredients, the artistry of presentation, and more. I met with one such master, Sushi Chef Raul Andrea Borja, at Pickwick, The Claridges Hotel, New Delhi
Neelima Agrawal – Is this your first stint in India? Where were you before this?
Chef Borja – I have worked in India for a long time now. I have great experience catering to the Indian market and understanding the tastes and preferences of my guests. Before coming to the luxury boutique hotel in Lutyens Delhi, i.e., The Claridges, I was working with The Oberoi Grand, Kolkata, in the capacity of Japanese specialty Chef.
When and why did you decide to become a Sushi chef? Is this a very specialized job?
Since I was a child, I used to follow my father around his workplace, which was a kitchen. I was so fascinated and inspired by the chefs there, especially the Japanese chef that I started learning about Japanese cuisine in depth. Making proper Japanese sushi is such an art, making every piece with utmost precision and taking care of the flavors which I aspired to master. When I was 18 years old, I decided to become a professional sushi chef, and yes, it is an extremely specialized job in which you have to learn for years to get expertise in making authentic sushi.
Sushi has become a very popular dish globally, as it is healthy. How different is the Sushi served elsewhere as compared to that in Japanese sushi restaurant?
The master chefs making authentic sushi are actually in Japan.
- They have access to the freshest and most diverse range of ingredients to make the sushi which sometimes, globally, people don’t have access to.
- The people in Japan majorly eat non-vegetarian sushi as it is traditionally made of raw fish. The concept of vegetarian sushi is available to very few people in Japan as compared to other parts of the world. In India, the restaurants almost always serve a variety of vegetarian sushi to cater to the local market.
- The culture of eating sushi is also very different in Japan from other parts of the world. In Japan, people eat sushi either with chopsticks or even with their hands. Japanese eat their sushi with considerably less amount of soy sauce; they eat their sushi with ginger and not wasabi as it is already present in the sushi, unlike other parts of the world where wasabi is served separately with sushi.
How many kinds of Sushi are you serving here at Pickwick?
At Pickwick, we have a special sushi bar, (Japanese sushi restaurant) in which we serve diverse kinds of sushi to our guests that consists of Maki, Nigiri, and Sashimi.
Do you also serve Nigiri? Is the Delhi diner open to raw fish?
Yes, of course, we serve Nigiri at Pickwick, The Claridges, and we are definitely open to raw fish. Our patrons also enjoy eating Nigiri.
Which is the most popular version of Sushi that is preferred by Delhiites?
The popular version of Japanese Sushi from our restaurant that Delhiites enjoy, which I know of, are Maki and Nigiri. The favorites of our patrons in Delhi are- Fire-cracker Maki, Dynamite Maki, crocodile Maki, OtoroNigiri, and Sake Nigiri.
In the Sunday brunch Sushi boats, you had prepared the Uramaki inspired by Indian street food, chaat style. It was quite delicious. Have you named it? Will it be a regular on the sushi menu at Pickwick?
33Yes, it is important to understand your guest’s tastes and preferences which helps to constantly innovate new flavors in a dish. Uramaki is an inside-out roll that I love to make, and yes, it will be a regular on the menu at Pickwick.
Are there any more India-inspired sushi dishes that you have innovated?
Well, yes, innovation is key to curating interesting dishes for our guests. Some of the Indian-inspired sushi dishes on the menu are- Firecracker Maki, Tempura Maki, and Asparagus cream-cheese Maki.
Is it a challenge to source fresh fish and seafood here in Delhi? Is it locally sourced, or is it flown in?
Yes, it is definitely hard to source fresh fish and seafood here in Delhi, but we make monumental efforts to serve only the high-quality ingredients and fresh seafood to our guests. Our fish and seafood are mostly flown in from Japan so as to not compromise on the taste or quality of food presented at The Claridges.
Which is your favorite type of sushi?
My favorite type of sushi is Sashimi. I like to eat the cut pieces of salmon and tuna served with soy sauce and wasabi. Simple but extremely delicious.
Have you tried many Indian cuisines? Especially in the seaside states like Kerala, Mangalore, Goa, and Bengal seafood dishes? Which is your favorite Indian dish so far?
Yes, I have tried many Indian cuisines along with; whenever I get time, I try out different regional Indian seafood dishes. My favorite Bengal seafood dish is Hilsa curry which is extremely delectable and flavorful for me.