There are adventurous chefs, and then there’s Chef Devan Rajkumar. The young chef-turned-media personality, not content to just explore in the kitchen, has been searching the globe for culinary inspiration. And that adventurous spirit hasn’t waned at home; Rajkumar is busy these days working as a brand advocate, opening a new restaurant in downtown Toronto, and hosting underground culinary battles. He’s also our newest contributor at KHACHILIFE!
We recently chatted with Rajkumar about his latest projects and travel plans, and what we can expect to see from him in the future.
When did you first become interested in a career as a chef? Did someone or something in particular spark this interest?
I was always obsessed with food since I was a young child. Growing up I would eat certain ingredients, certain meals, and I would be transported to what seemed like another dimension for a brief moment. This is the type of feeling I want to convey with my food; this is the experience I want people to have when eating my food. This is why I became a chef.
How did you train and hone your craft?
Endless hours of prep. I trained hard with the Food Dudes. I started with them even while I was attending culinary school at George Brown College in Toronto. I would like to make it very clear, however, [that] my training and honing of my craft are FAR from done. It’s a daily practice and I have a long way to go. I always will.
Last year you embarked on a five-month world food tour. What prompted the adventure, and how do you think it helped you grow as a chef?
What a journey that was. A month in India travelling across the country, meeting cookbook authors, training with home chefs, and eating at all the notable restaurants in Mumbai and Delhi! 3 weeks in Dubai — 3 expensive weeks. [laughs] I worked with my truffle dealer in Dubai and I shot segments using desert truffles on a yacht and in the desert as well. I ate my way through Scotland, France, Italy, and Switzerland. Spent one month in London, [where] I was able to take part in a live cooking demo at Burrough Market, a market I used to visit every few years as a child. Finally, one month in Peru. I worked in a cevicheria for 2 weeks and travelled to Machu Picchu.
This trip opened up my eyes and taught me so much, not only about food, but different cultures, traditions, and ways of life. The main thing I learned is that I don’t know as much about food as I thought I did.
What’s your favourite dish that you encountered during those travels?
What a hard question. I ate amazing meals EVERY single day. I’m racking my brain right now trying to think…Ok, I’ve got one: Achari Chicken Tikka at Ravi’s in Dubai. This dish was a game changer for me. Chicken Tikka is the skewered, tandoor-roasted meat which is used in butter chicken. However, for this dish, the gravy is made using a sour pickle. The flavour profile is so aggressive, in a good way. Certainly a memorable dish I need to try making ASAP now that I’ve remembered.
What’s your process when you set about creating new recipes and experimenting in the kitchen? Where do you start?
I start with inspiration. Closing my eyes and going back in time. I often like to put spins on old traditions, put my style on it. My style is certainly world inspired. It would not be weird for me to pair an Asian condiment with, say, a Mexican dish. Kimchi Quesadilla. [winks]
You’re a co-founder of the Underground Chef Cartel Battles, an ongoing series of culinary battles in which real chefs compete. How did this project start, and how has it evolved?
I am currently a partner and the host of the Chef Collective. We host chef competitions all across Canada. We just wrapped up an eight-city tour with McCain and I was able to visit beautiful parts of Canada such as Saskatoon and St. John’s, Newfoundland. I will be off to Montreal shortly to host a competition there. It’s about bringing the culinary community together for a healthy and entertaining show.
What is BLUE BIRD — “a food and art thing” — all about? How did this get started?
It is a not for profit event aimed at raising non perishable food items for the various food banks in Toronto and spreading awareness about the joy of food based art. I have recently shifted gears, however, and have been teaming up with larger charities to serve others in need. My next major event is next month and I am helping organize a fundraiser for Shelterbox Canada.
You’re a brand ambassador for The Food Dudes, Blue Goose Pure Foods, and Liberterre Meats. What do you look for in a brand when curating these kinds of partnerships?
I started with the Food Dudes and I will always be a Food Dude.
Just this past summer I toured the country with McCain, I starred in a Classiso Commercial (Kraft-Heinz), and I just flew out to New York City with Splenda. I am grateful for these relationships I have and I always try to align myself with organizations who allow me to be me and push a healthy and sustainable food program.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with and what is your favourite food to eat?
Favourite food to eat is either ceviche or NY style pizza. Favourite ingredient would have to be Inca sweet drops from Peru; they are a cross between a jalapeno and a cherry tomato.
We are very much looking forward to having you contribute to KHACHILIFE magazine with exciting recipes and tips for the home cook. What else is on the near horizon for you?
Lots. Every day is different. I am opening up a restaurant [at the] end of this month in downtown Toronto called Loch & Quay. I am still catering and conducting live demonstrations on a weekly basis. CityLine began syndication in the US and I am going on my fourth year now as a culinary guest expert. Embarking on another chef battle tour across Canada — I cannot say who just yet. I will also be conducting another food tour, this time in Southeast Asia. Lots on the horizon! Stay tuned!
All images courtesy of Chef Devan Rajkumar