The Chef Behind: Aurus
It’s just as well that it’s name is inspired by the Latin word for gold. Aurus, on Juhu Tara Road, is defined by its opulent interiors. Opened in 2007 by Dish Hospitality (they also own Cinnabon), Aurus is decorated in purple, with dark chandeliers and gold chintz-style motifs on the walls. An outdoor section overlooking Juhu beach is its crowning glory, being one of the few night spots in town with an unadulterated sea view. As a result it’s low white couches and raised private tables often house Bollywood derrières. Alas, there is little chance of a quick rendezvous in the toilets, as Aurus has a unisex loo manned at all times. While the restaurant is popular, Aurus is best known as a venue for drinks on Friday night, when the lounge often brings in DJs that specialise in trance à la Goa.
“From an early age, I realised I was good at deconstructing everything I ate and had developed my nose to identify ingredients,” says 41-year-old head chef Vicky Ratnani, who graduated from the Institute of Hospitality Management in Dadar. Prior to taking over the kitchen at Aurus at the start of 2009, Ratnani spent the majority of his career abroad; he worked for 12 years for the Cunard group, doing stints on the cruise ships Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria II. A fan of molecular gastronomy, Ratnani says that he enjoyed working abroad as it was an opportunity to meet chefs from diverse regions and exchange ideas. “It could even be as simple as teaching them about a masala omlette,” he points out. Audiences may also recognise him from his TV show, Gourmet Central currently in its first season on NDTV Good Times. Here, he gets to deconstructs complex dishes (Jamaican jerk marinade for example) and give simple, easy to re-create recipes for home chefs.
Since coming on board last year, Ratnani has frequently made seasonal changes to the menu at Aurus. He is currently working on a Sunday brunch menu that’s slated to launch in November. “[Earlier] the food at Aurus was fine dining, now there are more flavours, elements and textures for each dish,” Ratnani says. It is hard to put a region to the cuisine at Aurus, which is primarily European fare with a range of eclectic influences from North Africa and South East Asia. For instance the ubiquitous paneer starter is smoked, placed on a bed of beetroot carpaccio, and served with a yellow bell pepper coulis, and a sprinkle of basil snow powder. Basil snow, Ratnani explains, is a molecular gastronomy technique using Maltodextrin, a natural carbohydrate, which reacts with fat to create a powder that retains the flavour of the ingredient. The science in the kitchen doesn’t end there; Ratnani swears by sous vide cooking and will vacuum seal everything he can (including strawberries and steaks). Foams, another example of molecular gastronomy, is used frequently in the Aurus kitchen (grilled prawns are topped with a delicate cumin foam). Currently, Ratnani is experimenting with meat activa, a gluing agent that can be used to bind various foods together. “[With it] I can take four jumbo prawns and make a big steak out of them,” he says excitedly.