18th January, 2022
They are known as the Roof of the World – the Himalayan mountains, where the highest summits on the planet touch the sky. This area in the heavens is behind one of the latest developments at sea level – the first-ever Nepalese restaurant on a cruise ship.
Coming with his cuisine from the foothills of the Himalayas is chef Shovan Gautam, of Khukuri House Nepalese restaurant on Saga’s Spirit of Adventure.
Just in from Kathmandu, the 32-year-old is already delighting guests with the fragrant meat and vegetable dishes – and pungent spices – of his homeland. ‘From an early age I would watch my mother make momo – steamed dumplings, which are a popular dish – as well as dal bhat (lentils and rice) with dal soup made with lentils, takari (vegetable curry) and thakali, a sharing plate of little dishes with naan bread,’ says Shovan
‘Our traditional food is similar to northern Indian cuisine, but the difference is that in Nepal, we use many spices – up to 20 in one dish – to make it full of flavour. This is because it tends to be cold in Nepal. In India, the weather is warmer, so their dishes are likely to be milder.’
‘I have learned that the British love the spices but not too spicy!’ Shovan learned his trade in his home country before working in five-star hotels. He arrived on Spirit of Adventure in September after a season on Saga Sapphire. Guests have not only been intrigued by the restaurant’s menus – which include panseared scallops (recipe, right), marinated king prawns spiced with green chillies, and chicken tandoori skewers – but also about life in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.
‘I have always lived in the city,’ says Shovan. ‘It is surrounded by hills where two rivers meet, and from my house I can see the Himalayas in the far distance.’ Shovan works alongside sous chef Tushar Biswas, from Darjeeling, in northeast India’s West Bengal region, whose main city is Kolkata (formerly called Calcutta). Tushar has worked on Saga ships since 2015 and regular cruise guests recognise him as the older brother of Kumar, Saga Cruises’ ‘curry corner’ chef.
‘It’s great to have Shovan on board,’ says Tushar. ‘I have always loved Nepalese food because there is a large Nepali community in Kolkata and Darjeeling, so their influence has filtered into the region’s menus. Spices such as cumin, coriander, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel seed, black cumin seed and fenugreek are used in both cuisines.’
Executive chef John Mc Cerery is relishing what Shovan is bringing to Khukuri House. ‘Shovan’s home-grown dishes and expertise using spices is really exciting,’ he says. ‘We work together as a team to create a homefrom-home atmosphere across the ship while continually raising the quality and presentation in the restaurants.’
Khukuri House has quilted cerise velvet and white leather seats, plush turquoise banquettes and tables laid with white linen and dressed with Villeroy & Boch china in turquoise and gold. There are traditional Nepalese patterns, alongside replicas of hand-woven tapestries on the walls.
Father-of-two John, from Sunderland, who has worked on Saga ships since 2011, has the sea in his blood. ‘My father was in the Merchant Navy, so my mum, brother and I would spend every summer holiday on his cargo vessels, sailing from London,’ he says. ‘I remember going into the galley and smelling the freshly baked bread and bacon – I was hooked on ships’ kitchens!
‘I’ve worked in hotels and restaurants in the UK, but it was inevitable that I’d go to sea. When I joined Saga Ruby I felt at home.
‘Spirit of Adventure offers international cuisine with a modern twist on traditional dishes, and because Khukuri House is proving popular with guests, who on longer cruises want to book two or three times, we are working on new menus with Shovan, including chicken broth and momo and king prawn madras with a lobster samosa. ‘We have a tandoor oven, which adds so much flavour. The heat comes from the oven’s clay walls, pasted with mustard, oil, spices and spinach, which infuse the meat. And we use it to make authentic naan bread.’
Khukuri House is inspired by Gurkha heritage; a battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles is based close to Saga’s head office in Folkestone, Kent. Nepalese Gurkhas have been recruited into the British Army for more than 200 years and are admired for their good nature as well as fearless fighting skills. A khukuri is the Gurkhas’ knife.
Another familiar face at Khukuri House is assistant maître d’hôtel Edgar Cruz, from Manila. Edgar, 40, started his career in 2004, washing pots in the kitchen on Saga Rose. ‘I am really proud to be front of house in Khukuri House,’ he says. ‘Food takes centrestage, and we can adapt spices to guests’ wishes. We also create a welcoming atmosphere and waiters arrive together at the table to present each course, so with a table for six it is quite a show.’
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.
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