Vineet Bhatia All Set To Create Culinary Record by Cooking for Charity at Everest Base Camp
THE CREATOR of Modern Indian Cuisine, Vineet Bhatia, who was most recently in the news for having to shut down his Chelsea restaurant, VBL, on the day it was awarded a Michelin star within a week of opening, is all set to scale those heights of gastronomy that no chef has ever been to before.
Bhatia will lay out a dinner for those who pay for it at the Mount Everest Base Camp located 17,600 feet above the sea in Nepal. The money raised during the dinner will go to the Heart for India Foundation, which was established in Chennai in 2005 by the Swiss princess, Francoise Sturdza, also known as the wife of the Australian drug dealer-turned-bestselling author Gregory Roberts (Shantaram).
Since 2005, the charity has been raising donations for projects for the uplift of girl children in India, but the proceeds of the Everest Base Camp dinner will go for the education of Nepalese girls as well as the survivors of the 25 April 2015 Kathmandu Earthquake. A donation of CHF50 / US$50, according to the Princess, can finance the education of a girl child for a year in Nepal.
“The dates are not locked, but I reckon we should be there by the month-end,” Bhatia said to me over WhatsApp. “We plan to do a proper pop-up serving three courses for three or four days, and then stage ‘The Last Supper’, a multi-course grand finale,” added the chef-restaurateur who, in 2001, became the first Indian (along with Atul Kochchar) to get the coveted Michelin star.
The Last Supper will be priced at $5,000 (inclusive of the helicopter ride from Kathmandu to the base camp and back, and the required gear). “Ten people have confirmed their participation,” Bhatia said. “A few people have been kept on the waiting list. If we take a call on including them, then we may have to extend the party by a day.”
Cooking at that altitude poses serious challenges. “As the air pressure drops, water boils at a lower temperature, and all that you have learnt about temperature and cooking time go down the glaciers,” Bhatia said, not being able to resist the Himalayan turn of phrase. “We will use very basic cooking equipment and the most primitive wood fire,” Bhatia continued, adding that though he hadn’t decided on the menu, it would consist of Indo-Nepalese fare — “a lot of high-energy food” — made with ingredients that will either be sourced from the local markets, or foraged during the 14-day trek to the base camp. “I am going to go as organic as I can,” Bhatia added. “It would be a shame to fly stuff to the Everest Base Camp, although that would be the easiest option, but when have I done anything that is easy?”
Interestingly, most of Bhatia’s chefs opted out of the adventure because of the extreme conditions they expected to confront. His son Varaul has chipped in with his services, and so has Tej Thapa, who’s from Nepal and works with Bhatia at his restaurant Rasoi in Bahrain. Varaul was six months old when we arrived in England and he suffered all the hardships his parents had to live with when his father was getting his feet wet in an unfamiliar territory. Today, his father is a culinary superstar, and Varaul couldn’t have asked for a better guru to apprentice with in the most demanding conditions for a chef.
What made Bhatia take up the challenge? “I can only think of the smiles it would bring to the Nepalese girl children and the families of the earthquake victims who benefit from the money we are able to raise,” Bhatia said from Mauritius. Interestingly, he’s carrying two flags with him from Bahrain — a khadi Tricolour gifted by the Indian Ambassador in Bahrain, Aloke Sinha, and the Union Jack handed over by his British counterpart, Mockbul Ali.
As Bhatia seeks to attain the loftiest heights he has sought out in his career, he surely has the prayers of two nations behind him — for his safety and for the well-being of the Nepalese girl children who’ll benefit from this Himalayan endeavour.