Connector In Conversation With Chef Rahul Rana Of MICHELIN Star Avatara

Avatara, nestled in Dubai Hills, stands out as the world’s first and only vegetarian Indian MICHELIN star fine dining experience. It epitomises innovation and excellence in vegetarian fine dining, setting a remarkable precedent in the city's gastronomic landscape. Connector recently spoke with Chef Rahul Rana, the visionary behind this culinary gem. With a culinary journey beginning in 2007 at Ananda The Himalayas, Chef Rahul Rana honed his skills, specialising in delicate pastries. His expertise led him to Dubai, where he served as the Executive Pastry Chef at the MICHELIN-selected Trèsind in 2016. Hailing originally from Rishikesh in India, here's how Chef Rahul Rana's journey in the culinary world began. 

From India To Dubai, A Journey Filled With Flavours

Originally from Rishikesh, India, Chef Rahul was nurtured amidst the Himalayan foothills, fostering his early fascination with food within a mainly vegetarian community. His inventive culinary flair and dedication to vegetarian cuisine garnered him the esteemed title of Future Great Chef of the Year at the Gault & Millau UAE 2023 awards, solidifying his status as a rising star in the culinary realm. 

Influenced by his grandfather, who served as a chef for Indian Maharajas, Chef Rahul gained a profound respect for culinary heritage and hospitality. This regal legacy interpenetrates his meticulous attention to detail, presentation and ingredient selection, as he strives to craft dining experiences that honour the opulence and depth of Indian gastronomy. Reflecting on his journey from Rishikesh to Dubai, Chef Rahul shares, "My journey from Rishikesh to Dubai has been an incredible blend of learning and growth. Growing up in Rishikesh, I had two paths: the army or becoming a chef. When the army didn't work out, I pursued cooking, which turned out to be my true calling. The rich vegetarian traditions of my hometown instilled a deep respect for natural ingredients. Working at places like 'Ananda, The Himalayas', and 'Trèsind' helped me understand the global culinary landscape and refine my skills. These experiences led to the creation of Avatara, where I strive to elevate vegetarian cuisine to new heights."

The Story Behind Creating Avatara

Vegetarian cuisine often faces misconceptions of being basic and lacking flavour diversity. Chef Rahul aims to challenge such notions through Avatara's innovative concept. He shares insights into the beginning of Avatara, aiming to redefine perceptions surrounding vegetarian dining. 

He says, "The idea for Avatara originated from my deep-rooted belief in the richness of vegetarian cuisine. While working on the Sasya menu at Trèsind Studio with Chef Himanshu Saini, we envisioned a restaurant that pushed the boundaries of vegetarian cooking. Supported by Bhupender Nath, the Founder and Managing Director of Passion F&B Group, we decided to create a fine-dining vegetarian restaurant that excludes onions and garlic, challenging the conventional notions. Our goal was to prove that vegetarian cuisine can be exciting and sophisticated, which led to the creation of Avatara's 16-course menu." 

Navigating The Obstacles Of Introducing A Vegetarian Fine Dining Concept In Dubai

Promoting Avatara in Dubai's meat-centric market demanded the creation of an unmatched dining venture. Chef Rahul emphasised a key hurdle: overcoming the notion that vegetarian fare is less enticing than meat-based alternatives. It required showcasing the richness and diversity inherent in vegetarian cuisine. Additionally, sourcing top-tier, locally grown ingredients posed a challenge in upholding the dedication to sustainability.

Chef Rahul adds, "We designed a 16-course tasting menu that showcases the versatility and depth of vegetarian ingredients. Storytelling through food became a crucial element, connecting each dish with cultural narratives that resonate with diners. Collaborations with influencers and food critics, along with participating in culinary events, helped build our reputation. Emphasising sustainability and the use of locally sourced ingredients also appealed to health-conscious and environmentally aware diners."

The MICHELIN Star Journey 

Reflecting on the monumental achievement of Avatara being awarded one MICHELIN star on 23 May, 2023, Chef Rahul reminisces about the emotions evoked by this remarkable milestone. 

He adds, "Receiving Avatara's first MICHELIN star in 2023 was a moment of immense pride and validation. It was a culmination of years of hard work, dedication, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. The accolade brought overwhelming joy and gratitude, affirming my belief in the potential of vegetarian cuisine. It also inspired a renewed commitment to continue innovating and maintaining the high standards that earned us the star." 

While the MICHELIN star motivated Chef Rahul and his team, it also brought more people into the restaurant. The MICHELIN star has significantly impacted Avatara's operations and reception. 

Chef Rahul adds, "It has elevated our reputation, attracting a broader and more discerning clientele eager to experience MICHELIN-starred dining. This recognition has heightened expectations, motivating us to consistently deliver exceptional quality and service. The accolade has also brought international attention, positioning Avatara as a leading destination for vegetarian fine dining."

Avatara And Vegetarian Food Scene In Next 5 Years 

Avatara, meaning incarnation, represents the transformation and elevation of traditional Indian vegetarian cuisine. In five years, Chef Rahul envisions Avatara as a pioneering force in the global vegetarian fine-dining scene. "We plan to continue innovating the menu, incorporating new ingredients and culinary techniques while staying true to our core philosophy of purity and creativity. We aim to engage with the global culinary community through collaborations and culinary events, showcasing Indian vegetarian cuisine on prestigious platforms and further elevating its status", adds Chef Rahul. 

Chef Rahul Shares His Favourite Dish

"My ultimate comfort food is a traditional lentil dish from my hometown, which provides a sense of nostalgia and comfort. This dish embodies the values of simplicity and purity that continue to influence my cooking style."

Chef Rahul's Advice For Aspiring Chefs In The UAE

Chef Rahul would advise aspiring chefs in the UAE to adhere to the following principles:

Focus on your role: Commit fully to your current position and tasks. By excelling in your role, you lay a strong foundation for future advancement in your culinary journey.

Keep learning and stay curious: Cultivate a mindset of continuous learning. Stay abreast of culinary trends, techniques and innovations. Embrace new experiences, cuisines, and ingredients to broaden your culinary horizons and keep your passion alive.

Work hard and persist: Embrace the challenges, stay dedicated to your craft, and never lose sight of your goals. By embodying these principles, you can navigate the vibrant culinary landscape of the UAE with confidence and determination, ultimately carving out a rewarding and fulfilling career as a chef.

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