Ishu Mehrotra, head chef, Ondine

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th August 2017

Ishu Mehrotra studied hotel management in India before moving to Edinburgh in 2004. It was here he began his career as a chef, meeting Roy Brett and taking on his latest role as head chef at Roy's restaurant, Ondine.

Ishu told The Staff Canteen about working his way up from KP and why he has fallen in love with Scottish produce, particularly fish and seafood.

Baked Scallops by Ishu Mehrotra, Ondine
Baked Scallops by Ishu Mehrotra, Ondine

What inspired you to become a chef?

I think back in 2002, when I went down to do my hotel management in India and you must learn every single section or department of the hotel. I wasn’t sure before then, when I finished my schooling, what I wanted to do in life. But then, I started at college, learning about hotels and every single department and cheffing was something that really sparked my interest. And I think the journey started from there.

When did you move to Edinburgh?

In 2004. I actually came here for my degree. I did my international hospitality management degree at a university in Edinburgh. But that was more of the management aspect, rather than the kitchen side of things, and it started it from there.

Where was your first kitchen role then?

Well, my first kitchen job was in Rutland, in Edinburgh also. It used to be a pub but they have changed the name since. I started my career from the basics. At the time that I was applying for jobs, everywhere was asking for a reference, and without knowing anyone in this country, it was hard to find one. So, I started as a kitchen porter and then got shifted into the kitchen as a commis chef, and slowly, I moved into different places. Or you can say I went through the right channel and met the right people at the right time, you know?

How did you come to work at Prestonfield House and what was it like?

Info bar
Dream restaurant - I don’t think it’s going to be crazy big. It’s not going to be crazy. It will be something where I think anyone can come in and enjoy rather than you have to be very classy, or the classy people need to think that they can’t go in because it’s too small for them, but it’s going be a very friendly atmosphere, and people can just come and enjoy the good food. I’ll be in Edinburgh, definitely. I started my career in here and I’ve never left; it’s like a second home.

Dream brigade - Well, I think if you would have asked me 20 years ago, I would have said all the big chefs in the country. But I would like a happy team, people who have the same vision when you’re working with someone. I don’t want any crazy chefs, all these big chefs.

Not crazy, but all the big names, and then I don’t think it’s going work out if you put all of them in the same room because they’re all going to have a different vision, a different way of thinking. For me it should be all the guys thinking in the same way, following the same route, maybe it’s the wrong way, but that’s my way of thinking.

I had a head chef in Rutland with whom I worked for over a year. He said to me, “I think your time here is over. You’re really keen to learn and I can see that you’ve got something and I want you to go further.” So, he set me up, I went for an interview in Prestonfield. He told me it was a nice place to go, I was a young boy, and had no idea. I had a good time there. I spent almost a year and a half in Prestonfield, and worked in every department, from pastry to banqueting and the main kitchen.

Tempura squid by Ishu Mehrotra, Ondine
Tempura squid by Ishu Mehrotra, Ondine

It was a hard kitchen. It wasn’t an easy task for me, being 19/20 years old, I was getting blisters every day. But, it was a good time in which I learned to make my basic values strong, very clear. At times it was hard, but you have to make it or break it. I could have just lost it and be doing something else other than talking to you right now. I decided to make it rather than run away from it.

Could you tell us about working at Dakota and meeting Roy Brett?

Yeah. It was another offer for me. It came down to me from my previous head chef as well. And I went down to see him in Dakota and I got a job offered as a chef de partie. I worked there for about two years, and that was the place where I met my mentor, Roy Brett, ‘Chef Roy’. He was the chef director of Dakota and I worked with him every day. I can call him a friend, a mentor, a guru. How did you get the job at Ondine and what are your daily responsibilities there?

Hot Shellfish by Ishu Mehrotra, Ondine

Hot shellfish by

Ishu Mehrotra, Ondine

Roy decided after two years to go and open his own place, so I just came along. In the morning, you check the orders and see all the sections and the guys at the kitchen, checking the menus, checking what’s in, what’s out, and then do the basics, cooking every day. You finish the day in the same manner. Checking the other guys, making sure everything is ready.

How much input do you have when it comes to the menu?

I know what kind of thing Roy wants me to, or he expects me to put on the plate. He totally trusts us, but the last decision should ultimately be his. He is very much involved in the kitchen as well. He’s here first thing in the morning and leaves last thing at night; a really hands-on chef with.

Do you have a favourite dish on the menu at the moment?

For me, it’s always been the hot shellfish platter. I think it’s something, if you’re living in Scotland and you’ve got such a high standard product coming in, you can’t have something else. It’s one of those things. Not only for me, but I think it’s one of the favourites for some of the regulars, like a signature dish.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m not going anywhere right now, but one day I’d like to have my own place. Something which I can call my baby. I'll take what I have learned over the years and come up with something using that. It’s going to be something related to fish because I’m trained in that. I’m just waiting for maybe the right opportunity, the right time to come.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th August 2017

Ishu Mehrotra, head chef, Ondine