Prime Minister Modi’s two-day visit to Stockholm in April was the first by an Indian PM in 30 years, and the chef entrusted with the prestigious task of preparing food for the two days of his visit was 32-year-old Dheeraj Singh, a chef and entrepreneur who originally hails from Manali and is now settled in Sweden.
This is not the first time Dheeraj has cooked for one of Sweden’s state guests. He is the same chef who had been invited by the Indian Embassy to prepare the lunch that was hosted by former President Pranab Mukherjee for the Swedish royal couple—King Carl Gustaf and Queen Sylvia—in 2015.
The talented chef is also the entrepreneur behind the popular restaurant, Indian Street Foods & Co., which he set up in 2014.
Dheeraj’s family runs ‘Frontier’ a popular restaurant in Manali, which was established by his father 45 years ago. It is here that he picked up his skills in cooking before travelling to Sweden to look for work opportunities.
After working for ten years at ‘Hurry Curry,’ a restaurant started by one of Europe’s oldest retail chains and becoming the Head Chef there, he decided to set up his own venture after he heard that areas of Stockholm were being opened up to food trucks.
From these mobile eateries, Dheeraj began selling his popular kathi rolls (a street delicacy from Kolkata), kababs, deconstructed samosas and multi-flavoured lassis. Delighting the locals with their taste, these items quickly became a hit with the people of Stockholm.
Dheeraj also ensures that he blends Indian food with salads and other local ingredients to appeal to the Swedish palate. For instance, he adds grilled vegetables that are in season, like red and yellow beets, to his much-in-demand kathi rolls.
Stating that he has to compete with 100-odd established Indian restaurants in the Swedish capital, Dheeraj also takes great care to prepare the food in a hygienic atmosphere. In fact, during the Namaste Stockholm festival of Indian culture and cuisine in 2015, Dheeraj’s food truck had the longest queue till the closing hour!
Little wonder Dheeraj has won the prestigious “Arla Gudko” (the Golden Cow) award for the best street food in India.
“Our elders always say that the road to man’s heart is through his stomach,” the chef told the Economic Times, adding that he feels food is one of “most important ingredients of diplomacy”.
Coming back to PM Modi’s visit, Dheeraj was asked by the Swedish government to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for him and the delegates.
Incidentally, the PM was living in the historic 141-year-old ‘Grand Hotel,’ the very same hotel where Rabindranath Tagore had stayed in 1913 when he had visited Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. The hotel was also the setting for the lunch hosted by former President Pranab Mukherjee.
“PM Modi was staying in Grand Hotel, one of the oldest hotels in Sweden. We cooked 220 Indian dishes for him and his counterparts from Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark at three events. While Modi was happy to have Indian dishes on the dining table, others also appreciated the Indian taste,” Dheeraj told the Times of India.
Dheeraj concluded by saying that Indian street food vendors can compete with some of the biggest restaurants, in terms of taste.
“I cook the same traditional meal and add some modern taste to it. The typical Indian flavour has Sweden going crazy about our fare. We are growing and expanding regularly. After his meal, the PM lauded me for bringing Indian taste to Sweden,” he added.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)