Five minutes with… Sameer Taneja

The executive chef at award-winning Benares on the restaurant’s new delivery service, pepper and Pierre Koffmann

Food and Drink 14 May 2020

Benares executive chef, Sameer Taneja
Award-winning Indian dining at Benares

Can you tell us about the launch of Benares@Home?

This initiative was planned purely for three reasons: Firstly, demand from our regular clients; secondly, to keep Benares restaurant operating; and thirdly, the most important reason, to feed our NHS heroes. It’s the least we can do to support them while they fight on the frontline.

How did you manage to offer home delivery service so quickly?

It was a challenge at first given the circumstances and the resources – there was a lot of overnight planning, and we are still learning the logistics. Here, I would like to give credit to our general manager, Harsh Joshi, and our whole team, who have worked tirelessly on this project and continue to work tirelessly on it. Customer interest has been very strong, and orders are coming through at an encouraging rate.

Benares' award-winning cuisine is now available for home delivery
Benares’ award-winning cuisine is now available for home delivery

Can you tell us about your programme to deliver meals to the NHS and how many meals you’ve donated?

This initiative is driven by our owner and his commitment to supporting frontline NHS workers. He personally hand-delivers the meals to London hospitals and local clinics.

With every order we receive, we donate a freshly cooked, hot Indian meal to NHS workers in our local area. Since we started the initiative on 23 March, we have donated more than 1,000 meals to five hospitals and four clinics including; St Mary’s in Paddington, Chelsea & Westminster and Hammersmith, to name a few.

Have you changed the restaurant menu for Benares@Home and if so, what are the main differences?

Yes, our menu has been simplified and we’ve had to think about which dishes travel best. Benares@Home is focused on traditional Indian food, whereas the restaurant menu is very progressive/innovative and still in keeping the traditional ethos.

What are the most popular dishes ordered for delivery?

Our most popular dishes are prawn Kasundi, classic butter chicken and chicken Makhani.

And what’s your favourite dish on the menu?

I like them all but the tandoori grilled prawns (prawn kasundi), and the spinach and lamb curry, Saag Gosht, with a butter naan are my go-to choices.

Benares@Home is delivering hot meals to the NHS as well as to your door
Benares@Home is delivering hot meals to the NHS as well as to your door

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career and why?

Little steps will keep you going until you reach your goal, stay focused. This was given by my dad when I was very young. This straightforward thinking has a very deep meaning – there are no shortcuts.

Who is your role model and how have they influenced you in your work? 

Chef Pierre Koffmann – my mentor, my hero, my God! I have followed him since I was young, and I am extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to work for him at Koffmann’s. Cooking is religion for him rather than a passion or job and his presence in the kitchen transforms it into a temple. There are, of course, a few others who have helped me on this amazing journey.

What ingredient can you not live without and why? 

Pepper, I feel it adds more than flavour. It changes the characteristics of the dish; I use it beyond cooking for its health benefits.

Where is your favourite place to eat in London?

Sabor on Heddon street – it is Spanish tapas at its best. The simplest crafted food with extraordinary flavour. The dining room is always lively too.

What do you like to do on a day off? 

Spending time with my kids.

Apart from food, what are your biggest passions?

Cricket and travelling.

When self-isolation is over, who do you most look forward to having dinner with?

Dinner, or as we like call it, a family meal with my entire team at the restaurant. I really miss my Benares team, especially eating together with lots of laughter.

Find out more about Benares@Home and how to order on the Benares website, benaresrestaurant.com. And discover which other London restaurants are delivering fine food across the capital with Brummell’s breakdown of the best distance dining