Rendezvous with cordon bleu chef Urbano De Rego
Apart from Goa’s religious legacy Basilica of Bom Jesus church, Fort Aguada, beaches, shacks and fenny there is another Goan treasure who has kept the food of Goan legacy alive. We are talking about celebrity Chef, URBANO DE REGO. Myriad of celebrities drooling over his scrumptious delicacies and legends like Mr. Ratan Tata to bigwigs like Dr. Vijay Mallya, celeb columnists like Shobha and Dilip De, they all go bonkers over chef Rego’s culinary skills. The enormous list of India’s jet set corporate honchos and political leaders work their schedules around his availability at the resort VIVANTA BY TAJ, Goa. Chef has catered to royal families like Shah of Iran, King Hussein of Jordan, Henry Kissinger, George Bush Senior, and the list is endless.
During my stay at VIVANTA BY TAJ, NORTH GOA, I had this desire to have a rendezvous with Chef Rego, though at the same time I was slightly intimidated by his larger than life aura and was wondering how a towering personality like him would come across. However, a surprise awaited me. He was a modest and down to earth person who always kept the superciliousness at bay. Interview encompassed much more than Goan food. It brought to fore his personal life, his professional milestones as well as various flavors that came together to ultimately complete him as one of the best five chefs of the country, Chef Urbano De Rego.
You used to be a footballer, how did you become a Chef?
Cooking or passion for food was not my cup of tea in the early stages. I always had a fetish for soccer and was quite good at it. Tata Sports Club was always in my mind at that time. Unfortunately, I damaged an ear-drum while playing football. As a result, I had to undergo three surgeries for the ear but got in vain. Then, I was anxious about my future, I came across an ad about Taj Bombay looking for apprentices, I applied and got selected. Later, in 1970 at the age of 18, I joined the Taj group. Since then, I have been here.
Are you still passionate about football?
Yes, I meet my passion in a way of watching matches on TV.
What is the motivating factor for you even at this point of time?
No leftover in guests saucers make me feel happy and is the perfect example of food being relished by guests. Moreover, it gives me the courage to walk up to the table and ask the guests whether they relished their meal or not.
Can you share with our readers the food choices of some of your esteemed guests?
(Laughs) I still remember the days when Dr Vijay Mallya whose bungalow was a stone’s throw from our property coming at the wee hours with his entourage. He was a habitué of the restaurant. He liked very simple dishes like ‘Clams in coconut’ and ‘Prawn stuffed papped’. Mr. Ratan Tata, while on a visit to the hotel, orders ‘Prawns Amto’, prawns with mango, and ‘Clams cutlet.’
How do you feel about achieving the status of legend in your industry?
I don’t brag about my work. Maybe, I am not a good orator or a showman but a good chef indeed. I feel elated when people in my village and my family feel proud of me.
What is your favorite cuisine?
I love all cuisines, but if I had to pick one, besides Indian it would be Continental food. Other than that, I love Shrimps – fresh out of the water with the shells on into a pan, stir-fried with whole garlic, sliced onions, red chili flakes, kokum, and salt.
How often you eat out?
Very rarely, smiles chef. But I love eating at a small pizzeria in Italy. The aroma of freshly baked pizzas and pasta is always alluring.
What is Comfort food for you?
I would recommend Goan fish curry with steamed rice without giving a second thought.
Your signature dish?
Camaro Tigre Cilantro. It has tiger prawns with lemon, chili paste, ginger, garlic, and cilantro.
One culinary trend you dislike the most?
I detest the trend of food with preservatives. For that reason, I am not fond of bread too.
What are the traits of a good chef, any tips you wish to share?
One must have a passion for the profession, complete dedication with a creative bend, Also, strong senses to smell the taste and presentation of food with your eyes, nose and taste buds.