Behind the Brewpub ScenesMeet the man who puts the magic in our menu—Chef Sameer Ali
Running a brewpub isn’t easy- it’s a lot of work, a lot of sweat and the occasional tears.
There are a lot of good, earnest people working behind the scenes, who put in a great deal of effort, round-the-clock, to ensure that everything you love about Toit stay that way.
And these people are none other than our never-tiring, ever-inspiring staff.
Our very own Toit Army- a battalion dedicated to the cause of good beer!
Meet our very own master Chef, the man who puts the magic in the menu—our Head Chef Sameer Ali.
From the crisps and grills for the beer, to the fully elaborate meals for families, Chef Sameer has got it all down to a perfect recipe.
Tell us a little about your eventful culinary journey before Toit.
I’m basically from Hyderabad, and I did my Hotel Management there as well.
On a friend’s suggestion, I came to Bangalore. I came to Bangalore first because I was into modelling and acting, not for a chef’s job. I was also part of a dance group. So I came here, because the modelling industry was doing well here.
One of my friend’s suggested I join this Italian restaurant in Koramangala. So there were two reasons I came here—modelling and the restaurant. I worked there for a few months, and that’s where I met my mentor Max Milano. He taught me everything. Meantime I was doing my dance and modelling on the side. And that’s how I got interested in cooking.
I’ve cooked for Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, John Abraham, Sanjay Dutt, Shahrukh Khan.
Then, after about two years, someone asked me to go to Mumbai, because there was a huge scope for modelling and acting there, along with the culinary industry. And my mentor joined an Italian restaurant chain there. He asked me to move there, and I said I definitely would, and so I went to Bombay in 2007. Everything was taken care of.
When I was there, we got to meet a lot of Bollywood personalities because we used to do outdoor catering, and my Chef would always send me for these things. I met so many stars!
Who all did you manage to meet and cook for?
So many—Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, John Abraham, Sanjay Dutt, Shahrukh Khan.
Out of these, meeting Salman Khan was the best feeling for me, because he is like my idol. So I was extremely happy. And because I cooked pasta for him and he liked it, he agreed to take a photo with me. I was very happy and very nervous as well.
You’ve worked in Bombay, and Africa as well, right?
I worked in Bombay for about three years. And then the struggle in acting and modelling became too much. I decided to concentrate on being a Chef and cooking became my passion.
At this time, my Chef told me about a restaurant opening in Hyderabad by a famous DJ, and I was more than happy to move back, because I could be with my mother. She was alone, and I thought let me go back and stay with her.
This was in 2010.
Unfortunately, because of the political scenario and riots in Hyderabad at that time because of the Telangana issue, the restaurant project shut down, because the tension was too high at the time. I was surprised, but my mother wasn’t well, so I stayed at home for a few months to be with her, before moving back to Bombay again. After a few months, the restaurant in Bombay also shut because of some personal problems among the owners. At the same time as this, I got an offer from Africa.
What was the Africa experience like?
I moved to Nigeria, where I was working for a Sindhi couple from England, who had opened an Italian and American sports bar. I was there for about two and a half years.
Last January, in 2014, I came down to India and got married. Then I was supposed to go back in Feb but the people there refused to provide visas for my family, and said it was only for me. For that reason, I decided to stay back here and be with my wife and mother.
So I quit the job in Africa, and decided to look for a job in India. I first looked in Mumbai, since I had worked there for a few years. But I couldn’t find anything that suited me.
I moved to Nigeria, where I was working for a Sindhi couple…
So how did Toit happen, in all this?
One day, I met a friend who I had worked with in a restaurant, and he was the one who told me about Toit. He told me that they were looking for a chef, and asked me to send my CV to him. I got a call from Mr. Arun, so I came down to meet the owners, did a food trial and an interview. They were happy, and on the 11th of March, 2014, I joined Toit.
And my family shifted here a month ago.
How big is your team at Toit?
Including me, it’s 33 people.
They are a very good team to work with. Initially we had a bit of a language barrier, but I was here in 2005 for sometime, and I learned Kannada then. And that settled the communication, and everything is smooth now.
Any memorable incidents that took place, since the kitchen is so busy?
Only rare delays. Nothing major, but sometimes when the barker tells them what to, the boys sometimes forget. And that’s when we have to work quickly to make sure everything is done on time.
Isn’t it really hard to oversee such a huge team?
Actually, we have different sections in the kitchen and each of the sections has two to three boys dedicated to it. There’s the cold food, the starters, the fryers, the grill, the pizza and the pasta sections. Everyone is given instructions, and they know what they have to do. I rarely cook. I oversee the functioning of the kitchen, look after final tasting and making sure the final plating is done right.
On a scale of one to ten, one being Nigella Lawson and ten being Gordon Ramsay, how strict are you in the kitchen with your team?
I’d say I’m like Gordon Ramsay. I can be pretty strict when it comes to food.
What’s your favourite dish to make out of the Toit menu?
I love making all the chicken items, and even the steak.
I’d say I’m like Gordon Ramsay. I can be pretty strict
And which is least interesting?
Maybe the fryer section foods, like vegetables that are batter friend.
What’s a typical work day like for you?
Actually, I’m very health conscious. I work out daily, I go to the gym between my shifts regularly without fail.
I’m usually here by 11:30 am, I do a check of everything once, taste some sauces, and coordinate everything with my team.
I also do barking, which is reading out and telling each section what to do for the day. We have a different set of instructions for the evening. And then we also check all the ovens, and the pizza oven temperature, since it is wood fire, to make sure everything is fine. We do this everyday. During my break at 3:30, I go to the gym, workout for two hours and then come back here and stay till the place closes.
Fitness seems to be your other passion.
Yes. When I was in Africa, the gym membership there was too expensive so I made my own equipment and set up my own private gym for myself. I am crazy about fitness and have always been very health conscious.
Along with the beers, people come here expecting a lot from the food as well. Is it a challenge to keep the quality consistent?
Not really a challenge. It’s become like a habit for us. We make sure we maintain a good, experienced team. I have trained them, and they have also had a lot of experience working here before I joined also. The main challenge is when things get busy, because it is a very demanding job. So tiredness does set in sometimes, but otherwise it’s very rare.
in Africa, I made my own gym equipment and set up my own private gym
Do you have a favourite chef?
I follow Gordon Ramsey and I want to be like him. That’s my aim.
Is it hard to deal with criticism from customers?
The kitchen is actually very busy, and it happens very rarely here, but sometimes some things might be undercooked. Or in the case of the pizzas, since ours are wood fire pizzas, the edges might get burnt sometimes because the temperature is too high. These things happen rarely but we know how to deal with them. I don’t take it personally, as long as the feedback is useful and the person knows what they are talking about.
What’s the perfect menu according to you?
In a place like this, it shouldn’t be fine dining. There should be a good mix of fried things and starters that go well with beer. Even barbecue things. And apart from that, there should also be a nice section for some good mains. My travel and experience has taught me a lot, and I think that helps me contribute to the menu as well.
My travel and experience has taught me a lot…
How has the experience at Toit been so far?
Very good. In all my experience so far, this is the biggest restaurant I have ever worked in, handling the entire restaurant, all three floors. It’s been a good learning. It’s different because I come from an authentic Italian background, so I got to learn and also add my own experience to everything.
Everyday is challenging. The boys here have been working here from the start, and they’ve started working from scratch. So I had to train them as well, and build on the knowledge they already had, and make sure they know my hand. Now everything is perfect.