Alex Wahi lives and cooks according to the slogan „keep it short and simple“. For him good food means preparing good ingredients quickly. Besides the restaurant Maharanhi in the Westphalian city of Hamm Alex Wahi and his father run the only Indian cooking school in Germany. In the meantime the 35-year-old is only sometimes „in der“ (in the) kitchen as he works as a creative cook on TV. Moreover he is on a culinary voyage of discovery for big food retailers on an international scale. In our interview he tells us why dirty water hot dogs don’t taste good, but muscatel is on trend and what Bollywood has to do with doing the dishes (September 2020).
Dosen-Zentrale: Hi, Alex! What are you doing at the moment?
Alex Wahi: I’m preparing the new courses in our cooking school. As anti Corona measurements have been relaxed recently we are allowed to offer courses again. Finally some „normality“!
Dosen-Zentrale: Let’s get strictly on topic. How have you experienced the last months determined by Corona?
Alex Wahi: Everyone in our business knows that the last months have been catastrophic for gastronomy. Spontaneous ideas and to go solutions could only partially compensate the former business volume. Fortunately our little family business is quite solid, but we had to dip into our reserves. Nevertheless, even if the measures are relaxed, it will take a long time until things will be like before Corona. And unfortunataley not all the restaurants will survive until then. The numbers are terrifying.
Dosen-Zentrale: What are you mainly doing at the moment?
Alex Wahi: It sounds paradoxical, but I took advantage of the last weeks as a chance for a personal and professional restart. That doesn’t mean I throw over everything, but we are rethinking old habits, our daily business and everything around. Maybe time has come to strike out in a new direction and to do things in a different way. I’m always torn between restaurant and cooking school on one hand and the opportunity to give other „target groups“ an understanding of gastronomy and cooking on the other hand.
Dosen-Zentrale: Are you talking about your television appearance and your trips?
Alex Wahi: Yes, exactly, but I don’t care about being the next star TV cook. For me good food means preparing good ingredients quickly or as I use to say: „Keep it short and simple.“ I try to see it all in a very relaxed way beyond encrusted structures. For me it’s important that guests and TV spectators see how good and simple cooking and even exotic cuisine can be. Sometimes you have to take ususual measures.
Dosen-Zentrale: What does that mean?
Alex Wahi: One of these moments is for example cooking an Indian dish for 500 people in an excavator shovel. Good food is possible without much prentiousness, smart technology and starched chef coat.
Name: Alex Wahi
Mother: German, father: Indian (since 1970 in Germany)
Lives and works in Hamm/Westphalia
Apprenticeship in the hotel trade, ifferent jobs in gastronomy,
among others with Frank Buchholz at Steigenberger Hotel in Bad Pyrmont and Golfclub Schlosshotel Münchhausen in Aerzen
From 2008 to 2011 business management studies
The parental restaurant Maharani exists since 1989 and the Indian cooking school since 1982
Dosen-Zentrale: Let’s get back to the roots. When did you start cooking?
Alex Wahi: Naturally at home, that means in the restaurant. When I was a child I was always hungry. Until today I love good German „grandma‘s cuisine“, but in an Indian restaurant you don’t find roast pork with dumplings or stew on the menue. As my father cared much more about the guests than about me (winking) Little Alex had to go to kitchen to cook something on his own. Nevertheless I grew up with this mixture of red cabbage and tandoori chicken.
Dosen-Zentrale: And then? You studied business management.
Alex Wahi: Yes, basically I wanted to start a career in the international hotel management after my apprenticeship. Then I decided to remain in the enterprise and reflected about innovations. We expanded the cooking school, then some event jobs on fairs and suddenly I got a call from TV. At the same time food retailers were interested in „ethno food“. They asked me to cook „internationally“ creating recipes and ideas.
Dosen-Zentrale: This sounds very exciting.
Alex Wahi: It’s exciting indeed, but after all quite varied. I travelled abroad a lot last year. I love to work with other people and cultures – maybe that’s part of my Indian nature (grinning). For this reason I always attempt to discover and try new things – on a private and professional scale. Many so-called food trends are nothing but hyped fads or marketing gags. A lot ot the things that are „hip“ now are part of common cuisine for decades or even centuries in other countries. When I travel somewhere I prefer to take advantage of it trying the original.
Dosen-Zentrale: An example, please!
Alex Wahi: Well, it isn’t centuries old, but typical: Dirty water hot dogs in New York Downtown. Unfortunately they taste as they are called: maybe helpful to survive, but not really good. Thus the hip copy somewhere in Berlin Kreuzberg might taste better. The opposite is real street food in Thailand. There you find the best pad thai ever you can’t imitate. As travelling isn’t possible at the moment I go out for regional discovery tours.
Dosen-Zentrale: What does that mean exactly?
Alex Wahi: For example I’m discovering Gewürztraminer and Muscatel for myself. In my view these wines exist forever and have a slightly „dusty“ image. Nevertheless they are real delicacies and I’m reflecting how they could suit to my way of cooking.
Dosen-Zentrale: Let’s talk about cooking and your „cuisine“. What’s a part of it in any case?
Alex Wahi: In any case herbage, spices and olive oil. I also like truffels and curry of course.
Dosen-Zentrale: And which ingredients are an absolute no go?
Alex Wahi: Glutamate is a no go even if many people assume it’s part of „exotic“ cuisine. I can also well do without cream and butter – despite „grandma’s cuisine“ (laughing).
Dosen-Zentrale: How about Alex Wahi personally? What are your characteristics?
Alex Wahi: Well, I’m lively. You could even say I’m impatient. I want too much at the same time. For others this seems to be either very creative or very chaotic. In these situations I talk too much and take spontaneous decisions I don’t discuss anymore. Decisiveness is good and important, but not always easy for outsiders.
Dosen-Zentrale: What do you appreciate about others?
Alex Wahi: Honesty and respect without prejudice.
Dosen-Zentrale: And which characteristics of other people disturb you?
Alex Wahi: Generally speaking or in the restaurant?
Dosen-Zentrale: Is there any difference?
Alex Wahi: I don’t like people who are fundamentally critical and negative about everything new and who already have an opinion before knowing you and trying things. Other minus points are guests who are impatient and don’t appreciate the gastronomer and his work.
Dosen-Zentrale: How do you personally deal with this?
Alex Wahi: I’m myself without pretending. Our visitors get 100% Wahi: completely cool, fresh and relaxed. These are the moments the Indian in me comes out. We prefer to see our guests as close acquaintances and friends. So we take our time to do something good for them.
Dosen-Zentrale: What do you in your free time, for example to relax?
Alex Wahi: I have a walk with my dog. Or I do the dishes, tidy up the kitchen – it’s really true, but with loud music. And another stereotype: I like to listen to Bollywood sounds apart from the current charts till the walls shake.
Dosen-Zentrale: What will be next in line? What are your plans?
Alex Wahi: The last weeks have shown us that sometimes things turn out differently than planned – and sometimes even very quickly. That’s why I don’t make any concrete plans. We have ideas and will see if they can be implemented in our restaurant and school. A gastronomer knows that he needs a lot of perseverance. It has always been this way – considering working hours, services and general conditions. Today even „small gastronomers“ have to be more managers and number geeks rather than working behind the counter or over a hot stove. I hope the atmosphere in gastronomy will be more relaxed in the future. This also means – and Corona might encourage this development – that visiting a hotel or restaurant returns to be something special and people respect and appreciate us, the „hosts“. Personally I think there will be new and different opportunities after Corona. I’m open to everything.
Dosen-Zentrale: Thanks a lot!