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Culinary magic meets watchmaking mastery

Audrey Simon
Audrey Simon • 5 min read
Culinary magic meets watchmaking mastery
Indian-born chef Himanshu Saini fuses his Indian culinary heritage with ingredients sourced from the Vallée de Joux (Pictures: Jaeger-LeCoultre)
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The Jaeger-LeCoultre pavilion at Watches and Wonders Geneva immediately drew me in for two reasons. First, I was intrigued by the unveiling of their new timepieces. Second, I was looking forward to sampling the culinary creations of two-Michelin-starred, Indian-born chef Himanshu Saini.

This unique experience is part of Jaeger-LeCoultre’s initiative known as the Made of Makers programme, specifically the Precision Atelier. At the core of the Made of Makers programme are artists who embody Jaeger-LeCoultre’s principles of creativity, expertise, precision, and an appreciation for nature. This programme encourages artists to explore unconventional materials and mediums, paving the way for fresh artistic expressions to emerge. Like the talented watchmakers at La Grande Maison, these artists and innovators find inspiration in history as they venture into pioneering creative pursuits. 

The Precision Atelier offers a journey for guests, exploring a world of taste and texture — unfolding layers of meticulously blended flavours that transform on the palate, accompanied by the delightful surprise of familiar ingredients showcasing unexpected textures.

At Watches and Wonders, Jaeger-LeCoultre’s guests were treated to Saini’s specially curated menu, which presents four experiential bites that mirror the precision and sophistication found in every Jaeger-LeCoultre timepiece. He masterfully re-imagined his Indian culinary heritage by infusing flavours from the sub-continent with ingredients sourced from the Vallée de Joux, imparting a unique Swiss undertone to each dish. 

For each bite, Saini drew inspiration from different aspects of precision that he observed during his visit to the manufacture in Le Sentier:

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  • Crimson Rosette expresses the notion of precision of fabrication through an intricate assembly of colours and forms, layering together the flavours of beetroot, pine nuts, orange zest, amaranth and arugula;

Alluding to the precision of transformation in watchmaking — from raw materials to finished timepieces — Verbena Outburst features a “liquid stone” flavoured with lemon verbena, mint and Indian spices;

Mysterious Forest encapsulates the precision of taste, uniting the flavours of wild mushrooms, artichokes and chestnuts in a presentation that immediately brings to mind the mossy floor of the Vallée de Joux pine forests;

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Pine Nut Delight translates the precision of chronometry through a meticulously timed soaking process that creates a rich pine nut milk. Combined with cacao, vanilla, red grapes, hibiscus and spices, it delivers an extraordinary taste sensation.

I sampled Mysterious Forest, and was impressed by the chef’s ability to blend the flavours of wild mushrooms, artichokes, and chestnuts. The delicate presentation evoked images of pine forests, showcasing a harmonious connection between culinary art and nature. Chef Saini lives up to his title as an ingredient scientist with this intricate dish, which contains a total of 30 ingredients including 10 different spices. The delicate hint of spices lingers as it weaves its way into the combination of mushrooms, artichokes, and chestnuts without overshadowing their earthy essence.

He shares: “For me, it’s about striking a balance between tradition and innovation. Most of my dishes will carry an Indian essence. However, there is modernisation involved; we incorporate multiple layers of flavours and textures. Ingredients uncommon in Indian cuisine can be integrated subtly, ensuring they complement rather than overshadow the Indian flavours present in the dish.”

Of his collaboration with Jaeger-LeCoultre, Saini finds it an interesting challenge as he does not know much about timepieces. “It’s so exciting to see how the principles of watchmaking can also have common grounds with the principle of cooking,” he says. 

For him, it’s about preserving the traditions and heritage of the past while embracing the present through a blend of innovation, technology, and creativity. “I believe many timepieces from Jaeger-LeCoultre are groundbreaking and continue to hold significance, remaining strong.” This philosophy extends to his approach to cooking; for him, modernisation in culinary arts entails striking a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. He perceives a shared ethos in this regard between Jaeger-LeCoultre and his renowned Dubai restaurant, Trèsind Studio, often hailed as his “theatre of dreams”.

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His aspiration to become a chef first took root during his formative years in India, within the confines of his maternal grandparents’ home. Reflecting on those days, he recounts: “In the past, extended Indian families resided together. Consequently, my grandparents’ home accommodated nearly 50 family members. Picture this: three meals were meticulously prepared daily for this sizeable gathering — breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even mid-evening snacks.”

He compares it to a miniature banquet kitchen, akin to a professional culinary environment. As a young boy, he frequently observed his relatives as they executed their respective kitchen responsibilities — one handling spices, another meticulously chopping vegetables, and yet another focusing on bread preparation.

“I believe that experience influenced my mindset, as I truly enjoyed that bustling kitchen atmosphere. Plus, I’ve always been a passionate food enthusiast — I simply love eating. I believe this, too, has significantly contributed to my cultivated palate from a young age, so it’s a blend of several factors.” 

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