Big Daddy Casino, an offshore casino with ‘no-limits’ tables commenced operations since early May 2019 in the Mandovi River, Goa. With international games aboard, the casino ship believes in providing round-the-clock unique F&B experiences with live entertainment setting the experience a notch higher. Akshay Nayak met with the Chef Shubham Dhar, corporate executive chef, Big Daddy Casino to learn about the all-round experience in the culinary space he brings along with him to provide the visitors at Big Daddy Casino with gastronomical experiences from across the world
The luxury ship, built in 1995 with imported furnishing and interiors, will house 110 tables in an area of around 50,000 square feet spread over three decks. All the national and internationally played games such as Indian Flush to games such as American Roulette, Black Jack, etc., and various variants of Poker will be available for avid gamers. It also houses a multi-cuisine restaurant offering the best of local and global cuisines, a bar, a live barbeque area on the topmost deck, a sundeck and a variety of entertainment programmes including national and international acts to cater to its visitors.
At Big Daddy Casino, Chef Dhar heads the all-day restaurant Aish-O-Rum. Located on the topmost covered deck of the ship, it boasts of more than 210 covers. The restaurant has its own 24-feet-long bar, where you can sip away to your choice of alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverages from 7 pm to 12.30 am during weekdays and an hour extra during weekends starting Friday. Primarily being a buffet restaurant, dinner is served from 9 pm to 1 am during weekdays & an hour extra during weekends. By 7 pm the restaurant opens its Live Chaat counter which has a mouth-watering range of street-styled chaats including paani puri to dahi bhalla, ragda chaat, sev puri, etc. The buffet menu is a mix of three cuisines, mainly revolving around Indian cuisine, European cuisine and pan Asian – majorly Thai and Chinese. The menu consists of soups, compound salads, mains and a delightful mix of desserts. Vegetarian & non-vegetarian selections are displayed separately. Entertainment by various artists again starts by 8 pm on the restaurant stage. You can see European dancers, Indian singers, magicians doing their stints, Bollywood entertainment to rock bands.
Coming with a rich background in the culinary space right from preparing diverse global cuisines for a significant period of time while being associated with popular hotels across the country, to looking at the capital perspective of planning and setting up of a kitchen, Chef Dhar responds almost instantaneously, “I was born to be a chef.” Chef Dhar started cooking when he was just 8-9 years old. The love for cooking didn’t take long to transform into a passion when everyone at home was all praises when he first steamed his sorson bhapa ilish (steamed mustard hilsa) for dinner. Speaking about his initial inspiration to follow cooking, Chef Dhar voices, “Food is like a celebration for a Bengali. Going early in the market to get the best quality of lamb, fish, and also gardening the vegetables when I was staying with my maternal house during my growing years, knowing about food and cooking is something that I have been passionate about since a very tender age. My parents were very supportive of my decision of joining the culinary industry.”
However, professionally, Chef Dhar first went on to pursue a degree that had nothing to do with culinary arts. But, he reminisces that his father saw the spark that he had for food and hence enrolled his name in the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration in Manipal, from where he graduated in 2004. “That is how my career in the culinary space started. It was the time when I realised cooking is a natural instinct in me,” he adds.
Stepping into the culinary space
Chef Dhar started his professional career in the culinary space by joining Taj West End, Bengaluru. “Following that I joined Alila Diwa Goa and then joined the team during the opening of hotel Devigarh Palace (Lebua Hotels) in Udaipur. After spending some time there, I joined ITC in Goa where I was heading the F&B department of two properties i.e. Fortune and Acron Waterfront Resort, Baga with Chef Cyrus Todiwala and another British master chef. After a lot of experience with hotels, I thought that I should focus on the ancillary aspects of a kitchen too. Like how a kitchen can be made more insulated to radiate out the heat easily; keeping the kitchen clean; planning restaurants and kitchens; educating people about the various points to consider while keeping in mind the FSSAI norms and ISO standards of operating a kitchen, etc. I started my own venture in that space with partners from the industry, like Vikramaditya Singh from Taj Group of Hotels and one more partner. We went to renovate the Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur, and then came to Goa and worked with the Deltin Group. So in 2013, we launched their new menu, redesigned their restaurant according to five-star hotel specifications and then also joined the Deltin Group as the corporate chef. Following the four-year-long stint with Deltin Group, I joined Big Daddy Casino in 2017,” informs Chef Dhar about his journey in the culinary space.
When asked about his suggestions to aspiring chefs who mistake culinary arts as a glamorous industry to work in, Chef Dhar replies, “Since I have been passionate about cooking since a very young age, I really don’t find it stressful. But, Indian cuisine is vast and one needs to be diligent when it comes to pursuing culinary arts. Even in Goa itself, each region within the state has its own recipe of fish curry. The region has an abundance of coconut used in almost all of its preparations. So one needs to understand the essence of the ingredient and capitalise on it. Never underestimate any ingredient because everything in a dish has to be balanced. I have worked with master chefs even in Taj Group, but at the end of the day, not everybody teaches you everything. You ought to be a good learner.”
Talking about his expertise in global cuisine, Chef Dhar says, “I have learned Mediterranean cuisine – Lebanese and Turkish cuisine and I like making it. Of course, Thai cuisine has its own essence when it comes to its spices and flavours. So my forte lies in preparing pan Asian, Indian and Mediterranean cuisines. I am a recipe-oriented person and I do not support fusion foods made by changing the original recipes because it misguides people about the heritage value the recipe holds. I am a purist.”
Global cuisines like Lebanese-lamb tagine, chicken shawarma, homemade pita, hummus beiruti, Italian-risottos, pastas, tiramisu, Thai-kra-pow gai,basa pla meung mano, variations of Thai curries and Indo-Chinese – are amongst the highlights of the offerings at Big Daddy Casino other than Chef Dhar’s own Indian and Goan specialties, namely, Galauti kebab, Murg makhanwala, Raan-e-sikandari, Khat khate, rechaedo and cafreal.
Challenges of F&B business on a ship
Replying to a query on the challenges faced by him to provide a complete F&B experience to the guests on the casino ship, Chef Dhar exclaims that there is not one but a multitude of challenges. “The first thing is you cannot use fire on casino ships in Goa. The biggest challenge is to prepare all the food using electric cooking equipment aboard. On land, electric cooking equipment consumes 50 Hz whereas on a ship, most of the generators being American they are tuned to 60 Hz only. Hence the cost of the cooking equipment itself, as well as the utility costs of operating it on a ship, are almost three-fold as compared to that of a land F&B outlet. This is a huge challenge. The capex of building a kitchen on land would be Rs 25 lakhs whereas on a ship one would be shelling around Rs 1.5 cr. Doing anything in terms of variety with the kind of flare, logistical challenges come into play. I have been doing it for quite some time on the Mandovi river, so we are used to it, but F&B business in a casino ship is very tricky in India,” Chef Dhar feels.
The ship receives major clientele from South and North India and some of the European clientele. The restaurant makes 500-600 covers on a daily basis. “In terms of innovation in the F&B experience to the guests aboard Big Daddy Casino, we minimising the wastage. We are introducing smaller portion sizes of foods so the guests can explore everything that is available. We put extra attention on the plating and presentation too,” concludes Chef Dhar.
Speaking about the launch of Big Daddy Casino, Narinder Punj, chief visionary officer and mentor, Big Daddy Casino, said, “Big Daddy Casino is all set to revolutionise the gaming industry and redefine the rules of offshore gaming. We firmly believe that Big Daddy Casino will immensely contribute to the growth of tourism of Goa. We look forward to working towards our goal of establishing Goa into a global offshore gaming and entertainment destination.”