In Conversation with Jigmet Mingyur, Ladakhi Chef 

By Stanzin Padma Leh, Nov 29, 2023
Leh :

Q. Tell us about yourself. What inspired you to become a chef?

Julley! I am Jigmet Mingyur from Khemi, Nubra. My culinary journey commenced during my early years as a monk, where I found myself immersed in the kitchen, serving fellow monks and Rinpoche. This unique experience ignited a passion for cooking, leading to a natural transition from monastic life to the culinary world. In Goa, I spent five to six years honing my skills and accumulating valuable knowledge in the vibrant culinary scene.

My culinary education deviated from the traditional path, lacking formal courses. Instead, it drew inspiration from my family, especially my mother, who harbored dreams of becoming a chef. With no female members aside from my mother, my family played a pivotal role in shaping my culinary journey. Strengthening my bond with the kitchen, my mother continues to be a guiding inspiration in my culinary endeavors. This unconventional path has infused my culinary approach with a unique blend of monastic influences and family inspiration, creating a distinct perspective in the world of cooking.

Q. How do you approach creating a new dish or menu. What's your creative process?

When venturing into the realm of crafting a new dish or menu, my approach is centered on authenticity and innovation. I prioritize locally sourced, seasonally grown crops, and vegetables, readily available from our village's kitchen garden. This not only ensures freshness but also supports the local community.

My creative process involves a deep understanding of the ingredients, their flavors, and how they harmonize. I delve into the wealth of wild herbs, often on the brink of extinction, adding a creative and unique touch to my dishes. Exploring these herbs allows me to present a taste that is both novel and rooted in the region's biodiversity.
In crafting a new dish, I pay attention to the balance of flavors, textures, and presentation. Each element plays a crucial role in delivering an exquisite culinary experience. I believe in making food that not only delights the palate but also tells a story of Ladakh's rich cultural and natural heritage.

Moreover, given the growing emphasis on health consciousness, I lean towards creating dishes that are not only delicious but also contribute to a wholesome and organic lifestyle. The process involves a continuous quest for the perfect combination of ingredients, cooking techniques, and a touch of creativity to bring forth a culinary masterpiece.

Q. What are the current food trends or culinary techniques that you find most exciting and innovative?

I am passionate about the growing emphasis on serving healthy food, transcending culinary boundaries—from Indian and Continental to Chinese cuisine. Indian food, often perceived as overly spicy and unhealthy, holds untapped potential for transformation into a healthier option through judicious and high-quality use of spices like Garam masala.

In this era that celebrates innovation, I take comfort in revitalizing traditional cooking methods such as baking, roasting, and grilling. These time-honored techniques infuse dishes with a unique flavor and texture, providing a nostalgic yet refreshing twist to contemporary gastronomy. Embracing the best of both worlds, combining health-conscious choices with the richness of tradition, paves the way for a culinary experience that resonates with the spirit of modern times.

Q. What challenges and opportunities do you see in the current culinary landscape in places like Ladakh?

Navigating the culinary landscape of Ladakh offers a blend of challenges and vast opportunities. While many individuals are engaged in various roles within the hospitality sector, I believe the kitchen holds particular promise. Ladakh, being a distinctive tourist destination, unveils a unique opportunity to spotlight Ladakhi cuisine. My vision involves a transformation of Ladakhi food by seamlessly integrating diverse ingredients sourced from different regions such as Changthang, Zanskar, and Nubra. The goal is to present these culinary elements in innovative and exceptional styles.

For example, traditional Ladakhi staples like Paba and Tangthur can undergo a creative makeover, presented in visually appealing ways. This approach aims to captivate tourists with the distinct and enticing flavors intrinsic to the region. By infusing creativity into the presentation of Ladakhi dishes, we have the potential to elevate the entire culinary experience, making it a memorable part of a visitor's journey.

Despite the perceived challenges of working in a Ladakhi kitchen, the reality is quite the opposite. With well-defined sections and the acquisition of the right knowledge, the opportunities within Ladakhi culinary spaces are extensive. The rich diversity of Ladakh's culinary heritage, coupled with a willingness to explore and experiment, opens doors for chefs to make significant contributions and carve out a niche for themselves. The key lies in understanding and embracing the nuances of Ladakhi cuisine while leveraging the unique aspects of each region's culinary offerings.

In essence, Ladakh's culinary landscape is not just a canvas for challenges but an expansive realm of opportunities waiting to be explored and celebrated. 

Q. Can you recommend a signature dish or recipe that our readers can try? 

Staying true to my commitment to healthy eating, I recommend a salad made with a variety of ingredients, diverse dressing styles, and seasonal fruits or vegetables. This simple yet nutritious dish is often overlooked in Ladakhi households. In Ladakh, where salads are not a common part of the culinary repertoire, I encourage everyone to try this nutritious and flavorful dish.

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring chefs looking to make a name for themselves in the culinary world?

My advice to aspiring chefs in Ladakh's culinary realm is rooted in the exploration of diverse ingredients from Changthang, Nubra, Zanskar, and Sham. While my expertise centers on Nubra, I aspire to delve into ingredients from all of Ladakh. To these budding Ladakhi chefs, I recommend an in-depth study and mastery of the region's varied ingredients. Acquire knowledge, refine your skills, and embrace the potential of incorporating different elements from Ladakh's various regions, unlocking abundant opportunities in the culinary landscape.

Message to the readers
"I underscore the significance of simplicity, health, and sustainability in every meal. Ladakh, being a distinctive tourist destination, calls for an increased presence of Ladakhi chefs. I encourage more young individuals to explore and engage in the culinary world. Through this, Ladakh has the potential to evolve into a hub of culinary creativity, proudly showcasing its rich and diverse food culture to the world.”