Meet the chef: Gurdip Singh from Taste of India in Middlebury

Chefs who really know what they’re doing make it look effortless. They move calmly over the oven flames, stirring and shaking pans with sizzling veggies, searing meats and bubbling sauces. They grab spices — add a dash here and a pinch there. There are no timers and no recipe books; they’ve got the flavorings and cook-times down to a perfect science.
Wait. That can’t be true. Everyone must need a recipe — at least at the very beginning — right?!
The three chefs at Taste of India in Middlebury — Singh, Jaswinder and Vishal — are proof that you can be a master-chef and never use a recipe.
“My uncle taught me how to cook,” explained Gurdip Singh, who grew up in Punjab, India, and goes by Singh. “Nothing was every written down. It was all learned by experience… My uncle had a restaurant in India. I apprenticed with him and then was a chef there.”
Singh came to the United States in 1998 as a 20-something. One of his cousins lived here and was running a restaurant in Chittenden County — you might know it: India House on Colchester Ave., in Burlington.
“My cousin sponsored me, so I was able to come here as a permanent resident,” Singh said.
In 2000, Singh returned to his home in northern India to marry Narender Kaur.
After their marriage, Singh returned to Vermont to run his cousin’s second restaurant — Taste of India in Middlebury. But Kaur couldn’t return to the states with her husband right away. She had to wait five years before she and their son could join Singh in Vermont.
By 2005, the family was together, settled in Middlebury, and Singh had established a well-known Indian food restaurant in town.
“There was a big line right away,” he said. “We get a lot of business from college students and staff. About half the customers eat-in and half order take-out.”
To help him keep up with the orders, Singh shares the kitchen with Jaswinder (who’s been cooking for over 20 years) and his son Vishal (who just started a few months ago).
“Vishal is a good cook,” Singh assured. “Some people notice a change between our cooking but there have been no complaints.”
Vishal came to the states (also from Punjab, India) when he was 14. He graduated from Middlebury Union High School and attended Paul Smith’s College in New York, which is known for its culinary arts program. Now 23, he’s learning to cook from Singh and his own father in a similar apprenticeship-style — and with no recipes.
“One day I hope I can open my own restaurant,” Vishal said.
In the kitchen Vishal does a lot of the cooking, but Singh and Jaswinder make most of the breads in the clay tandoori oven. Why? Because “they’re the hardest to make and it’s hot,” explained Singh pointing to his forearms. “See, no hair!”
Jaswinder doesn’t have any hair on his forearms either — apparently the sign of a veteran Indian chef.
But even though their forearm hair has been singed, it doesn’t stop these chefs from rolling and sticking naan to the sides of the oven.
“I love it,” Singh said. “It’s nice to work in a small town like Middlebury. Everyone is so friendly and they all know each other.”
“Yes, the customers here are very polite and nice,” chimed in Kaur, who does most of the front-end business management and serving. “We are so thankful for our customers and we love our community here.”
“People love the food too,” Singh said. “Their favorites are Tikka Masala and spinach dishes.”
But the food isn’t quite like how they would prepare it back home in northern India.
“We make the food mild here,” explained Kaur. “In India all the food is the same amount of spiciness.”
And that is hot!
Another difference is that they don’t cook with butter or ghee here in the states.
“Customers prefer it lighter and more flavorful,” Kaur said. So they use vegetable oil instead.
The third noticeable difference for the chefs is that they can make larger batches and keep it in the cooler. The hot weather and unreliable electricity back in India necessitates the smaller batches, explained Kaur.
“It’s a lot of work to make this food from scratch,” Singh said. And because there are no recipes and measuring spoons, the food “is never the same,” Singh said. “It changes every time.”

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