Table Talk with Chef Deepak Ballaney

Current Gig
Executive Chef and Owner, International Wings Factory

About the Chef
Chef Deepak Ballaney’s first job was at IBM in the Information Technology department in India. Eventually, he switched careers and went into the Hospitality field, where he worked for the Taj Group of Hotels.  Chef Deepak came to the United States in 2003 and continued to work as a hotel consultant for another six years. At the peak of his hospitality career, he decided to follow his passion and enroll in the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating, Chef Deepak consulted for several restaurants, including two Indian restaurants (Akbar in Edison, New Jersey and Delhi Heights in Queens, New York) and a Mexican restaurant, El Dorado. In 2012, he decided to make his dream of opening his own restaurant a reality. At first, he couldn’t decide between fine dining or doing something more casual that would help him create his own brand. Chef Deepak went with his gut and opened International Wings Factory in Manhattan’s Upper East Side in 2013. IWF serves up tasty wings, burgers, and sandwiches and is known for their unique sauces with global flair.

International Wings Factory: 1762 First Avenue (between 91st and 92nd Street)

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Chef Deepak Ballaney in the kitchen at International Wings Factory

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Bombay, India. At first, my life was exactly what my parents wanted it to be. If your father is a scientist, then you will become a scientist. Just a very typical Indian family. I graduated with majors in chemistry and physics, and got a job at IBM. But my long-time dream was always to attend culinary school and have my own restaurant.

What did you enjoy eating most as a kid?
Scrambled eggs, but done the Indian way. It’s called Bhurji.  The eggs are made with clarified butter (ghee), a lot of masalas, onions, tomato, and prepared on a flat iron skillet. No matter what time of day, I can always eat them. I used to love to eat them at three in the morning after a long night of drinking. (Laughing) They are the best!

At the moment, what is your favorite ingredient and what do you like to make with it?
I use spices a lot, but my all-time favorite ingredient is chipotle pepper. I use a lot of them in my cooking along with other Mexican chilis. Since I own a wing place, my favorite sauce is buffalo sauce. It’s the base of many other sauces that we make here at IWF.

What kitchen items are important for a home cook to own?
I would say that everyone should own a whisk and a spice rack. Some of the spices that I cook with most often are cumin, black pepper, and cayenne.  They are absolutely essential. So much flavor comes from good spices! I also highly recommend the Vitamix blender.

If your food were music, what music style(s) would it be and why?
Definitely house music.  Most of the time, there are no vocals – it is just clean music with simple rhythms. It’s very upbeat and it makes me happy to listen to it. I play it all the time in the restaurant. I have seen people from all over the world come in, and after five minutes, they are bopping their heads and tapping their feet to the house music. The good vibes are contagious! (Laughing)

Where are your favorite places to travel for the cuisine?
Mexico, Thailand, Spain, and India are my favorite countries because of their cuisine. Flavor-wise, these countries contribute so much. Their flavors give life to any food. I have actually never been to Mexico — I tried to plan a trip there on three different occasions, but something always happens and I had to cancel. It’s number one on my list for places to visit.

If you had not gone the culinary route, what would you have done instead?
I would probably be an actor. I always tell people, the restaurant industry is like Broadway. We put on our best face every day – it’s basically like putting on a show. I love it. (Laughing)

Which chef do you admire most right now?
Thomas Keller is number one to me. He has a good history with food. I have not had a chance to eat at French Laundry, but I have been to Bouchon and Per Se. I think it’s an amazing experience to dine at his restaurants. It shows how much effort goes into each step from sourcing the food to putting it on the table. I would love to spend just one day in French Laundry to learn everything that they do.

When you get a chance to dine out, where do you like to go?
When I want fine dining, I love Per Se and Daniel.  For every day eating, I enjoy going to Pongsri for Thai food and Marseille for French.  As for Indian restaurants, Yuva Indian Grill or The MasalaWala are great. My latest passions are ramen and dumplings – I’m always looking to try something new. The problem with the chef lifestyle is that unfortunately there is not much time for eating out! (Laughing)

If you had to give up one of the five food groups (Bread & Potatoes; Milk & Dairy; Meat & Fish; Fat & Sugar; Fruits & Vegetables) and could not eat anything from that group for the rest of your life, which one would it be and why?
Bread and Potatoes. That was an easy one. I very rarely eat carbs, so I won’t miss them very much!

Table Talk with Chef Deepak Ballaney