Chet Sharma

Chet Sharma

Chet Sharma

With years of experience behind him working as a development chef for some of the UK’s best restaurants, Chet Sharma opened his own restaurant Bibi, where he now cooks some of London’s most innovative Indian food.

London’s Indian food scene has changed dramatically over the past twenty years. Long gone are the days when only a tiny proportion of India’s multitude of regional cuisines were represented and most ‘high-end’ Indian food was still driven by classical French technique; Indian food is now one of best represented and most popular cuisines in the city.

Chet Sharma began his career as a chef working in fine dining restaurants almost embarrassed by the Indian food available in London. However, having been inspired by the opening of restaurants like Gymkhana, Chet himself has gradually become a part of the city’s newer, more progressive Indian food scene, culminating in him now running one of London’s most innovative Indian restaurants Bibi.

From a young age Chet was surrounded by food, meaning that his interest in the kitchen was piqued early on. ‘Growing up in a Punjabi household, you’d be talking about dinner while you ate breakfast,’ he smiles. ‘It’s a very food-obsessed culture, so we’d regularly have about thirty-five people around on a Sunday and it’s all about looking after your guests. If people arrived around dinner time and you didn’t force them to eat, you’d done a bad job.’

Despite having a keen interest in food, Chet wasn’t initially set on becoming a chef and instead moved to London to attend university. However, whilst he studied at UCL, he began working in the kitchens of Benares and Locanda Locatelli during evenings and weekends. Initially this was just to learn (‘I liked eating Indian food and Italian food, and just wanted to be able to cook it better’) but by his mid-twenties had caught the cookery bug, and was soon taking up stages at everywhere from Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons to The Hand and Flowers.

Even by the end of his master’s degree though, Chet was still on the fence as to whether he should pursue a career in academics or in the kitchen, so when offered the opportunity to move to Oxford to do a PHD in physics, he didn’t feel he could refuse. Although he had much less opportunity to work in restaurant kitchens whilst living outside of London, his time in Oxford still proved key in his development as a chef. ‘I think that break from professional kitchens was actually the best thing that happened to me,’ explains Chet. ‘Not only did it make me realise that I wasn’t by any means the finished article, but Oxford’s a very multi-cultural place, so I found that I was exposed to a lot of different cuisines from around the world.’

Towards the end of his PHD, Chet started working with Ollie Dabbous who introduced him to the team at San Sebastian’s legendary Mugaritz, and within two days of completing his studies, he moved out to Spain to spend nine months at the two-star restaurant. ‘Their mantra at Mugaritz is that it doesn’t need to be delicious, it needs to be interesting,’ says Chet. ‘So there was nowhere better in the world for a young development chef wanting to find his feet and understand what people want to eat.’ Having excelled at Mugaritz, Chet soon found himself returning to the UK to take charge of R&D for Simon Rogan – a position which saw him relocate to Cartmel and play an important role in the launch of Fera at Claridges. Ultimately after a year and half spent living Cartmel though, Chet began to get restless. ‘You could never buy ginger or coriander there,’ he recalls. ‘I used to drive down to Manchester on my days off to get it!’.

Returning to London, Chet spent some time working at The Ledbury, whilst also doing development work for the likes of Flat Iron. However, another role as a development chef soon followed, this time with Mark Birchall who was in the early stages of planning for the opening of Moor Hall. ‘That was incredibly hard work because Moor Hall was such an ambitious project,’ he says. ‘But at the same time, it was amazing fun. I remember there being nights where we’d even sleep in the restaurant to get through the workload.’ Chet went on to help with development at Moor Hall on and off for the best part of two years, and saw the restaurant win its first star, but throughout this time somewhat of an Indian food revolution was taking place in London, which he couldn’t help but take notice of.

‘For a long time, I felt a bit embarrassed of Indian food,’ explains Chet. ‘In London I’d never had food anywhere near the quality of the Indian food in India – it was completely unrecognisable. You’d go to these smart restaurants and they’d be doing incredible things but it just missed the soul of Indian cuisine. But then restaurants like Gymkhana started to open and it was amazing to see a place like that in London.’

So, when the chance arose for Chet to begin working with the JKS restaurant group (who owned restaurants such as Gymkhana) to help with the development of new restaurants, he leapt at the chance. ‘Working with JKS honestly gave me a much better understanding of Indian food,’ says Chet. ‘In many ways it actually allowed me to retrain my palate to be more authentically Indian.’ JKS co-founder Karam Sethi meanwhile, had bigger plans for Chet and began nudging him towards opening a restaurant of his own. ‘I was around thirty at the time and thought I still had plenty of time to open somewhere,’ smiles Chet. ‘But Karan said ‘Not really. You need to stop being a coward and open a restaurant!’’

The next few years saw Chet work tirelessly alongside the JKS team to develop an Indian restaurant concept that both stood out and stayed true to the authentic flavour profiles of India, and the result of this was Bibi. Influenced by his years of fine dining experience, Chet’s initial plans for Bibi were actually very different from how it ended up. ‘Originally I wanted Bibi to be a chef’s table restaurant with a tasting menu,’ he explains. ‘But what eventually got the fine dining out of me was a global pandemic. Having that fear of not knowing whether the sector would survive made me think about what sort of restaurant I would want to visit on my day off and it wasn’t a fine dining concept.’

After taking time to rethink the offering, Chet finally opened the doors of Bibi in 2021, serving innovative, contemporary takes on Indian dishes, using premium British ingredients but in much more causal setting. ‘Our food doesn’t necessarily look Indian on the plate,’ he says. ‘It’s modern and progressive, but if an Indian grandmother walked into the dining room and tasted a dish, she would still understand its roots. That’s always been a really important thing for me with this restaurant.’ The public and critics alike quickly got on board with the concept, with Bibi topping a number of lists of the capital’s most exciting new openings that year, and the team consistently serving to packed out dining rooms.

With a CV both as broad and impressive as Chet’s, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that he would eventually open a brilliant restaurant of his own, but with his menu at Bibi he’s gone even further than that. Chet is serving Indian food in a way that hasn’t really been seen before, proving that he’s not only one of the most exciting chefs in London, but also one of the cleverest.