Hrishikesh Desai

Hrishikesh Desai

Hrishikesh Desai

One of the very few chefs to win both the Roux scholarship and National Chef of the Year, Hrishikesh Desai’s distinct style of cookery, blending classical technique with spicing that harks back to his Indian heritage, has seen him win Michelin stars at multiple restaurants. In his current position as chef patron at Farlam Hall, he’s cemented himself as one of the biggest talents of the North West’s food scene.

The world of hospitality drew Hrishikesh Desai in from a very young age but it wasn’t until he was nineteen that he made the move from front of house to the kitchen. Since then, he’s never looked back, having gone on to be named a Roux scholar, win Michelin stars at two separate restaurants and earn plaudits for his food, which combines his classical French training with touches of Indian flavour.

Growing up in Pune in Western India, food was always a part of Hrishikesh’s life, whether it was looking on whilst his mum cooked (‘I’d just come back for school, sit in the kitchen and watch her do everything from scratch’) or trying different regional cuisines when holidaying in South India. There are two particular moments though, which stand out to Hrishikesh as pivotal in his journey to becoming a chef. The first of these was an Indian wedding he attended aged four at a five-star hotel, where even at such a young age, he was dazzled by the hospitality on show. From that moment on, a career in the hospitality industry beckoned, and by his late teens, he’d won a scholarship to study restaurant management at the Institut Paul Bocuse in Lyon.

It was whilst he was in Lyon, however, that the second of these key moments took place, setting Hrishikesh on his path to becoming a chef as opposed to working front of house. ‘It sounds crazy to say but it all started with a crème brulée,’ he laughs. ‘I saw one being blowtorched in France and I was amazed by it. I think it was partly seeing that chefs got to use all of these cool gadgets but it also made me realise that if I wanted to fully understand this industry, I needed to cook. That was what made me want to become a chef.’

Hrishikesh began his training in France, working at Relais & Chateau hotels including the one-Michelin-starred Le Chateau de Bagnol and two-starred Les Maison de Bricourt. And by the time he’d left France, his heart was not only set on a career in fine dining but also on one day becoming the executive chef of a country house hotel (something he would ultimately achieve decades later). A large part of making this dream a reality was the ten years that Hrishikesh went on to spend at Lucknam Park under chef and mentor Hywel Jones after arriving in the UK from France. It was over the course of his time there that Hrishikesh truly honed his skills and morphed into the dynamic chef he is today, working his way up from commis all the way to head chef.

‘Hywel was like a father figure to me to be honest,’ explains Hrishikesh, who was part of the team that won Lucknam Park its first Michelin star. ‘He was strict but also had a great heart and trained me in the best possible way. What made him such a good mentor was that he’d always tell you why you were doing something wrong and then help you correct that. Working at Lucknam Park for all those years also meant that by the end, I understood every single operation, which has been so important for me further down the line.’

It was whilst working at Lucknam Park that two of Hrishikesh’s biggest successes came, in the form of winning the prestigious Roux Scholarship in 2009, having been heavily encouraged by Hywel to enter, followed by the Craft Guild of Chefs’ National Chef of the Year in 2010. ‘The Roux Scholarship was particularly special for me,’ he smiles, ‘as I’d grown up in India reading about who the Roux family were and seeing their name mentioned in so many books. So to then fast forward and be shaking their hands on stage, it felt like a dream come true.’ Following his win, Hrishikesh became the first ever Roux scholar to stage in the US, working at the legendary French Laundry under Thomas Keller and Timothy Hollingsworth.

Once back in the UK, after a stint in charge of Lucknam Park’s cookery school and then as head chef of the restaurant, Hrishikesh began to seek out a new challenge but kept coming up against the same problem. ‘There were plenty of opportunities around,’ he explains, ‘but no country house hotel wanted me as their executive chef because as soon as I’d mention spice, they’d no longer be interested.’ That was until he was encouraged to apply for the role of executive chef at the Gilpin Hotel Cumbria, via the rather unorthodox process of a tv show named Alex Polizzi: Chefs on Trial. The show saw Hrishikesh compete against eight different chefs to get the job and, after winning over Alex Polizzi with his subtle fusion of classical cookery and Indian spicing, he was declared the winner and his dream of becoming the executive chef of a country house hotel had become a reality.

Having taken over the kitchen at Gilpin Hotel in 2015, two years later Hrishikesh was awarded a Michelin star for his restaurant HRISHI – a moment, he says, he will never forget. However, more important than the star itself for Hrishikesh was what it represented. It showed that customers and critics were receptive to his distinct modern British-meets-Indian style of cookery, even at a country house hotel. Dishes such as lamb with Hyderabadi masala sauce and five spice pork belly set his menu apart from that of other similar hotels and cemented him as one of the UK’s most exciting chefs.

Hrishikesh stayed at Gilpin all the way through to 2023, and during his time there also competed on two series of BBC’s Great British Menu, but after eight years was restless for a new project that he could make completely his own. This came in the form of Farlam Hall, a rural hotel near Carlisle, where his current role as chef patron extends beyond the kitchen. As well as overseeing the hotel’s fine dining restaurant The Cedar Tree, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2024 and showcases what is now Hrishikesh’s signature style, he has also been pivotal in revitalising the property’s kitchen garden, weaving its seasonal bounty through the menu. There’s no question that Farlam Hall is a big project, but one which excites Hrishikesh rather than daunts him. ‘Winning a Michelin star here is only the start,’ he smiles. ‘I want to establish Farlam Hall as a country house hotel that’s always led by food and beverage, but I also want to promote the art of hospitality and show those who visit that this is a really great profession.’