The Corkline

Chef Thoughts with Akshay Bhardwaj

Published August 14th, 2023 by Copper River Salmon

Since 2016, Akshay Bhardwaj has held the position of Executive Chef at Junoon NYC, located in New York City. During his tenure, Junoon has been granted three Michelin Stars, showcasing the exceptional culinary experience it offers. In 2020, Akshay Bhardwaj was recognized for his accomplishments by securing a spot on the Forbes Under 30 list.

JJ: You’ve seen and worked with some salmon during your time here. How has your understanding of salmon as a protein grown since this trip?.

Akshay: My understanding of Copper River Salmon as a protein has definitely gotten better through this trip. Seeing the entire process firsthand was something new for me. Getting to understand something like that fat content that the fish carry in their bellies and how they’re storing all of that excess fat for the migration to go upstream is something I had no idea about, so you know, now I can kind of figure that out when I’m getting salmon in and I’m seeing that belly and am like, oh maybe this guy was caught by one of these fishermen [laughs].Today we got to see Diane’s smokehouse and she went through the whole process up until the fish came out. She also gave us some to try, and it was such a heavy and intense flavor. You’re really getting such a great product with so little done to it–it was just time and care. I think that was an interesting learning lesson for me.

JJ: Are you excited to go home and work with Copper River Salmon in new ways in your culinary expressions?

Akshay: Yep, I’m very excited to work with Copper River salmon when I get back home. As a restaurant that strives on being seasonal and showcasing proteins and produce at their peak; having an understanding that there is a season for this and that there are fishermen coming up here just for the season is really good to know about. I love knowing that there is an announcement for when fishing opens and that there are people waiting till 2 o’clock on a Friday to hear when they can go out to start catching this fish. It's something that I found very valuable, and I want to go back and teach my kitchen crew about all of the traditions and importance of it. When I'm showcasing it on my menu or running a special, I can make sure my staff and guests are informed on the process and how it plays such an important role in this community. I want them to know that we are showcasing a really flavorful, tasty product and that we are only going to have it for a short amount of time.

JJ: Do you have thoughts about a possible connection between organic food and wild food?

Akshay: I think there is a correlation between organic and wild food. When you are breaking down organic and saying that you’re not going to be putting any chemicals; any pesticides, any herbicides, anything like that you know, I think that trying to make sure the plant or organism or whatever it is, it’s important to know that it is being brought up in its most natural state. I guess when it comes to wild food, you are also allowing this food to come up in its natural habitat, as much as possible. So, I do think that is one step of it. Seeing how 60 North works when the salmon comes in and how they treat it; every single fish is being checked several times and the ones that don’t pass the grading test are put aside; you got 6 guys working the line to maintain that kind of quality.

JJ: It was so nice hearing your perspective and all the things you’ve gained from coming on this trip. Now that you are home, what’s new in your world?

Akshay: Since I’ve been back home, I’ve been busy doing construction work on our new restaurant Jazba NYC, as well as working on our pop up in Woodstock that will happen from August 18-20th. Also, joining the junior board of directors of the Make-A-Wish foundation is a new for me since being back.

JJ: What are you looking forward to down the road?

Akshay: Our new restaurant, Jazba NYC opens up early September. The menu and restaurant reflect the forgotten flavors of India by featuring Indian street hawker food (street food of Mumbai)

Last words from Akshay:

I think on this trip particularly, there was a great balance of learning and seeing a lot. We got to experience the inner workings of a town of around 2,600 people and saw how the whole community is working towards one product. We use different products, you know, all the time and I don’t know about you guys, but for me, I’m in a concrete jungle–I’m not in a real jungle [laughs] I’m not seeing fishermen boats, you know, leaving the docks, I’m not getting those kinds of experiences. I’ll use this product and try to respect it as much as possible, but I think my respect for it went up exponentially after a trip like this.

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