What Makes Nick & Sam’s Stellar Chef, Samir Dhurandhar Tick?

Chef Samir Dhurandhar

A native of India, Chef Samir Dhurandhar’s curiosity and passion for food evolved at a very early age in his mother’s kitchen. Influenced by the colorful and diverse dishes of his native homeland, he soon realized the relevance of continental cuisine and the infusion of culture into the culinary arts. At thirteen years old, he began cooking for family and friends and later worked as a Junior Sous Chef at the Sheraton in India. It wasn’t long before he knew that he wanted to pursue his career, so he went on to attend the Culinary Institute in America. Landing his first job in New York, after six years of hard work, Chef Samir became the Executive Chef for Sfuzzi’s, where he was the first chef allowed to create his very own menu for the conglomerate. During his stay in New York he developed his skills as a valuable advisor and created menus for John Harvard’s Brewhouse in Long Island and served as Executive Chef for The Heartland Brewery Restaurant Group.

His latest venture, Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse is a MUST in the city of Dallas. From the moment you walk into the doors and into the main dining room of the eclectic and modern restaurant the tone is set and the expectation of an excellent meal is immediately confirmed by a diverse menu that offers everything from steak to sushi. Chef Samir’s menu at Nick and Sam’s takes its guests on a transformative journey of culinary masterpieces. His hard work and dedication for excellence has earned Nick & Sam’s the International “Five Star Diamond Award” in 2008.

Having mastered the ability to design creative menus for new restaurant concepts, has gained him the recognition of notable food enthusiasts, Julia Childs, Rachel Ray, T. Boone Pickens and Troy Aikman, as well fueled the success behind his latest ventures; Coal Vines Pizza and Nick & Sam’s Grill. Among his many accolades, Chef Samir has won the American Institute of Wine and Food’s 2000, “Upcoming Chef Award,” “Best Caesar Salad Competition” and the KRLD Restaurant Week’s, “Best Food/Wine Matched Menu in Dallas.”

Chef Samir’s thoughtful perspective on food and his ability to marry unique continental flavors in order to create one-of-kind experiences for his guests is a tried and true formula of his success. Haute Living had the opportunity to experience it first hand and get to know the thoughtful man behind an amazing culinary treat.

Main Dining Room at Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Nick and Sam’s

Where are you originally from and how long have you been in Dallas? I am originally from India. I was born in New Delhi, then grew up in Bombay (now Mumbai) then came to the US to go to cooking school at the CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in 1989. I worked in New York for 9 years then came to Dallas 16 years ago to open the steakhouse.

What inspired you to become a chef? My mother’s passion for cooking. She always fed me all kinds of things, from Indian to continental. She held cooking classes at home and made me her sous chef. My love for food and her determination inspired me to be a chef.

What do you think has influenced your cuisine the most? My guests- I cook what my guests want. They have influenced me to cook all kinds of cuisines. In this world of constant competition, we need to take the time to listen to our guests.

How would you classify the cuisine? Chef Driven Steakhouse (giving our guests steakhouse fare, also including a well rounded menu with interesting twists)

What do you think your biggest challenge has been in your culinary career? I think coming over from India to go to cooking school. it was tough, getting to know all kinds of vegetables/ fruits/ proteins that I had never seen before…

How do you think Dallas’ culinary scene is different from other places? I think mostly because of the versatility of our guests coming to this city. Being fairly centrally located, it brings various people  from all over the country. It’s on the brink of really being recognized as a major food town. The increasing talent and restaurants in our city is rapidly getting us there.

How would you classify Texas Cuisine? Texas Cuisine- blend of different cultures…Guests look at Dallas as a meat & potatoes town, but are pleasantly surprised when we provide a lot more. Again Texas Cuisine I say is is a cuisine that brings different cultures together, more like a potluck party.

Do you have any mentors and if so; who are they and what did you take away from them? I think my mentor would be my first chef, Richard Pietromonico. Coming out of the culinary, I did not have legal papers to work. He took a chance on me and has made me who I am today. He really took the time to show me the correct way to do things. He showed me how to take care of the guests. Others are Chef Sam Hazen (developed the Tao restaurants) and my boss, partner Joseph Palladino. Joe has always pushed me to be bette and to do my best. He took the time to really show me the business side of the industry and how to take care of anyone who walks through our door.

If you were not a chef what would you be doing? Tough question- I have never done anything else…so I guess I cannot say….maybe a teacher? food critic? :)

Last day on Earth what city would you be in? New York, without a question!!! Food lovers paradise. Probably find me at Gray Papayas with a hot dog in my hand.

What would be your last meal? My mothers lentils and rice…a simple dinner only my mother could make elegant…drizzled with a little ghee, served with a small side of homemade mango pickle and freshly fried papadums.

Sommelier or Mixologist? I think a little of both…I love wine, but love mixing different flavors and ingredients to come up with something new…

Favorite cocktail? Sucker for a great spicy bloody mary- with some Jalapeño stuffed olives!!!!

Whats your signature dish? Or is there one dish that sums up your culinary career? I would say my ‘Kung Pao Lobster’- Took the traditional ‘chicken fried’ lobster and added the spicy asian flair to it….that’s my Texas Cuisine- who doest like asian food?!

What ingredient do you most dislike cooking with? Avocados!!! never liked them….but still use them to make sauces and relishes on our menu…(I know our guests love avocados)

How do you think the glamorization of chefs have changed the industry? I think it has been great for the industry. The awareness has grown, they have become celebrities, they are looked up to…they have become destinations!!! and to note all the celebrity chefs- most of them deserve every penny!!!

What is food art to you? Where does your inspiration come from? My inspirations come to me from everywhere; magazines, movies, what my kids are saying about food, but mostly ingredients that I have rarely or never worked with. I face that as a challenge and that’s what makes me better everyday. My first chef once told me this- take everyday to make things better. “If you slice bread one day, go to the next day and strive to slice it better.”

Working on any new projects? Future plans? We are just about to open our Latin/ Mexican concept “dos Jefes”. few more things are also on the books for this year, including an extension to our current steakhouse.

What patron would be on your bucket list to experience your cuisine? I have been blessed to cook for and meet several celebrities. Would have loved to meet and cook for Charlie Trotter….and would love to cook for Chef Michael Symon….

Do you work with any non profits or benefits? I do…we have our own charity called Hungerbusters, Mr Phil Romano founded it…always been a great supporter. Anything to do with children, from March of Dimes, DARS, Texas NF Foundation…I am will donate all my time for the kids…to see a smile on their face completes my day…we take too many things for granted.

Whats a kitchen gadget/tool that you couldn’t live without? Probably my japanese slicer and my vitamix

What are your thoughts on food critics? Initially I always took things personally. I thought they were always gunning for me…but the more I thought about it…they were mostly right. I looked at it as a wake call if it was a bad review…looked at it as there must have been several other guests that felt that way and did not say anything…. It definitely bothers me that someone has written something bad about us, but again, I look at it as an opportunity for improvement. We chefs, work really hard, my day starts at 5 in the morning, I come home around 10…so it’s just human nature that if you really care, it’s hard to see something negative..

Your favorite comfort food? Indian…some kind of protein cooked in a Tandoor. Love the indian kebabs…I have a tandoor oven in my back yard for that reason.