WHILE Indian chefs, today, are excelling at foreign cuisines like Mexican, Mediterranean and sushi, our own desi cuisine never fails to fascinate Chef Narayan Rao. Consider this; India is made up of 28 states and seven union territories. While a dining table in Kashmir looks very different from one in Kanyakumari, even within a 30 kilometre radius dining options vary based on one’s religion, community and food choices.
Even the respective colonial influence has left its mark on Indian platters. “The food varies depending on the season and offers a lot of depth,” elaborates Chef Narayan who was Executive Chef of The Aman, a luxury hotel in Delhi until recently. Chef Narayan’s reasons for joining the profession are “Pure passion and love for food!”
Do you also have a passion for food? Think to become a chef.
Traditionally, those aspiring to be chefs would pursue a degree or diploma in hotel management, which trains one in the hospitality industry’s core functions – Housekeeping, Front office, Food & Beverage and Food Production.
The Bureau of Labour Statistics offers a positive forecast. An 11 percent increase in employment for chefs and food professionals, is expected by 2016.
Finding Your Niche
An awareness of all cuisines is good, developing a specialisation helps one excel.
Post Chef’s Training
Recruiters include 5-star hotels, restaurants, food chains, corporates, caterers and more. While uniformity is missing when it comes to the chef’s careerhierarchy, Chef Thiru shares one progression: Corporate Chef, Executive Chef, Senior Executive Sous chef, Sous Chef, Junior Sous Chef, Chef de partie, Demi Chef de partie and Commis. As chefs ascend the ladder, they eventually end up doing a lot more then cooking. This includes quality control over ingredients and food served, curbing wastage, managing finances, planning menus and hiring and managing teams. Hence, a good chef has to be a good leader.
One of Chef Narayan’s wildest experiences was leading a team for a celebrity wedding at a jungle resort. While guests let their hair down, it was madhouse backstage; 6 am to 10 am was breakfast, 12 pm to 4 pm was lunch and 6 pm to 10 pm was dinner! This routine continued for six days. While high profile events like this one bring on the adrenaline rush, a most precious moment in the chef’s career was when the late actor Shammi Kapoor summoned him to his table. “He kissed my hand and remarked that my food reminded him of his mother and his days in Pakistan before independence,” reminisces the chef.
The Labours of Love
While money, fame and celebrities on speed dial are by-products of success, be prepared to slog it out for the first five years of you career, including keeping work stations spotless and peeling potatoes. But take heart that most veteran chefs have been through this grind and consider these basic tasks essential to lay the foundation. “On the bad side, you will work late all through your career,” says Chef Sudhakar. “Once you have established yourself in the field, you are a celebrity,” he adds.
In case you haven’t realised, the word ‘chef’ tends to get prefixed before one’s name, almost like a title, which of course must be earned. Some chefs have even been known to wield more power than the General Manager of the hotel! This is simply because people know the real value of good food – priceless.