In the first part of our series, we spoke to Chef Sabyasachi Gorai who has acquired a cult status in the food industry, and is the purveyor of the Slow Food Movement in India. Chef Saby, as he is fondly known as, started his career in 1995-96 at Ramee Guestline in Juhu, and was soon given the responsibility of handling Mahindra Holiday’s restaurant in Goa. He has been awarded the Best Chef of India, and has mentored young chefs like SodaBottleOpenerwala’s Anahita Dhondy and Megha Kohli who runs his restaurant Lavaash by Saby in Delhi.
We took a walk down the memory lane with Chef Saby and spoke to him about his first day at the job.
What was going inside your mind when you entered the kitchen?
My first day in the kitchen was not very exciting. In fact, my first day wasn’t in the kitchen at all. We were in a Kitchen Management Trainee Programme, which included two months of induction where we were supposed to learn all aspects of hospitality including house-keeping, service, food and beverage, and engineering.
Did you get to cook? What was the first dish that you prepared?
Not for a very long time. I was first put into the kitchen to wash dishes and pots, because everyone thought I was too smart, honestly I wasn’t. But I learned a lot about hygiene, operating machines and equipment, working with line level staff, team co-ordination and management, apart from how the gas line and exhaust system worked. Two months down the line I realised that I knew much more because I had started working from the grassroot level. I now understood the backbone of the kitchen. Post that I was put into the butchery because everyone avoids that too and my knife skills are great thanks to that early training.
I cooked in the cafeteria kitchen, which wasn’t fancy at all. I used to cook for the staff and would experiment within the limited setup of staff kitchen. I would make a kheer or cook roasted chicken on the rotisserie, or festive meals etc. I got so used to it that I used to cook at the staff kitchen at the Olive Bar and Kitchen too later.
Do you have any funny or interesting memory from the first day?
Not from the first day, but there’s one from my initial days as the executive chef of Mahindra Holidays in Goa. I was to bake a plum pudding for the Christmas buffet, and there was no oven in the kitchen. It was a rundown kitchen of an old restaurant. I thought of using an idli maker and steam the pudding, instead put it on the gas and dozed off. I woke up a couple of hours later to a smell of burning metal. The water in the steamer had evaporated and the bottom of the gas was burnt, and everything had melted. I tried finding another idli steamer, but in 1997 it was tough to get an idli steamer in Goa. So I found a welder, who welded a patti below the steamer, and I made the pudding in the same steamer.
One learning from your first day in the kitchen that helped you shape your career.
Since I have an experience working in the most critical departments in the industry quite early in life, I am good at mental mapping of things. I can see ahead of the curve and handle challenges in advance. It has also helped me develop good observation skills.
One advice from your first boss that you still remember.
Chef K Ganesh, who I worked under at my first job at Ramee Guestline in Juhu, is one of the most intelligent chefs. He has a great eye for detail. He had advised me that whenever you enter the kitchen, enter with a blank mind, and wipe your slate completely. Don’t enter with saddled eyes. You’ll notice a lot more than the people working in that kitchen, and you will be empowered because you observe more.