Jan 20, 2016
It is a good time to be a chef in India. One of the positive fallouts of the interest in food in India today is the recognition given to chefs. There has been a sea change from the times when they were equated with bawarchis and khansamahs, and were meant to stay inside the kitchens and not given too much importance by the diners.
Things began to change, thanks to television with folks like the late Tarla Dalal and Sanjeev Kapoor creating an interest in cooking with their food shows. The recent years have seen a number of corporate chefs such as Vicky Ratnani, Ajay Chopra and Ranveer Brar focusing on a television career. While restaurant chefs such as Manish Mehrotra, Manu Chandra and Vikramjit Roy to name a few are celebrated by the food media, and involve diners for the food dished out in their restaurants, questions are being raised on whether the glamourisation of the kitchen is good or bad for the industry.
What is beyond doubt though is that being a chef today is quite an aspiring profession in India, and many talented young individuals are entering the industry through catering colleges. It will be really interesting to see what comes out of the current crop of aspiring chefs who are entering hotel management schools. Will they come out and revive traditional Indian food? Will they look outside for inspirations?
The mentoring they receive at this stage with be really crucial. One interesting initiative, which has been started by the Indian Institute of Hospitality & Management or IIHM is the Young Chef Olympiad. It is in its second year now and provides a platform for young chefs to meet and interact with each other, and learn from industry veterans.
One of the mentors for the event is Shaun Kenworthy, a UK-born chef, who after working in Europe has made Kolkata his home. I caught up with him to know a bit more about the Young Chef Olympiad.
What is the idea behind the Young Chef Olympiad?
Young Chef Olympiad provides students a global platform, and connects chefs from all over the world under one roof. It offers them a plethora of opportunities by just interacting with the people from all walks of life. Students participating at the events leave as friends – they stay together during the nine days of the competition and network globally at a young age. Our motto is love, teach and network. Love each other, teach each other and network with each other. That is the true Olympiad spirit. We at IIHM have been doing Young Chef competitions for the past six years now, and I think one of the most important things that you will find is the life-long friendships that happen within that week.
Tell us about the participants.
The participants come from over 67 countries. We have participants from places and representing cuisines that are unique and distinguished. So, it’s going to be a world on a platter. This is an incredible opportunity for all the budding young chefs across the globe to come together for this one-of-a-kind competition. The platform is enormous and it will be something that changes their lives and fortunes forever.
What are the skills that they would be expected to demonstrate?
Spontaneity and quick thinking will surely lead the contestants ahead of their peers. Cooking is an art form. And, the students here are basically asked to create modern art quickly. So it’s like we know the colours that you are using, but we want your product to delight us. The briefing document was three months in the making to make this as clear as we could so that it made sense to all nationalities. Nothing other than the ingredients and equipment that has been listed will be allowed so we have a level playing field throughout.
What are you looking forward to seeing in the event?
The competition seems more spontaneous with a wide range of mystery baskets and more. But in the end, all the ingredients will also vary regionally. So there will be a lot of difference for an Asian chef will be dealing with American tomatoes, and an American chef will be cooking with Asian onions. It will be a challenge throughout the competition. Even the cooking styles vary across cultures. So it will be interesting to watch the chefs step out of their comfort zones and create gastronomical wonders in an alien atmosphere. All the judges will be looking for some great cooking and knife skills, cooking methods, hygiene and cleanliness, detailed working methods, immaculate seasoning, creativity wherever necessary, and the most amazing use of those timelines. Let the games begin!
How do you find the emerging chef scene (the young chefs) of India to be unique, if at all compared, to young chefs that you have scene in other markets?
Indian cuisine is famous all over the world, and is well known for its food delights. There is almost no place in the world where you will not find an Indian restaurant. So judging by the magnanimous strata that the cuisine occupies globally, I think Indian chefs have a place full of wonders to be presented. And I certainly look forward to seeing the same.
What do you think drives the young chefs of India today?
The opportunity to present something that you have created not just to the judges, but to the entire world is an opportunity that knocks just once. Having your culture, flavours and finesse appreciated by the world, would definitely be the driving factor behind the young chefs of India. Achieving the same at a young age would give them the boost to their future endeavours.
How do you see this drive the emerging restaurant canvas in India?
As mentioned earlier, you will find Indian restaurants all over the world. And, seeing the kind of innovation that the chefs today are making in India with not just Indian food, but also with the world platter, is a wonder to behold.
Lastly, any words of advice that you have for the young chefs in India.
I would say follow your heart and your tradition. The most important thing is going back to where you came from. Seeing after all the varied food cultures in just one city is mind-boggling for an outsider. And, I encourage the chefs to keep exploring and innovating.