I passed out in 1980 from Chandigarh. That time I wanted to become an engineer. Since I could not cater to that field, my brother prompted me to join the catering college.
So I joined Taj Group of Hotels and served there for 4 years. I never had love for cooking in the beginning; however as the journey progressed, I found the line very interesting. I was transferred to the Flight catering unit to start up their bakery project. Soon I switched my job from bakery to hot kitchen and, by 1989, I opened up two Taj cake shops – at Hyderabad and Chennai.
Meanwhile, I got an opportunity to train abroad and introduced stuffed centre-filled chocolate in the market. In 2007, I went to Bangalore to setup a new unit of flight catering. Then in 2010, I moved to Delhi to take care of their operations and that is when I joined ICF. The mission of ICF is to encourage young chefs to come forward. It was Chef Arvind Saraswat, Director, Food Production, who took me into that fold and he is the one I look upto.
Today the job of a chef is more inclined towards the management side of things, while cooking makes up just an integral part. I myself have 56 chefs working under me. All the chefs who work under me also contribute in menu design and this is another area which I am proud of. I have around 20 clients from various airlines; we plan the menu, showcase it and they select their menu. So if a chef is not a good manager, then it is very difficult to manage work, develop good chefs under him and make them responsible and accountable just like in other professions.
Cooking is also a profession and a great learning experience and I’m here to learn new things. So I clearly believe in the adage: Learn, Unlearn and Relearn. Even now I make it a point to stay abreast with the latest trends in food business through the net as well as by meeting new chefs because consumer’s tastes are always evolving and their perceptions are always changing.
My strength in administrative skills and my being proactive in managing new projects throughout my career helped me to bag the Golden Chef Award – a great accomplishment for me. When you enter this industry, the first year goes in knowing and learning people, while in the second year you start settling down and making friends. You make more friends than enemies if your stint in industry is for 3 or 4 years. If you stay more, arguments begin. So I consider myself lucky that I have made more friends than enemies in my entire career span.
Right now the air and catering business module is passing through a critical period because everyone is turning to low cost airline and this is the biggest threat to our business existence. To counter the risk, we are diversifying our menus and looking at various avenues of revenue generation where we can bring in synergies like Costa coffee, Starbucks, etc.
I know that as per NRAI, of the total restaurant industry, “70% is still unorganised; this has improved significantly because in 2010, 84% was unorganised”. All I can say is that the customer looks at quality and cost because everyone wants value for money. In my organisation, each and every meal, which is being sent out, is tasted by my team of chefs so that its quality is checked before it reaches the customer.
Though my family is not in this line (my wife is a good cook and also my inspiration), I do have plans to open my restaurant in future. Out of all the cuisines I cook, my favourite cuisine is Indian cuisine (Awadhi cuisine from the city of Lucknow) which basically consists of dry fruits and saffron.