Chef Ashish never thought of entering the food world. It was only after his high studies that he saw his friends filling form for Hotel Management. He did the same and took admission in Kochi. Ashish never wanted to be a chef rather wanted to join operation side. But, whenever he used to cook things in the kitchen it used to turn better than other people. “Whenever I had a discussion with my professors they would tell me that you cook well and you should join the kitchen,” he smiles as he followed the same and started his career as a pastry chef. In his career he also worked on cruise lines and has travelled around 55 countries knowing various cultures and cuisines. Today, he is running top restaurants at Taj as an executive chef at Taj Bengaluru. Excerpts from the interview:
Venturing into the Food World
Once you decide to be there in the kitchen and it becomes your bread and butter you will have to focus on what’s new happening in the world. I follow all the top chefs of the worlds, latest ingredients, and equipments being used in the kitchen. We at Taj Bengaluru have the best equipped kitchen at the entire Taj group. We try out new trend, flavors and understand the taste better.
How have things evolved in last few years?
Technology also plays an important role these days in making the food better. People these days are well travelled and you don’t force somebody saying that this is the way this food/cuisine is because people known what it is. The knowledge of cuisine has evolved in Indians. At the end of the day we Indians want to be Indian to get something different and special by using some ingredients which makes its different. That feeling of making it special and elite is what we focus on. I focus that my chefs meet every guest coming to the hotel.
What is your USP when cooking food?
Due to my extensive travelling around the world I have got lots of knowledge about different cuisines. You can experiment with food but you can do the same only if you know the food, ingredient. So, with my travel I have experimented lots of different ingredients and cuisines which has helped me in creating new dishes at my hotel. What I stress a lot is the freshness of the ingredient. So, I buy everything fresh at my hotel. I fly fish from all the way to Ice land for my Japanese restaurant. We have also structured training going every month to keep my chefs updated and cook with them to show them what a dish should be actually like. It’s very important for chefs to be very hands on. If you can’t cook you can’t be called a chef.
Working on the Creative Side
Everyone is creative and got a different idea. I have 64 chefs working with me who have all got different ideas. I have got a dish of the month where all my chefs participate and create something special and whatever dish comes as top two I keep it as a main menu because every year we change menu of all our outlets and we need ideas to incorporate those dishes.
Serving the Who’s Who
I have served all top businessmen of India including Ambani’s, Kothari’s and Piramal’s to name a few. We have served lots of movie person as well and also dignitaries from different countries including President of Srilanka, Pakistan, Canada to name a few. I have served Mr. Modi for couple of times. I have served lots of international writers including the editor of Newyork Times etc.
A Moment to Remember
When I was working for Taj Safari, our clientele was very niche as we used to charge over 70000 for one night. Being in the jungle where closest village was 18 km away, getting ingredient was very tough. So, we used to start growing things on the property, hired gardeners. We started growing every English ingredient in the garden and we used to take guests there and they used to pluck from the garden and get to cook with us. So, that was something which was quite memorable for me because you don’t get such experiences anywhere.
Advice to Young Chefs
You can experiment food but first know the food. If you learn something. Learn first and then start experimenting. The young kid had got too much into fusion and presentation that they have forgot the basic of the dish. It is very important for us as a chef to know the ingredient before we plan mixing things. Whatever you cook, cook with your heart and soul and stick to basic when starting your career.