‘Keep your eyes open at all times; we often miss little details’

...insists executive chef Meril Antony Aricatt from The Gateway Hotel at IT Expressway, who excels in cuisines from all over the country

Published: 09th November 2016 11:31 PM  |   Last Updated: 10th November 2016 03:34 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI: I ’m a business graduate and got into hotel management with no background. Since I was the first in the family to do so, I jumped into this field. All my training was done at various Taj properties, worked in all departments — bakeries, butcheries, restaurants. You need to know everything well to be able to run departments; I’m sort of a jack of all trades now. While I motivate myself to cook, I also like the idea of taking up new challenges, trying out new techniques I learn on TV. This one time, I saw a show on tribal recipes where fish was cooked on wooden logs with rock salt alone. I tried that and even made shell-shaped idlis and more!

If you love your job, then ideas will come along. I have worked with around seven executive chefs, but the memories of my time with Rasheed Abdulkhader stand out. I travelled abroad almost every year, for festivals in Switzerland, Dubai, Belgium etc. This way, chefs get to see many hotels and learn new techniques. Chennai has a lot of standalone properties and restaurants with new trends catching up. My work has taken me to work at a cruise liner, Queen Elizabeth II, a couple of times. I’ve worked at several other noted brands before going back to Taj. I even won the Best Chef of the Year in 2010, among
other accolades.

As a chef, I felt it necessary to compile recipes I learnt from my mother and grandmother. A lot of research later, I wrote a Malayalam book called Kuttanadan Ruchikal. The recipes are authentic and traditional, with no chilli powder. You are taught to make a paste out of everything and do it the traditional way. Recipes that might have died with this generation are revived in this book and it means a lot to me. It’s comforting to have the support of the women in my family — my wife and my mother — who always understood my profession. From working on holidays for hours at a stretch, they understand that being  a chef is more than just whipping things at
the kitchen.

I know quite a bit about Konkani food too. That’s the thing about Indian kitchens — so many types and varieties. There are complicated ingredients, food is cooked and soaked overnight — all a lengthy process and keeps changing from area to area.
Another aspect about being a chef is plating it right. You don’t do plating with no foundation. It should first happen in your mind; you should have a rough idea and then execute it. All great things happen in your mind before hitting the plate. Plating trends have changed. Though portions are small now, the garnishing is done well.
I stay updated on current food trends through the internet and write-ups. We visit hotels and small joints as there’s always something to learn. This one time, when I was driving, I stopped for tea by a roadside joint and to my surprise, he put a coil in the vessel in which he was boiling water. I asked him why he did that, and he said that the taste of real tea comes from the water that just reaches boil. The coil makes a sound when it reaches the right temperature, indicating that the tea is ready. You need to keep your eyes open at all times for such little details we often miss.


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