CHENNAI: I was always sure I wanted to enter the hotel industry, but it was my love for cooking that eventually made me choose the culinary fi eld. I started my career with a reputed hotel group in Goa, and it was there that I fi rst got exposed to the nuances of Western cuisine, which I subsequently adopted. It was a senior chef from France who fi rst introduced me to this challenging cuisine. He told me that it would be doubly hard for me as I was taking on dishes that were not native to me.
I would have to learn everything from scratch — the ingredients, cooking techniques, or presentation. To do that perfectly and at the same time satisfy the customer’s taste buds was a challenge. I was also introduced to German cuisine while serving on a cruise liner — nothing can substitute learning on the job. It was my fi rst time using fruits such as apricots and peaches fresh, as they are mostly used dry in Indian cuisine. I realised my fl air for Italian cuisine soon after I met a colleague from New Zealand who also specialised it.
I was completely blown away by his dishes and presentation, because until then I was only exposed to a very continental style of cooking. I was introduced to homemade pizzas and pastas. One of the signature dishes that I have made is called ossobuco, braised veal shanks cooked in fl avours of cinnamon and bay leaf and served with a garnish of garlic and lemon juice. The interesting thing is that there are two ways to cook ossobuco — authentic and modern. A special preparation of the dish ossobuco alla Milanese is served with Risotto alla Milanese, which is a rice dish cooked and served in a broth with a creamy consistency.
In fact, many of the dishes that are my specialty have been incorporated in the Italian Food Festival, which ends today. I believe you should engage a customer with all fi ve senses when he is presented a dish — so the presentation should refl ect that sentiment. Food is not just about taste, it is about making it visually appealing and to the other senses as well. Also, hard work and punctuality need to be ingrained from the start, the cooking will then follow automatically. The connection people have through food is so innate that one does not need language to portray it. Early in my career, at the breakfast counter in the hotel I was working in, I happened to take an order from a Russian lady who had to wait a tad longer for her meal. Once I presented the dish, I tried using my own sign language to convey my apologies — as I did not know Russian and she didn’t speak English! She appreciated my dish in her own way. A translator confi rmed this later to me.