Becoming a senior sous chef at ITC Grand Chola in Chennai must’ve been hard work, but Chef Nikhil Nagpal makes it sound like a cakewalk. He finished his bachelor’s in hotel management from Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration, Manipal, in 2004 and pursued his love for world cuisine for the next seven years with ITC Hotels. Ask him why he’s in this field and he begins to explain where his love for food originated. “I remember gorging on warm chocolate pudding made by my grandmother during a summer vacation in Dehradun. That and the contentment in cooking for my patrons,” says the 30-year old.
Chef Nagpal, who is on “see-food” diet (“I see food and I eat it!”), has developed a fondness for French cuisine with Japanese influences and loves “the national dish of UK, butter chicken!” He jokes that he would like to cook for Anton Ego, the hard-to-please food critic from the animated movie Ratatouille to see his reaction when he tastes Nagpal’s creation of Ratatouille. Read on to know about his experiments with food in college.
What did college teach you?
I was always passionate about cooking and I wanted to become a chef when I was very young. But it was in college that I got to hone my skills. It gave me a thorough knowledge to develop my passion into a career.
What is your proudest moment in college?
Last year, I was asked by my college to talk to the new batch about trends in the industry. Standing in front of that batch while my professor introduced me was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Have you had any embarrassing moments in college?
I was really bad at boiling rice and would end up burning it. After one practical exam when I filled the whole classroom with smoke, my classmates named me Chef-De-Jalaana (Chef-that-burns!)
How did you score points with the opposite gender?
I was a pretty good pool player in college. So I used to score points with my ace putting skills. Literally!
Was bunking a part of your college routine?
Of course! We would sneak out of class after lunch while our engineering lecturer was talking about building palaces. It’s such an irony that I ended up working in a palatial property.
Did you have any rifts with your professors? Why?
Not really. I realised early on that our professors had a wealth of knowledge. So rather than being rebellious, I tried to learn as much as I could from them. Chef Thiru is one of my favourites. He is an extremely knowledgeable chef and a great teacher who nurtures talent and brings out the best in his students.
Where did you hang out in college with friends?
Manipal, being a student hub, had a lot of small eateries but our student budgets only allowed us to occasionally binge on some Chinese food. One of my favourite hobbies was playing pool with friends and going for movies.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in?
Apart from cooking in college, a couple of friends and I would help the cooks in the college mess. In retrospect, I think we made a mess rather than help out! I also used to love helping out with festive celebrations in college.