Managing an industrial kitchen and making sure that every dish that goes out of its doors meets the brief is no child's play. Reality cooking shows have given us a peek into how chefs function amid tight deadlines -- juggling with recipes and instinct -- but that’s probably just an iota of what really unfolds at the heart of every fine dining restaurant.
Every year, October 20 is celebrated as International Chef's Day, and with good reason. The profession may look glamorous, but working in a sweltering kitchen is a test of endurance. While guests savour creatively crafted meals and food critics hunt for 'hero ingredients', we often forget that the real hero behind a beautiful plate of food is its chef. Saluting their talent, Shreya Veronica speaks to the top chefs of Hyderabad about their journey
The fusion master
Mohd Ishmail, executive chef at Anna Native
Ishmail's journey started in 2012 at Indian Essence. A year later was when he got his big break when he joined Farzi Café as a senior sue chef. "I worked there till 2018 and also travelled a lot during my stint. I learnt from these big restaurants -- I started making fusion food, which is more of a Western concept. I used to experiment a lot," he says.
But Ishmail wanted to do something new and so he decided to travel across Telangana and experiment with the local cuisine. "I wanted to quit modern cuisine and try traditional food. That brought me to Anna Native," he says.
Anna Native is all about authentic South Indian food served in a different way. But the road was no bed of roses for Ishmail. He had to change jobs to become what he is today. "I also had thoughts of quitting the profession, but my passion for food kept haunting me. I travelled all over Andhra as well to understand the cuisine. I hope to get better every year."
Food is life
Chef Deepak Chhimwal, executive chef of Taj Krishna
With over 17 years of experience at the Taj Hotels, Deepak has not only risen through the ranks, but has also grown as a person. As a management trainee back in 2004, he has worked under several chefs and finally was made the executive chef of Taj Deccan in 2019.
"Everything happened at the right time and this growth has taught me a lot. At first, my challenge was to only pass the management training programme. Later, it was about knowing how to deal with people," says Deepak, who feels that a chef’s job is a secured job.
"Food is something that people cannot do without. People cannot survive without it. Food is also constantly evolving; this makes a chef’s job very interesting," he says. According to him, this is the best time for chefs to grow as there are so many independent restaurants coming up.
Love to create
Gangoni Ganesh Kumar, sous chef at Mercure Hotel
Ganesh has worked in some of the country's top hotels. From being an industrial trainee back in 2004 at the Majorda beach resorts in Goa and working at the ITC Kakatiya Sheraton to his stint at the Le Méridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort & Waterpark in Dubai, he comes with years of premium experience.
He has also worked on a cruise liner in the US, Carnival Cruise Lines USA, which, he says, was a tough job. "I ended up working for nearly 14 hours a day, without a break. I completed two contracts and returned to India," says Ganesh, who then joined as a demi chef de partie at Vivanta by Taj in Begumpet.
"When I started off, it was difficult as I used to come across something new happening in the industry every day. I would wonder how to pick these skills. I took time but learnt them. Every day is a new day and I still want to do something new. Food is everything to me. This is how I earn my bread and butter. People love to eat and we chefs love to create new dishes every day," says the head chef (acting) at KCP Mercure.
Consistency is key
Chef Kailash Gundupalli, culinary director at Novotel Hyderabad Convention Centre
Despite coming with an industry experience of 20 years, chef Kailash is constantly learning. "There are changes happening all the time, every year and this is what boost my career. Chefs across the world are constantly inventing and innovating. So far, I have never had a bad year," he says.
The biggest challenge that a chef faces is consistency. "Everything depends on the availability of products. Being consistent with a particular cuisine is definitely tough. Another challenge is man power and managing a team," he says.
Speaking of changes happening in the culinary industry, he says fusion, gastronomy and liquid nitrogen were big at one point. "Now, these trends are dying and satellite kitchens are the new thing," he says. Kailash believes in keeping up with the times. So, when he charts out a menu, he does follow the latest trends but also keeps the fundamentals in mind.