My Tribute to Chef Arvind Saraswat
A Legend passed away yesterday, 13th July 2019. I had the fortune of interacting with him in his role first as an Interviewer 1986 at IHMCT Ahmedabad. Later from 1991- 1994 as a teaching faculty at IMCT Pusa and in my capacity as one of the members of the Indian Culinary Federation. I saw him in a new light then.
But, first, flashback 1986 The Final Round for the Management Trainee slot with the Taj. My first interaction with him.
Ramola Mahajini- Group HR Head was firing away questions starting on the 4 core subjects of Food Production, Food & Beverage Service, Front Office and Housekeeping. I was to my own surprise, in my elements, answering brilliantly.
All this while, the legend, Chef Saraswat, threatening with his stilled silence and hint of a smile. Almost foreboding, waiting like a vulture for his prey patiently.
Ramola- daughter of Late SK Wankhede- Wankhede stadium, changed tracks noticing cricket in my interests. But, knowing my facts, figures and anecdotes of my passion better than hotel management subjects, every delivery she bowled was despatched to the ropes effortlessly. Queries on literature, another interest, followed. Very articulate, well read and knowledgeable she was, in whom I found a great ally to literally discuss on everything from Spofforth, Bradman, The three W’S, Kundanlal Saigal, Hollywood, Bollywood authors, books….
To me it looked as we both were the only duo in the room on the edge of our seats facing each other chatting away like school friends meeting after years. The legend was, solemn; inscrutable his face. I dared not look at him, lest I falter.
At the end of the session lasting almost 2 hours, I was offered the letter in the F & B Department. Yet, he remained stoic. For some inexplicable reason, I did not take it up, but that’s not relevant here.
1991 I was asked my Sumita Paul, the Editor of The Pioneer Pulse – The Pioneer’s Sunday supplement (when Vinod Mehta was the Editor) to write a feature on the leading Chefs of India based in Delhi.
That’s when my impressions of Chef Saraswat changed. On my meeting Chef Manjit Singh Gill-Executive Chef-Welcomgroup Maurya Sheraton, Chef Devinder -Meridien and Chef Sudhir Sibal -Executive Chef The Ashok also the member of the ‘Cub de Chef de Chefs- The Ivy League Club of Chefs assigned to the Head of State, they asked me to meet Chef Saraswat being the senior most and a legend as well. I shuddered at the idea. “Nahi Sir dar lagta hai” was my immediate response! They laughed but compelled me to refer me as well.
For the meet at TAC- Taj Air Caterers, I was there an hour in advance. Outside the gate waking and smoking in a bid to be calm.
When I was announced, I was flummoxed to be greeted by him with a very warm smile that finding expression all over his face. Here I was like the club class bowler whose loosener saw Vivian Richards play a defensive shot. The thought in my mind was “When Viv Richards plays a defensive shot; the entire cricketing fraternity exclaims “Now what!”
Needless to state, I was on pins & needles. As he led me to his office, pulling the chair for me. I was pinching myself. ‘It was too good to be true.’ Seeing me uncomfortable, he was kind enough to ask me what he could do to make me comfortable. I confessed “Dar lagta hai” recalling the campus interview and quoting from the grapevine. He laughed. To comfort me and put me at ease with “Neelakantan that was then.” “But Chef, that impression has stayed all these years which was fuelled further by the grapevine at Pusa and on interacting with you at Pusa too.”
To put me at ease he ordered lunch. Taking the pleasure of serving me as a host would do at home.
I found myself. Then, to realize he was human as human as we who chat ‘nineteen to the dozen’ are, but, he kept his silence, which was misunderstood by us sitting on judgement. This man was charming for me not to notice time ticking away. It was dusk as I bid farewell. It was kind of him to organize a cab with his compliments over ruling my protests to drop me home . Slipping into my hands before closing the door a nice box ” Some treats for your family!”
The grapevine had it that he had ‘a hole in the heart.’ But the wag said “Impossible, for a heartless man.” I differ on that count. With “A man whose large heart we blinded by our prejudices, could not view.”
He shared very many insights which made for a great story on the Chefs of India in Delhi.
I recall, starting the feature referring to the short story by Jeffery Archer on the boy who serendipitously becomes a great Chef. Detailing the hard work, grit determination and the long hours that become endless more when a Chef joins the managerial cadre.Getting rave reviews for the feature. One of my first attempts in mainline editions.
But the finest and first among all callers from Chefs that Sunday was from the legend Chef Arvind Saraswat, calling early to compliment me for a lovely article. Inviting me over whenever I wished to.
On noticing the cricket ground attached to the TAC, similar to those in New Zealand, I inquired whether my boys could play here; a cricket ground, basin shaped butting the road leading to the airport.He introduced me to the Manager to liaise to play our games there. My boys used to organize inconsequential fixtures just to play there in those picturesque settings. Lunch the airline food then a novelty to us being the bonus.
Thank you Chef Arvind Saraswat.The first Indian Chef, presumably to author a book- his first of many- ‘Prashad Cooking with the Masters’ co authored with Jiggs Kalra with whom he did India’s 1st cookery series by the same name Prashad…
Go in peace to join your good friend Jiggs Kalra who has preceded you. To cook Prashad Cooking with Indian Masters for the Gods waiting in attendance.