Career in Food Production/ Kitchens
Career advise from Chef Nita Nagaraj ( 2nd Lady Executive Chef in the Country)
In conversation with Chef Nita Nagaraj….Listen to this exclusive Telephonic chat with the 2nd Lady executive chef in India with a career across Oberois, Taj and the Jaypee Group of Hotels.
Do share your feedback post watching the video.
Chef Vikram Ganpule
Greetings. I am the Executive Chef- Hyatt Regency, Chennai. I have been an Executive Chef since the past 15 years.
I passed out from IHM Pusa, New Delhi in 1993. That’s where I discovered my passion was in the kitchens. I fondly recall Chef Pradhan, my 1st year teacher who once spotted me cutting carrot juliennes. He stopped me to demonstrate how to do it right. This spurred me to learn and do it better, to master the skill. My love for the kitchens was reinforced during my industrial training.
Let me confess-in my 6 months of industrial training at the Claridges Delhi, I only worked in the kitchens. Otherwise, it is mandated that during the 6 months industrial training the trainees are exposed to all the departments by working there. This is done for the student to decide her/ his aptitude for choosing the department for a career.
I joined ITC Hotels for a career in the kitchens as a Kitchen Executive trainee- the 2 year programme at the Welcomgroup Management Institute. I worked with the ITC Hotels, for almost 5 years. Then did a 2 year stint overseas in Saudi Arabia, to return and join the Leela Palace Bangalore as a Sous Chef for a year and a half, before joining Park Hyatt Goa as Executive Chef, in the pre-opening phase-A great phase of learning. Since 2002,I have been with Hyatt Regency at Goa, Kathmandu, Kolkata and now Chennai.
That’s my profile. Mr Neelakantan, my IHM Pusa teacher asked me to share my insights for all of you on a career in hotels- more specifically, in the kitchens.
It involves long, physically demanding hours- not for someone old in the mind or body. As you rise in the organization, it gets more demanding physically & mentally.
I fell in love with the kitchens as, I found a great camaraderie among Chefs- a brotherhood of sorts. You had to earn your respect by working hard and being disciplined. The long hours notwithstanding, no day was the same and the joy in expressing your creativity through the language of food, common to all human beings were some of the reasons.
College time was fun, we prepared only for the interviews. It was at the Welcomgroup Management Institute that the foundation for my career was laid. The attitude, discipline and all that goes into being a Chef were factored in. That was my building blocks. Then we got the opportunity to train at India’s iconic hotel in Delhi, the ITC Maurya Sheraton. The reason for my opting for ITC was, that I wanted to specialize in the cuisines of India, as ITC was and is the pioneer of restaurants with cuisines of India. I was blessed to have worked at Dum Pukth and Bhukhara the trend setting restaurants as well as working with some great Chefs. One name that comes to my mind is Chef Gev Desai- the Executive Chef of Maurya Sheraton then.
In the kitchens, it does not matter what is your designation. Nobody takes you at face value. You have to earn your respect by proving you are skilled or rather, better skilled, have a positive attitude, capacity to rise from setbacks and to take decisions on the spot.
It was those two years where I interacted with some great Chefs with 25 years of experience sharing their experiences. That was great learning & experience.
As I progressed in my career, the hours only grew longer. Remember, at the end of the day, the Executive Chef is just a cook, but entrusted with the responsibility of manning a kitchen, paper-work, administrative duties etc also. I recall as a trainee enviously watching the Executive Chef seated in his air conditioned cabin in the kitchen. Now, I realize, it is lonely at the top. As, I have to at times step into the kitchens to showcase my skills to return to my office and do the paper-work. At times, it is necessary to exhibit your skills to your kitchen-brigade, otherwise, you tend to lose respect.
I know, all & sundry would have advised that a career in the kitchens means hard work hard work and more hard work. I would certainly say yes to that. But more important, don’t take kitchens as a career, unless you have a passion. For example, if you view a Chef on TV, making a delicacy, to get excited and say “ Hey I want to learn to do that!”
I would advise that without passion, just hard work will get you nowhere. You will get stressed out and ruin your career. This is applicable for all careers but in the kitchens, it’s most relevant as adapting quickly to the dynamic changes is most crucial.
In my times, the IHMs were the best then to start off your education, but today, I do not know of their standards. But since, this is the 21stcentury, it is easy to browse and get to know about institutes both, in India & abroad. There are a lot of private institutes that are very good. But don’t settle for the second best.
The USA, UK and Switzerland has some good culinary institutes, if you can afford that. If you want to start your own business, I suggest, get some experience in a hotel or a restaurant. Nowadays, standalone restaurants are giving a tough competition to 5 star hotels offering fine dining. They are surpassing 5 star hotel restaurants in terms of volumes, concepts.
But most important is a good education. We, Indians, are traditionally tutored not to ask questions. But for a career in the kitchens ask questions to find out why, watch a lot of chefs demonstrating their art & skills.
Whatever you are learning, write it down, not on scraps of paper but in a book. Maintaining a book with all the learning, paste photos, pictures etc will really assist you in the long run.
Signing off, I shall only advise you to live curiously. Ask a lot of questions to find their answers and note it down. Good luck.
Chef Vikram Ganpule
Executive Chef Hyatt