'Role of a chef is beyond cooking'

Culinary connoisseur

While professional culinary skills were once restricted to baawarchis and khansamas the rise of chefs with expertise in different kinds of cuisines has opened up various avenues for them. With more than four decades in the hotel industry, executive chef and vice president (food and beverage production) at Hotel Le Meridien in Delhi, Davinder Kumar talks about the widespread acceptance of chefs as professionals while also noting the changes in the industry.

 Kumar joined the industry way back in the 1970s when the profession was hardly accepted. But he went to Paris to specialise in French cuisine before beginning with his
first job.

 “My journey started at a time when this profession was neither accepted nor recognised. Pursuing it was considered as degrading oneself. A lot of questions were asked about my career, matrimonial life and so on. But, that was a turning point in the industry as well because educated people had started coming in,” he tells Metrolife on the occasion of International Chef Day (October 20).

 Noting the changes that the food and beverage industry has undergone, Kumar says that with the introduction of new techniques in cooking,  chefs are becoming experimental and Indian food has created a mark world over.

 “With these innovations, we have come to the level where our food is accepted as a part of fine dining which is all about good food being well presented,” he says.

“Globally, restaurants have started selling modern Indian fine dining. Earlier chefs used to stick to widely popular dishes and cuisines like chicken tikkas or seekh kebab or biryani. However, in the 21st century, especially in the last couple of years, that notion has changed. Today, they have started experimenting and their thinking is out of the box,” Kumar adds.

 He, however, points out that there is a need to constantly upgrade and be creative to meet the changing preferences of the customer. He says, “Customers have become very demanding and are equally conscious about their health. They have become more aware due to their travels, spread of technology. They tend to simply lose interest and become ‘bored’ of the regular fare served. So, chefs have to be creative and equally adaptive.”
 In the same line, he mentions that a chef’s job has become “very challenging”
today.

 “The chef is no more only a part of the kitchen with his role being beyond cooking. He is a marketing manager looking after management and financial issues as well. A chef is answerable for the cost on a day-to-day basis. His role is very dynamic. Once you reach a certain level, it is not too much of cooking, but other responsibilities that keep you on your toes,” he observes.

 Kumar, who is currently the president of Indian Culinary Forum (ICF) – a fraternal body of chefs in the Northern region, played a crucial role in establishing ICF’s annual
chef awards into a brand over the years.

 With the 12th edition of the awards scheduled for October 23 in the city, Kumar says, “The idea was to create a platform for fellow chefs to meet, share and enhance knowledge, hone and exhibit their culinary skills. It is an event to recognise the chefs and the fraternity. I see it as promoting art and profession in the country.”

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