The definition of a chef is generic; even a Gujarati maharaj who comes home to cook can be a chef. But he isn’t called one, though Rahul Akerkar and Hemant Oberoi are. It depends on how savvy you are. Many people who have eaten Sanjeev Kapoor’s food aren’t impressed. But he can rake in TRPs and sell books. There is a lot of PR and marketing involved in promoting yourself as a chef.
Most executive chefs will not even hold a knife an entire night. They tend to be dictatorial, expecting minions to do the mise-en-place. This means keeping the ingredients and supplies ready. It involves everything from chopping to presentation.
As part of my hotel management degree, we were once taken to an abattoir. I couldn’t eat or drink properly for a month after that. But I had to cook meat for an exam, else I would have failed.
I have worked as an assistant dessert chef too, and most of the time, whipped cream is replaced with a substitute made out of soy protein called Rich’s whipped cream. It is cheaper, but more importantly, has fewer calories. So what you may consider fatty actually isn’t.
Leafy vegetables are the most unhygienic, as they are rarely cleaned well. I once saw a popular chain’s kitchen full of rats, open drains and gunny bags of vegetables on the floor in the monsoons.
In India, people are not experimental with their palate. The stereotypes about communities are accurate. Gujaratis love anything chatpata. Punjabis want to feel full, they like heavy food. South Indians stick to the kind cooked by their mothers. The biggest complaints chefs get are the boastful ones, like, “This isn’t a Greek salad. I had one in Greece, and it wasn’t like this.”
In India, the restaurant kitchen is male-dominated. It isn’t sexist, but you have to be a thick-skinned female to survive.
(This person has worked in the food and beverage industry for almost seven years)
As told to Shubhangi Swarup