I wanted to be a neurosurgeon and one year of engineering and drop it because of the terrorism issues in Kashmir valley. Entering this industry was an accident. I entered hotel management to get one year of buffer time to prepare for my medicine. However, I realized that even today, after 27 years in the industry, what I cut on the table is different.
Being born in a family of Army personnel, I would say rather than choosing the industry, it is the industry that chose us. I lost my ego the day when I was given a plate full of glasses and kept standing. We, in our army quarters, had everything- be it community gathering places or cinema halls etc. Initially, I was skeptical about this profession was always behind my ‘Plan-A’ which was becoming a doctor. Being so naive, I was thinking that this profession, those days might make my parents lose face in front of our relatives.
I even remember, whenever I go home for a holiday, people ask me what I know about cooking. However, the world has changed. When I go and meet people when I say ‘I cook’ people do not believe. Thanks to all the celebrity chefs who took this profession to the next level. It is also great to see even the government is also considering this profession. We also have some ‘Padma’ awardees among the chef community. Chefs are moving in the right direction.
Now parents are motivating their kids to join the hotel management courses. Dresses are shortening while the food is widening. Food will change the form but will always be forever. Trust me, in the coming days, capsules will be made by scientists and chefs together. Today the world is changing fast while concepts like artificial intelligence and block-chain are entering the culinary world. From farm to fork, food can be tracked on terms of transportation, shelf-life and more. The chefs now work with other stake-holders. Now, agriculturists, nutritionists, doctors, and even political organizations are working together with chefs.
There was a threat and scare to become a chef. I welcome people to enter this industry. However, my advice does not become a chef for celebrity status. Chefs who attained celebrity status today had burnt midnight oils. There were instances where they stood for 36 or 37 hours. There is plenty of hard work and perseverance be it a job or business, it is the skill which will be with you. What is also important is that after years of experience it is important you pass on this experience to the next generation so that they have the advantage out of it.
During our ages, becoming a chef was a taboo. Many do not know the meaning of the word Chef- the french meaning of the word Chief. The Moghul emperors were very conscious about what they eat. The kings were very conscious about being in the good books of the chefs. They were afraid that the cook, some time might poison the king under the influence of the enemy kingdom. Typically, the Chefs were closest the King and typically was treated well among the employees. Those chefs were uneducated and their recipes were never limited to books. Many chefs, who made good food, did not make any effort to pass it on to others. That is where we mainly lost many of our old recipes. There were also cases where the chefs were so possessive of their recipes.
There are plenty of recipes that we think as Indian is not actually Indian recipes. Chilies were never part of the Indian brought by Vasco-da-Gama. There were many dishes which were 50 years before are now becoming like a new trend and kids of today are going crazy over it.
(Excerpts of the speech done by Parvinder Bali works in Oberai group of Hotels and resorts. He addressed the participants in the Orange City Literature Festival in Nagpur organized by Raisoni Group on the Lost Recipes of India. He is available in firstname.lastname@example.org)