Clement D Cruz is currently the Executive Chef of Hyatt Regency in Kolkata. He was nominated for the Chef of Year by J.C Maclair Hotelier Middle East Caterer in 2005 and 2006. He was the Five Star Employee award of the Quarter 2000. During his Ritz-Carlton days, he was recognized with a first class card from Corporate Chef after a special appreciation by a guest. He won the bronze medal in the Hotel Asia Competition Maldives 2011. This maverick chef who has worked in India, U.A.E and Maldives; has cooked and served celebrities like, Brazilian football coach Zico, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Bollywood personalities like Shah Rukh Khan,Hrithik Roshan, Deepika Padukone, Saif Ali Khan, Akshay Kumar, Sonakshi Sinha, Sharmila Tagore, Anupam Kher, Asha Bhosle, Nimrit Kaur and Bengali film stars. In a brief interview with Pallavi Bhattacharya of Better Kitchen the talented chef talked about his professional journey, kitchen planning, serving a variety of guests and new technologies in the kitchen. He gave us a mouth watering recipe as well. Excerpts.
Tell us about your background. How have you come to the hotel industry, especially into your chosen line of cooking?
My father is from Portugal. My mother is Bengali.I studied in St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata. I did my diploma in Advanced Kitchen and Restaurant Management for the 21st Century from the Emirates Academy in Dubai managed by Jumeirah International. I did my apprenticeship in Oberoi Grand in Kolkata. After leaving Oberoi Grand, I moved to Saudi Arabia in 1994. That’s how my professional career started on foreign shores. Why did I choose the kitchen line? This is because my father used to be a chef. My mother is a teacher. To keep both of them happy, I chose to be a chef, because ever since my childhood, I’ve been seeing my dad churning out a lot of recipes. I got inspired by him.
Where you have done your training?
I started my apprenticeship in 1991 from Oberoi Grand in Kolkata. I then moved to Saudi Arabia and landed in Dubai. In Dubai, I was with the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for 13 years after which I was selected to go to the Jumeirah International for learning advanced kitchen management.
Coming to the kitchen side of the hotel industry, how do you plan and visualize it?
When I start my day, regarding what to do and what not to do; I probe into the fridge to find out what we have, how things are being stored and inspect the temperature control. I ascertain whether everything has been placed in order. If you’re a chef, you need to start planning your day with what you have. Then only can you plan for the day.
With regard to kitchen planning, in most of the cases it is done by architects and designers in consultation with chefs. From a chef’s experience, they talk about accessibility. Please comment on that.
Kitchen planning is done by architects and designers in consultation with chefs. When any hotel comes up or any renovation of the kitchen is done, it’s very important to involve a chef in this planning; because at the end of the day, it’s the chef along with the team, who has a better understanding of what can or cannot be done. When I was working in Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Dubai, I was one of the key members in kitchen planning. I pondered carefully on how effectively I could design the kitchen for the benefit of my guests. We brainstormed and came up with what we should or shouldn’t do regarding kitchen planning.
How do you rate the food which is going to be cooked in the kitchen and be served at the table? How much weightage do you to give to both cooking and serving?
Whatever food goes out of the kitchen to the guests has to have a quality. I define ‘quality’ as 100% guest satisfaction and 0% defect. The guests should really be delighted by the food which is served. The plate the guests eat from should become empty, That gives satisfaction. We make ever so many dishes. If those dishes are eaten with relish, it gives a sense of satisfaction to the chef.
When you are cooking food for a senior citizen, do you suggest something more suitable to his/ her palate?
Absolutely. On viewing the guest’s age, we as chefs, mentally anticipate what kind of a meal may suit him/ her. We need to keep the guest’s need in mind rather than do what we as chefs may wish to do. After all the chef has to keep in mind, that his duty is to delight the guests.
When you are serving 1000 guests, the preparation is bound to be different. How will your preference for the cookware and the cooking pots change accordingly?
It’s very easy to serve 10 guests but very difficult to serve 1000. Before we serve 1000 guests, which is a very big number, we do a cooking session along with a tasting panel. We share the feasibility of giving the best to our guests. Then when the panel has been fixed and the menu has been finalized, we look into the cookware. We don’t do one time cooking but do so in batches while keeping in mind the quality of the food and so that we can live up to the promise that we’ve made to guests. We need to select the cooking pots and cookware against the satisfaction that we’ve promised to guests. A promise is something which can’t be either under-developed or over-developed. That’s why a tasting panel is very important to what will be served on the final day.
Regarding technology, do you use gas or induction; or something different?
We use both; gas as well as an oven. We are now practicing using eco-friendly products which are easy to wash, easily movable, can be detached and are very hygienic.
Tell us about the green practices you follow in your kitchen.
We now use fresh organic products. We use different kinds of vegetables which are also very healthy. We want the guests to feel the organic nature of the ingredients. In my buffet, we always have a green vegetable section, where guests can make salads and the chef is present to assist them. That gives the guests a very healthy choice.
How do you rate the importance of fuel while in the kitchen? What are the hazards of using different fuels?
A chef must have a fire in the kitchen. We surely need to keep safety in mind as fuel is something which can burn or kill people. The kitchen has many hazards, not just related to fuel, but it is possible that the gas may be leaking or some danger may be related to the electrical gadgets. The chef’s uniform is a fire protected one, it’s of 100% cotton.
With more and more technologies coming up, do you think cooking is going to be more advanced?
Absolutely. There is no doubt about it. Way back in the 1960s, there was a gas oven. Then all that we could do was to roast the product. Now, the oven is still there but you can do steaming and roasting there as well. Modern technology is one of the greatest advantages. That’s why when we survey, we search the internet to find what technologies can help us, so that we may introduce the same. Now, newer technologies like molecular cooking are coming up.
Do you have a disaster plan in place in case of an emergency?
As this is a five starred hotel, a crisis and disaster management plan has to be there. We have to undergo various training programmes on the same. We have various teams to handle emergency. We have an evacuation plan for imminent danger.
Earlier we would hear that chefs don’t disclose their recipes. Nowadays with an open kitchen everybody is seeing what chefs are making. Do you think the chefs can keep their recipe a secret anymore?
Now, the guests can see what the chef is doing behind the line. Previously there had to be a wall between the chef and the guests. We called this ‘barricade’, the line of control. Now guests love to see what chefs are doing behind that line, because cooking is both a skill and a science. Cooking is essential. At the end of the day, nobody can survive without food. Guests are eager to learn how we make food.
Of course, we can’t keep the recipes a secret. Earlier the chef would work behind the wall. They were afraid that somebody would take their job away. I don’t wish to mention names but there were many chefs who don’t wish to disclose what they were making. Today, you can’t keep recipes a secret. There are recipes of all the dishes on internet.
Have you ever got any ideas or inspiration from your guests?
Absolutely. That is one of the strongest modes of suggestions. Plenty of ideas come from guests. We discuss the menu at length, especially when we have a wedding function or a special event. We incorporate their suggestions and make changes if necessary. Eighty per cent of our invaluable ideas come from the guests. The guests who live in our hotel, have travelled the entire world.
As a chef, what message do you have for the readers who wish to plan their dream kitchen, whether it’s a domestic or a commercial one?
The kitchen has to be clean all the time. It shouldn’t produce someone’s food and someone’s poison. After taking food, it can become someone’s poison. You have to have passion, care and energy to maintain a kitchen, whether it’s a domestic or a commercial one. The kitchen should be designed in such a way that it’s convenient to cook, and hazard free (safety is very important). The kitchen should be a comfortable and practical place for the chef to cook. Chefs stand and work. They don’t have an office desk job. They need to cook in a way that they don’t break their backs. They stand for eight to nine hours. Everything needs to be reachable so that they don’t have to move much while reaching out to things. Rather than having to move around, everything should be in the same place. The floors should be safe. The chef shouldn’t be in the risk of slipping and falling. That’s how I visualize the ideal kitchen.