Very few people make their passion their profession, Chef Altamsh Patel is one of the few. Altamsh is an alumnus of Rizvi College of Hotel Management, Mumbai and currently heads the culinary brigade as the Executive Chef with The Park Hotel, Mumbai. Despite his father's disapproval he made his career in the kitchen. Chef Altamsh has established himself as a critically acclaimed chef and has received and been honored with numerous awards and accolades. He has risen from the ranks, from a Management Trainee to an Executive chef in just a span of eight years. He has won most of his awards in the Young Chef category. He was awarded the Young Chef of The Year Award in the year 2018. He focuses on the highest quality ingredients, creativity on the plate prepared with clockwork precision and abundant planning and execution. He has also been a consultant for few Pan Asian restaurants. He is also a core committee member of the Western Indian Culinary Association (WICA), Member of Young Chefs Association of India (YCAI), Member of Indian Federation of Culinary Association (IFCA), World Association of Chefs Society (WACS), and is a Halal & HACCP certified chef. In an exclusive interview with Ekta Bhargava, Altamsh talks about his professional journey and kitchen.
Tell us about your background and how you have come to the hotel industry, especially into your chosen line of cooking.
My Mother is a phenomenal cook and I used to love assisting her in the kitchen since my childhood. However, my father, like any other father wanted me to become a doctor as my elder brother is a Software Engineer. However, I had other plans. I decided to turn my passion into my profession.
Where have you done your training?
I did my internship from Hotel Taj Lands’ End, Mumbai. Again after completing my degree I got placed as a management trainee with Taj group. I had attended the International Sushi Training Workshop organized by All Japan Sushi Association and Indian Federation of Culinary Association. Had also received some training abroad.
Coming to the kitchen side of the hotel industry, how did you plan and visualize it?
After completing my hotel management course from Rizvi College, Mumbai. I had started my career with Taj Group as Management Trainee and in a span of eight years I successfully reached the position of Senior Sous Chef. Being a Management Trainee I was indeed lucky enough that I got a chance to work in all the different kitchens. I was involved in the menu planning of various menus for International and Domestic Airlines. Few months back I joined The Park - Mumbai as an Executive Chef.
With regard to kitchen planning, in most of the cases it is done by architects and designers in consultation with Chefs. But from your experience, you talk about accessibility. Please comment on that.
People have now started giving importance to Chefs while planning kitchen, It is of course done by architects, but designs should come from the Chefs always because they can only understand the operational point of view of the kitchen. In the end Kitchen staff should be comfortable while working. If kitchen staff is comfortable delivery of food from kitchen will be much faster.
How do you rate the taste food which is going to be cooked in the kitchen and served at the table? How much weightage do you to give to both cooking and serving?
Food and Service both are equally important according to me. Guest will be satisfied only, when good quality, hygienic and delectable food is served in a correct way. If any of the factors goes wrong then the guest suffers and is unsatisfied. Chef might cook excellent food but if the server doesn’t do a proper service both Chef and Server fail.
You are giving a lot of stress on presentation. What is the trend going on and how chefs are working on that?
As per my views, the appearance of food on a plate affects how diners perceive taste. The look of the meal is as important as the food itself and presenting food in an appealing way adds to the experience and overall value of the dish. And I believe in one simple thing if you want people to come back to your restaurant and pay to eat your food, they expect to see and taste food they don't get at home. When I plate a dish I give equal importance to all the elements - color, texture, balance, flavor and presentation. Selection of the correct plate is also important even the color of the plate can significantly affect a diner's appetite and perception of taste.
When you are cooking the food for an elderly guest, can you suggest something more suitable to his palate?
We have to take extra care of such guests. We need to check their preferences and if possible chef should meet the guest personally so that the requirements are understood better. Here we have to concentrate more on guest’s requirements and not on what is our standard recipe.
When you are talking about 10 guests or a thousand guests, the preparation is going to be different. In that case what is your preference for the cookware and the cooking pots? Does it make any difference in the taste?
I am lucky that I got an opportunity to work with one of the Asia’s largest kitchen at TajSATS we used to prepare food for 25000 pax. Firstly we have to do lot of R&D and do a standardization of recipe and procedure because if anything goes wrong in small portion you can rectify it or else you can rework on it, but if your food for 1000 people goes wrong then there would be a big problem. We always use to cook in batches and also maintain the records of it so that if anything goes wrong you can trace the batch and discard it out. Each and every batch of food is tasted by the chef before serving.
What about the technology? Are you using latest technology in kitchen or prefer old method of cooking?
I do prefer modern latest technology in kitchen which helps us in giving good productivity, For example almost 80% of cooking part can be done with the help of ovens now a days, Lot of imported equipment’s are easily available in the market.
Tell us about the Green Practices you follow in your kitchen.
As we all know at present organic food is in demand so we try to source organic ingredients for certain recipes, also in kitchen we have garbage segregation procedure. I don’t allow plastic bags in my kitchen for storage.
How do you rate the importance of fuel while in the kitchen? What are the hazards of using different fuels?
Fuels play a very important role in kitchens anywhere in the world. We have to use fuel which helps us in controlling pollution and should also be safe. You cannot use 2 different types of fuel in the same machine as it might damage it.
With more and more technologies coming up, do you think cooking is going to be more advanced?
Yes, of course. Upgradation of skills, training and technology is a constant and consistent requirement in chef's career but what is paramount is to arrive at training needs of an individual and team at large keeping in mind the culinary vision. Being Executive chef now I have to keep myself updated with the current technologies which are available in the industry so that our final products gets better and the guest gets satisfied.
Now the concept of cooking kitchen and serving kitchen has become a vogue. How you differentiate the appliances in these kitchens?
Cooking kitchen is completely different from serving kitchen; Serving kitchen is more of show kitchen consisting of modern cooking equipment’s which are more presentable. The appliances in the cooking kitchen are much bigger in volume whereas the appliances in serving kitchen are stylish, sleek, smaller and very sophisticated.
Do you have a Disaster Plan in place in case of an emergency?
Yes we do have disaster plan in place and it is must for star hotels, regular trainings are done by our Learning & Development department.
Earlier you people were saying that Chefs don’t disclose their recipes. Now a days with an open kitchen everybody is seeing what you are mixing. So how do you think the Chefs can keep their recipe a secret?
I immensely believe in Real Chefs Share and Teach. The consumers of today have vast knowledge of the dishes, their ingredients, preparation and methods of cooking them. I don’t believe in keeping any of my recipes as secret. The more you share your knowledge the more you gain.
Have you ever got any ideas or inspiration from your guests?
We do have a feedback system, wherein the guest’s suggestion is very significant for us. It not only motivates us but also helps us give the best of the best to our customers. Yes we do welcome ideas from guests. Their suggestions do act as a source of inspiration to me.
Tell us briefly about your concept of an Ideal Commercial Kitchen.
It starts from the receiving department then followed by stores, processing, cooking and then dispatch/ serving, Kitchen planning plays important role while planning commercial kitchen, you have to practically think about the work flow and same time you have to follow certain procedures set by Food safety bodies, You cannot just have butchery in between your hot kitchen it has to be near receiving department. As now days it’s all about how much space you are able to utilize smartly in your kitchen, using air spaces and putting storage cabinets helps a lot.
Drainage is also very important part of the kitchen planning normally people think of it in the end but trust me i had seen many kitchen planned well but they fail because of wrong drainage plan.
You also have to think about making comfortable atmosphere for staff to work proper ventilation should be their exhaust and free air supply are must in any commercial kitchen.
Last but not the least waste management is also equally important, proper segregation and store of garbage should be done, one particular room should be allocated as Garbage room.
Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
Chefs spend more time with their teams than their family so my team is my family, we do party hard whenever we get a chance we also celebrate birthdays in the kitchen, Whenever possible I try to take my team and go for tea break so that we spend some good time together and I make sure no one discusses about work during breaks.
Do you help your better half when she is in the kitchen?
Normally I don’t enter kitchen at home, but I do cook for my two little cute nieces whenever they demand.
How do you maintain a proper work life balance?
On TV, in magazines, in books and online, chefs are described as having a glamorous life, which is ridiculous. I normally work for 14 hours minimum. It is really hard to maintain a good work- life balance. A part of striking a better work/ life balance is accepting that being a chef is a way of life - at least to a certain extent. If you don’t take satisfaction and enjoyment from working a busy night then you're possibly in the wrong job.
But still whenever I get an off I try to spend some good time with my family! I hope in future I will maintain proper work life balance.
Who is Current favorite chef and why?
Chef Gaggan Anand and Chef Vineet Bhatia are chefs who inspire me the most. They have raised the Indian flag higher in a unique way, Indian Cuisine is known all around the globe now.
Do you eat out quite often? Which places do you prefer?
I don’t eat out much but whenever I am in some new place I love to try local cuisine of that place,
My favorite restaurants in Mumbai are Wasabi - Taj Mahal Palace, Vista - Taj Land's End, Persian Darbar and The Table.
Any message you want to give to our readers about the kitchen. How can they make their dream kitchen?
For me dream kitchen should be something like a Food Lab, fully high tech, all advanced equipment’s and most importantly good staff, You and your staff should feel proud while entering the kitchen. If the work space is good, staff will be happy and it directly gives better output and leads to greater guest satisfaction.