Chef Siddharth Birendra has started his career as Management Trainee and with his food passion, hard work and innovativeness of over two decades of experience in India and abroad he recently joined as Corporate Chef of Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation which has 68 properties across Madhya Pradesh and Siddharth is responsible for operations of the entire properties kitchen. For the last 12 years he has been based at Bhopal and featured by EPIC Channel for the Lost Recipes of Bhopal. In an exclusive interview with Ekta Bhargava, Publisher – Better Kitchen, Siddharth 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 and how you have come to the hotel industry, especially into your chosen line of cooking.
I belong to an era where there were only two options after completing 10+2, either you become a Doctor or an Engineer. According to my parents I was supposed to become a Doctor in a family full of Engineers. But my inclination towards Hotel Management received approval from my parents and after two trials in medical entrance exams; I was on my way to Durgapur Society of Management Sciences, Durgapur to do my three years diploma in Hotel Management. While I was a kid, I was quite fond of eating outside. And hotels always fascinated me that might be the reason I joined the Hotel Industry.
Where have you done your training?
I have done my industrial training from The Trident, Ahmedabad. Although I was stationed in the front office for about three fourth of my training period, then also the desire to become a Chef never went off.
Coming to the kitchen side of the hotel industry, how did you plan and visualize it?
I prefer a small but well laid kitchen with adequate space for movement and the ingredients required for food preparation should be well within reach of the chefs. They don't have to run around for day to day operations. Machines are required but only to ease the work, cooking is totally a matter of experience and feeling, machines can't give that taste what a chef himself can. So machines should only ease the work flow.
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.
Not Anymore. This is an old world practice where kitchens were designed and constructed by architects. Now I think no kitchen is made without inputs from a chef. In today's scenario the architects only build what a chef asks for. Well now a days the computer friendly chef even draws the layout and designing of his / her kitchen themselves.
How do you rate the taste of food which is going to be cooked in the kitchen and served at the table? How much weight age do you to give to both cooking and serving?
Well, I think this question is the most controversial question for the entire hotel industry. If a hotel is a train, then production and service are the two rails of the track. They never meet together but the train can't run even if one rail doesn't support the movement. So is the case with these two departments. Both the departments are equally important for good guest experience.
You are giving a lot of stress on presentation. What is the trend going on and how chefs are working on that?
“Jo Dikhta Hai Wohi Bikta Hai!”, This is a common saying in today's market, and the food is not an exception. Out of the three senses which make a dining experience, the eye comes first then the nose and then the taste buds. So a well presented good food gets more appraisal than an ill presented excellent food. So, food presentation is most important, the plate should be clean, all the elements visible, not over crowded, with relevant garnishes.
When you are cooking the food for an elderly guest, can you suggest something more suitable to his palate?
What does an elderly guest means to you? A guest at 65 can have a good diet where as a guest at 45 might be having dietary restrictions and allergies. Age is just a number! Yes, guest preference should be kept in mind while making any food, but that's a special case. You can't prepare the whole batch keeping one guest in mind. So, my policy is to meet the guest, ask for his preference and get something of his liking on his plate.
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?
Whether it's 10 or 1000, the guest expectation remains the same. But yes, as a chef the total scenario changes. When you are making food for 10, you can be more specific with the quantity of spices, the texture of sauces, the level of doneness. But when you are cooking for 1000, the frame of mind changes. You can concentrate on taste but not up to the level of what you have while cooking for 10. While cooking for bulk, I would need high pressure burners, braising pans, tilting brat pans, etc. while cooking for 10, I would prefer small handis over low flame burners with subtle flames so that I can get the taste out of each ingredient.
What about the technology? Are you using the latest technology in the kitchen or prefer the old method of cooking?
Cooking now a days needs mixing of both the world. As I said earlier, machines can ease the load of work but they can't replace human excellence as far as emotions, feelings and taste is concerned. So use the technology to ease your work load but don't let the technology over rule you. A machine can cut vegetables better than you but no machine can give that taste what you can because you have emotions, which a machines doesn't.
Tell us about the Green Practices you follow in your kitchen.
Growing organic vegetables in units where ever possible, energy conservation by keeping a tab on electrical equipments, regular gas servicing for gas conservation, avoiding water wastage by recycling water where ever possible.
How do you rate the importance of fuel while in the kitchen? What are the hazards of using different fuels?
Cooking is impossible without fuel. You can't think of a kitchen without the use of fuel. Directly or indirectly fuel is a must.
Fire is the friendliest enemy for a person. It eases life but is most dangerous if not handled properly. It can cause burns if somebody is not attentive. Improper way of using the non reliable fuel like woods, kerosene etc. can increase the pollution level because of high carbon production.
With more and more technologies coming up, do you think cooking is going to be more advanced?
Yes! To some extent. But the final taste and appearance will be in the hands of CHEFS only.
Now the concept of cooking kitchen and serving kitchen has become a vogue. How do you differentiate the appliances in these kitchens?
With the use of modern technology and latest equipments I think all the kitchens are equally good and presentable.
Do you have a Disaster Plan in place in case of an emergency?
My first priority is availability of the fire fighting system and emergency exit in all the kitchen of my units. First aid box is the next important thing in my list.
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?
Why to keep secrets? Anybody who learns from you only spreads your charisma, he can't take your destiny. What's in the destiny is bound to happen. So chill and keep cool!
Have you ever got any ideas or inspiration from your guests?
Many times… I forgot the count…
How can people plan their kitchen. Whether it's a domestic kitchen or a commercial kitchen. What points they can keep in mind while designing it, etc.?
As far as I am concerned, my priority in my kitchen is ease of reach, my kitchen should be a one step kitchen with all the necessary things within my one step reach. Accordingly I would suggest others to fix their priority and plan on site, don't assume anything, be realistic in designing.
Tell us briefly about your concept of an Ideal Commercial Kitchen.
As I mentioned earlier, ease of reach.
Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
For me work is worship, and I don't make fun of that. Yes I have lots of lighter moments but never when I work in the kitchen.
Do you help your better half when she is in the kitchen?
Never. It's either my way or right way… I hope you understand.
How do you maintain a proper work life balance?
The most difficult part is to maintain this balance, I never waste my time trying to do that. It's always imbalanced. How you handle that imbalance is important, and I think I am not so good at that. It's my wife Abhilasha and my two sons Kushagra and Rudraansh who balance it for me.
Who is Current favorite chef and why?
Who else than me… I love myself.
Do you eat out quite often? Which places do you prefer?
Yes… Any place where ever I get food.
Any message you want to give to our readers about the kitchen. How can they make their dream kitchen?
Food is a basic necessity for us. Food can never be bad, and kitchen is the place where this is made. So a dream kitchen is a myth, a kitchen is always what makes you realize the fact that you are alive. If you know how to respect food, any kitchen can be your dream kitchen.