Inspiration begins at home. Jeewan Singh cultivated his interest in culinary arts pursuits by watching his mother cook for the family. He graduated from IHM, Pusa, and completed post graduate diploma from The Oberoi Centre of Learning & Development. Before joining Jehan Numa Palace Hotel he was executive chef of Oberoi, Shimla, and Marriott International. He was a member of the team for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government initiative "Make in India" at Hannover Fair, Germany. He also headed the team of chefspromoting Indian Food at St. Moritz, Switzerland. Apart from cooking, his interests include playing chess, current affairs, and general knowledge. In an interview with Veerendra Bhargava of Better Kitchen, chef Jeewan outlines his culinary journey. Excerpts:
Tell us about your background and how you have come to the hotel industry, especially into your chosen line of cooking.
I originally belong to a small town in Uttarakhand called Almora. I have done my schooling from Rishikesh. I have graduated from the Institute of Hotel Management - Pusa, and have done my post-graduate diploma from Oberoi Centre for Learning and Development (OCLD).
My source of inspiration is my mother as she is a wonderful cook and I have grown up seeing her making wonderful dishes for my family.
Where you have done your training?
I have done my industrial training from Radisson, New Delhi.
I have completed my OCLD training from various Oberoi properties (from Trident Chennai, Oberoi Raj Vilas, and Oberoi Mumbai).
Coming to the kitchen side of the hotel industry, how did you plan and visualize it?
I was always fascinated with the charm of a kitchen, especially when you work with good brands – cleaning, hygiene, and the way we present our food.
Planning for the kitchen is a very important part as it will result in the execution of work at the later stage.
If you plan your kitchen well, considering all the aspects involved be it layout or placement of equipment or kitchen drawing, it will certainly smoothen your operation.
With regard to kitchen planning, in most cases, it is done by architects and designers in consultation with chefs. But from your experience, you talk about accessibility. Please comment on that.
In my opinion, a good kitchen is the one which is well-planned. Of course, an executive chef's advice and consultation is very important as he is the captain of the ship. Ultimately he is the one who has to run the show on the shop floor.
And you are right by saying that nowadays for kitchen planning, the chef's involvement is very important. If I give my example, I certainly prefer to work on the layout first and consider all the aspects which I require and then pass on the same to the architect enabling him to fit it in his plan of action.
How do you rate the food which is going to be cooked in the kitchen and served at the table? How much weightage do you give to both cooking and serving?
I would give equal marks to both aspects… because I believe if a dish is prepared well but not served on time then the whole charm of that food goes to waste and jeopardizes your whole effort.
When you are cook the food for an aged guest do you suggest something more suitable for his palate?
Yes of course – old age people do not have the same strength of digestion as compared to young people.
Before we take an order, we need to ask guests for their preference of spice level, the kind of food they would like to eat and also if they suffer from any particular allergies. All these questions need to be asked in advance.
When you entertain 10 guests and when you take on a thousand of them, the preparation is bound to be different. In that case, what is your preference for the cookware and the cooking pots?
Here you are talking about the differentiation between ala carte cooking and bulk cooking.
If it is for a small group, obviously the option would be small pans easy to handle but when it comes to bulk cooking it must depend on what kind of cuisine you are preparing… for example if it is an Indian dish then you will go for thick bottom lagan, pots and pan.
What about the technology. I am referring to the use of gas and induction cooking here... Are you going to use the same medium or it is going to be different?
It is going to be different. It totally depends on what kind of cuisine you are preparing, and also I would like to mention that technology is good but at the same time it won't fulfill the purpose you are looking at... for example if you are preparing Indian food, you won't get the same taste if a particular food is made on lagan on the gas or other one made in a pan on induction. Because Indian food taste also depends on the utensils used in the making process.
Tell us about the Green Practices you follow in your kitchen.
In my hotel discarded cooking oil is given to the FSSAI - authorized factory for methanol.
Kitchen waste is converted into manure and used in the kitchen garden… Besides, we also have a garbage recycling plant in the house.
Waste water is recycled and used in the hotel garden.
How do you rate the importance of fuel while in the kitchen? What are the hazards of using different fuels?
Without fuel no work can be done in a kitchen. It's like a body without a soul. Different kinds of fuels be it LPG, PNG, or charcoal are used for different purposes. For hazards, we have fire safety in place in all hotels which includes fire hydrants, fire blankets, etc.
With more and more technologies coming up, do you think cooking is going to be more advanced?
Yes, of course, we need to change ourselves with time and technology. We need to find every possible way in sync with technology that will ease our work and daily operation.
Now the concept of cooking kitchen and serving kitchen has become vogue. How do you differentiate the appliances and the technology in these kitchens?
I believe in change with the time and always include it in my way of functioning, if something is trending and has good results and which makes our customers happy should be incorporated. Basically cooking and serving kitchen is not a new phenomenon… if you see any Indian household you will see a mother always cooking on chulas with the rest of the family sitting next to her and her serving the hot food from there directly on to their plates. For Indians, it's not a new concept. This is what we see every day.
Do you have a Disaster Plan in place in case of an emergency?
Yes… we have fire safety management, a quick response team in case of emergency.
Earlier you people were held that Chefs don't disclose their recipes. Nowadays with the growing concept of open kitchen, everybody gets to see what you are mixing. So how do you think the Chefs can keep their recipes a secret anymore?
It's now an old thing… when Khansamas never used to share their recipes and the reason was that they wanted to secure jobs for their children. In old days it was very common to pass on the baton to their kids and this transitional thing happened for very long.
But now a day's anyone who is talented, has a sense of food and wants to be a good leader would like his co-worker to implement his vision as well as he does.
I believe I would be more than happy if my junior, whom I taught, makes better food than me. That's my victory.
Have you ever got any ideas or inspiration from your guests?
Yes – sometimes, guest advice is also equally important.
Kitchen planning is very crucial … a bad kitchen planning will lead to many further problems like order delays, service issues, ease of work in kitchen and sometimes even accidents.
A chef has to be very vigilant while planning of a kitchen. For example, where the dish wash area would be incorporated… placement of equipment, no clash of service personnel in the kitchen. Distance of range to the mise area… water inlets, etc.
Tell us briefly about your concept of an Ideal Commercial Kitchen.
An ideal kitchen is where food dishes are prepared as well as served with ease to the customer and kitchen operations are conducted by incorporating modern technologies.
Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
While doing briefing we do a lot of fun activities and also discuss what is happening around the world, trending topics, etc.
Do you help your better half when she is in the kitchen?
I am unmarried.
How do you maintain a proper work life balance?
Prioritize your work better so that you have enough time for yourself and your family.
Who is your current favorite chef and why?
Chef Parvinder Bali (senior OCLD faculty) and chef Rohit Gambhir (Executive Chef, The Oberoi, New Delhi). One was my teacher and another one was my first boss. I learned a lot under his supervision.
Do you eat out quite often? Which places do you prefer?
I do eat out but not frequently, as I like home-style cooking and home is the best way to have the same.
Any message you want to give to our readers about the kitchen. How can they make their dream kitchen?
An ideal kitchen is which is clean and delivers the best out of your chef to your customer without hustle. An ideal kitchen is one where the chef's soul lives. Love your kitchen and take pride in what you make and always keep it clean.