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April 2022, Issue"Food Must be Treated with Utmost Love and Respect"

Anup GuptaExecutive Chef Taj Lakefront, Bhopal

Developing techniques and methods in order to make people's lives healthier and energetic has been the motto of Chef Anup Gupta. With over 31 years of experience in culinary arts and founder of various gastronomical experiences like organic cuisine, regional food, satvik food and active food, his mantra is beautifully presented, fresh and balanced foods. He is a common face on national TV and local media. Many awards and accolades in the field of culinary excellence go to his credit. In an exclusive interview with Veerendra Bhargava of Better Kitchen he narrated 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.
By the banks of river Rapti, there's a tiny village Tilakpurwa which falls in Gorakhpur district of Uttar Pradesh. My childhood playground under the mango trees taught me to play “gilli danda”.
Soon I had to give up this as I was taken to an army school in Shillong at a very tender age. The all boys boarding school groomed me to be a fine gentleman cadet and I was ready for joining NDA in Pune. I was excited and bubbly about it, however not my mom. She wanted me to do anything that would keep me with her and not taken away; as most of my family members who were serving in the Indian army, including my dad.
I appeared for quite a few of the competitive exams, but as destiny would take you….I cleared only Hotel Management entrance test. Here I go and landed in Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Bhopal.
These three years at IHM Bhopal and the Industrial training at The Leela Beach, Goa ignited the passion for being a world class culinary professional and I did it.

Where you have done your training?
The Leela Beach, Goa.

Coming to the kitchen side of the hotel industry, how did you plan and visualize it?
My Industrial training at The Leela Beach, Goa was quite insightful. I had much fun in the kitchen while training and learning. I got the best of the friends and best of the mentors in the kitchens. The exotic raw materials, vegetables, fruits, meats and seafood were very fascinating, and I loved every moment of it holding and appreciating them. I had good enough reasons to choose culinary department as my profession.

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.
Industrial kitchens are meant to be efficient in all manners and they need to be planned while considering operational aspects with the chefs too. Workflow is utmost important while designing the kitchen layout. Another aspect is the choice of equipment, and it must be done very-very carefully. I have been lucky to get opportunities to participate and plan my kitchens from a very nascent stage of the hotel openings. The freedom of designing your own kitchen is thrilling and adds plenty of operational value to the organization.

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 to give to both cooking and serving?
Cooking and serving goes hands in hand. The best of the food, if not served well in time it would deteriorate qualitatively. It is imperative that food is treated with utmost love and respect and is presented to the guest while it is at its peak. The server is the true ambassador of the chef and his creations.

When you are cooking the food, when the guest is of old age, can you suggest something more suitable to his palate?
Customizations is the mantra of today's food industry. Food is only appreciated when it tastes good to the palate and nourishes the body, mind and soul of the guest. So, our guest could be of any age or from any part of the world, it is prudent that the chef is able to understand the need of his guests and is able to turn and tweak the food to the liking of the guest. Creating these unique dining experiences for our guests adds immense value to the occasion.
For my patrons who are aged, I would create much lighter options depending on their health conditions. I have done lot of work on Ayurvedic food, wellness and spa cuisine and this further helps me to understand their needs in an effective manner.

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?
Both the scenario is completely different. For a smaller number we prefer a restaurant kitchen setup. The size of the pots and pans is directly proportional to the quantity of food being prepared.
For larger number, a banquet kitchen setup is most appropriate, where large tilting pans, skillets, stock pots, ovens, cold rooms, freezers, steam boilers, blast freezers, large grinders, mincers, pulverizers etc., to name a few are vital. For any chef when it comes to equipment, we chose the best that money can buy.

What about the technology. Like when you are talking about gas, or the induction thing. Are you going to use the same thing or it is going to be different?
Evolution of technology has changed the looks of the conventional kitchens. The charcoal tandoors have been replaced with gas tandoors. The open fire cooking in public spaces has been replaced with inductions. Clearly these changes are done to comply with the law of the land. Safety and environment are very vital in any industrial operations. Alternate source of energy is taking place of the conventional ones. Change is the call of the time and need of the hour.

Tell us about the Green Practices you follow in your kitchen.
The green practices are as below:
NO single use plastic
NO charcoal
Garbage segregation & recycling
Water conservation practices
Energy conservation & alternate energy sources
Minimizing usage of papers
Kitchen equipments with Smart technology
Reduction on usage of chemicals as applicable
Inhouse composting machine.

How do you rate the importance of fuel while in the kitchen. What are the hazards of using different fuels?
Fuel is used in the commercial kitchens in numerous ways. LPG, PNG, electricity are the major fuels used in the kitchens. Charcoal and firewood have been discontinued in most of the brands to comply with the law.
Hazards of open fire has been associated with operational safety and environment pollution.

With more and more technologies coming up, do you think cooking is going to be more advanced?
New technologies are giving birth to new gazettes and “toys” for the chefs. Definitely, the world is moving in this direction rapidly and we are bound to see much elevated and sophisticated machines in our kitchens in days to come.

Now the concept of cooking kitchen and serving kitchen has become vogue. How you differentiate the appliances and the technology in these kitchens?
Concept kitchens are taking place of the conventional kitchens. Cooking is no more that happens behind the walls. All of us want to see our foods being prepared or maybe we want to participate in preparing it. Live kitchens and display kitchens have been coming up with very trendy layouts and equipments. These cooking labs are getting much appreciation as one can interact with the chefs and customize their food instantly.

Do you have a Disaster Plan in place in case of an emergency.
All commercial kitchens have emergency exits and fire plans. Necessary training and drills are imparted to the associates as per schedule. Kitchens are equipped with fire suppression system, fire extinguishers, fire blankets, LPG leak detection system, heat & smoke detectors.
It is mandatory for all employees to get trained with all emergency procedures.

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?
Recipes are no more a secret. It is the flair of cooking by combining the usual with the unusual. The more you can connect with the food ingredients it would help you to understand the goodness and the flavors packed within. This established connect with your food helps you to create the mouthwatering flavors. Cooking is an instinct, and it depicts the state of your mind. So keep cooking and creating recipes of your own. Happy cooking.

Have you ever got any ideas or inspiration from your guests?
Guests are the epitome of ideas. Constant interaction with our guests who come from all walks of life and from across the world bring a bag full of ideas. For me they have always been a great source of inspiration to create culinary extravaganza.
Many a times guests share their culinary experiences while they had visited any place and liked the dish. It gives me a high to re-create the same dish to delight the guest and add to his travel experiences.

What is the message you are going to give to our readers, as a Chef, about the kitchen. How the people can plan their kitchen. Whether it's a domestic kitchen or a commercial kitchen. What points they can keep in mind while designing it, etc.?
“Kitchen” is an integral part of any house. It calls for some professional advice while designing your kitchen. Make notes of all the equipments that you would like your kitchen to have. Think of all the dishes that you would want to create in that space and that would give you an idea of the required equipment or machine. Budgets are another factor that nay be kept in mind while finalizing the list of equipments. Since there would be usage of electricity, LPG / PNG, cleaning chemicals please consider all safety aspects. Cooking disseminates smoke and smell, and proper exhaust system is must. Cross ventilation is another factor to be considered. Preferably should be away from toilets and washrooms to prevent from microbial contamination. Anti-skid flooring and good wall tiles may be considered. Chemical resistant surfaces would another added safety feature.

Tell us briefly about your concept of an Ideal Commercial Kitchen.
“My dream Kitchen” would have all the modern gazettes with proper workflow. From an ozone vegetable washer, knife sanitizing cabinet, dehydrator, sorbet machine etc. with cutting edge technologies are on top of my wish list. The layout is most crucial as it defines the pace of the operations. Safety features and environment friendly workplace is desired. The temperature and air quality in the kitchen is another salient feature of my space. Installation of the equipments must be ergonomically correct. Lux level in the production areas must be as per standards. Bright, well laid-out and a vibrant space with oozing technology is the definition for my ideal commercial kitchen.

Share your fun moments in the Kitchen.
Most of the times kitchens are a fun-filled space. You never know what would come up next and the team would burst into laughter. The most hilarious one usually is imitating a fellow colleague and creating some drama out of it. These lighter moments during peak hours encourages us to keep moving and spreading smiles all over.

Do you help your better half when she is in the kitchen?
It is very rare but yes definitely when she needs a break. Easier option is to take her out for dinner. Hahaha!!

How do you maintain a proper work life balance?
A bit difficult but the show must go on. With a little planning and delegation, I steal some quality time for self and family. It is important to trust our subordinates and train them well and groom them to step in your shoes and things start falling in place.

Who is Current favourite chef and why?
The love & affection of being the favourite chef would always be with Chef Chander Suri, My first mentor & Executive Chef of The Leela Kempinski, Mumbai.
Chef Suri was a great teacher and trainer. My source of inspiration.

Do you eat out quite often? Which places do you prefer?
I prefer venturing out to local eateries, dhabas, and street joints. I love driving and that's what takes me to roads less taken and experience the unusual.

Any message you want to give to our readers about the kitchen. How can they make their dream kitchen?
To get your dream kitchen project come to reality, you need to jot down all the features that you would want to have in it. Consult a professional and he would fine tune your needs and assemble it chronologically.
Do not compromise on safety features and energy optimization factors.
Follow your passion and participate in designing activities. You would love it and always feel proud of your inputs.