By Siddhi Jain
Amritsar, Oct 16 (IANS) Celebrated chefs grew out of the concept of traditional “bawarchis” and became front-of-the-house stars when India’s hospitality industry was conjured up in the 1980s, says Chef Rakesh Sethi, one of the earliest television chefs and current corporate executive chef of 96 hotels under the Radisson Hotel Group.
Sethi, who began his culinary career in 1982 as a Hotel Corp of India unit chef, detailed the growth of the industry, supplemented by culinary art institutes that mushroomed in the decade.
“I passed out from a catering college in 1982. The hotel industry was growing at that time because of Asian Games in India (that year), and a lot of new hotels came up. There were a lot of opportunities and demand,” the ace cuisiner told IANS.
It was a trend, and people wanted their children to pursue hotel management because of the glamour associated with it, he added.
“There were many institutes that opened within the next 6-8 years to support the growing industry but soon fizzled out,” he said.
The Food Food TV channel food editor linked it back to a trend in the hospitality industry when the “General Manager and the chef of the hotel were non-Indian or expats”.
“So, when the chefs came to India, they came in with their own food and culture and learnt the Indian cuisine here.
“This also gave rise to a new fusion cuisine, combining western and eastern ingredients. It’s still continuing in the name of modern Indian food.”
Sethi, who believes that Indians are very well-connected to food, hosted the cookery show “Mirch Masala” — a contemporary of celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s “Khana Khazana” — on Star Plus in the 2000s, which had a running length of over 160 episodes.
He explained that the celebrity status that chefs got with television exposure made them household names and boosted the concept of being a chef.
Explaining about the difference between a khansama and a chef, the Delhi-based chef also said that it was just the name which had changed and the science of cooking was still the same.
While khansamas were expert cooks in the royal tradition, the chefs are in-charge of a kitchen who don’t just cook but also manage it.
“The halwais and khansamas were very prominent in their domains, but today chefs are famous as well. Bringing the chefs forward gives more confidence and comfort to the guest,” Sethi said.
“Chefs have now become the face of the restaurant. People go and eat because of the name of the chef. They’re no more back-of-the-house worker but front of the house name and face of the hotel,” added the star chef who has worked for Ramada Plaza, New Delhi, TajSats Ai, Inter-Continental The Grand, New Delhi and East India Hotels, New Delhi, among others.
The slow-food philosopher also harbours a deep desire to bring forth authentic, simple food cooked by home chefs.
“The royal food from palaces was eventually picked up by the hotels and the chefs, to showcase the lavishness and richness of the food in their restaurants.
“But that’s not the real food that you and me see. I’m from Punjab, and my mother doesn’t put any cream in dal makhni. Why should I spoil my own cuisine just to sell it in the hotels?”
Does he see any upcoming trends in the culinary world?
“The cuisine has gone from traditional, to fusion to molecular, but now people have started eating out. Especially with the coming in of UberEats, Swiggy and Zomato.
“Eating in-house is becoming a trend,” Sethi said.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a three-day World Heritage Cuisine Summit and Food Festival, that concluded on Sunday.
(Siddhi Jain went to Amritsar at the invitation of the organisers of the World Heritage Cuisine Summit and Food Festival. She can be contacted at [email protected])