Chef Amarendra Mishra, executive chef, Jai Mahal Palace, Jaipur, shares that while local flavours and culture are closely woven in with the various cuisines they offer at Jai Mahal Palace, with the increased need to boost immune systems, they will be going back to roots and introducing Ayurvedic foods indigenous to Rajasthan in their menus
What inspired you to pursue culinary arts as a career?
Ever since I was a child, I felt that the kitchen was the one place where I truly belonged. I could write a whole book just reminiscing the fond memories I have of being in the kitchen, watching my mother cook, my grandmother pickle anything and everything, and my father stepping in on special occasions to whip up his signature curries. Hailing from a small village, availability of fresh, varied and abundant ingredients was rare. It was very fascinating to see how families made the best of what was available and produced such culturally indigenous meals. I believe that it was this kind of innovation, which challenged me and seeing the happiness associated with food that led me to pursue the culinary profession.
What were the initial challenges and opportunities throughout your journey in the culinary world?
I joined the industry when the culinary field was not a very sought after profession – we were often referred to as ‘Bawarchis’! Chefs were yet to recognise a ‘celebrity-like’ status, be proud features in their own shows, own and manage their own restaurants or even enjoy the creative freedom that they do now. Apart from these, another challenge that I faced was the absence of a guide or mentor as I was the first person from my family to venture into a creative profession like this – having someone I could look up to would have made the journey a little easier. These challenges, however, proved to be a great opportunity and learning curve for me. I carved a path for myself while reading as much as possible, learning something new every step of the way and pushing myself each day; and believe me, I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it. Eventually, the hard work paid off. Today, my friends still call me a ‘MERE BAWARCHI’ – but it is with great pride and joy, and I am aware of how big a compliment it is!
How has the stint been with Taj? While many have a story to dictate of being associated with the brand, what is your inspirational tale?
I would not be amplifying it enough if I say that everything I have, and everything I am today, is all because of Taj. The people, their love and loyalty towards the brand and the very inclusive, accepting and encouraging culture throughout the organisation are truly unmatched. Throughout my career, I have had the honour of working with likeminded, innovative, dynamic, result-oriented professionals, who believe in strong collaborative teamwork, and this has stayed with me as one of my greatest learnings throughout. I have had the honour to work across Taj Hotels in numerous cities across different categories, and each experience has been an opportunity to learn and grow as a professional.
I have been with IHCL for over two and a half decades now, and the thought of being associated with any other organisation has never crossed my mind because IHCL is my home. It has never stopped believing in me and has always helped me grow exponentially, both personally and professionally. Today, it is with great pride that I say that I belong to Taj – a brand that has been rated as India’s Strongest Brand!
What strategies have you devised to make the guest experience the Tajness in F&B, once the businesses are rolling in full strength again?
In the wake of the pandemic, my team and I have been brainstorming in full swing about how to bounce back once the operations resume, while adapting to the new normal.
Keeping the safety of both, guests and employees, as topmost priority is the single most important way in which we can continue strengthening the trust that our guests have in us. We have implemented enhanced safety and hygiene procedures for all guests, employees, partners and vendors across all our hotels whilst continuing to offer our trademark Tajness with a restrengthened commitment.
This includes universal provisions and training for all associates across every level, in addition to other enhanced precautionary measures such as mandatory temperature checks, minimisation of contact through enhanced digital measures, reorganization of restaurants and banquet areas to maintain social distancing and digital or single-use menus amongst others. While adapting to this new lifestyle might not be easy at first, I truly believe that in the end, we will continue to delight our guests like always.
While local flavours and culture are closely woven in with the various cuisines we offer at Jai Mahal Palace, with the increased need to boost our immune systems, we will be going back to our roots and introducing Ayurvedic foods indigenous to Rajasthan in our menus. Trials of fermentation of probiotic foods and drinks has already begun in our kitchens, and our chefs are excited to share probiotic foods such as lacto-fermented ingredients in salads with our guests to further boost their overall wellness and immunity.
What would you suggest the aspiring chefs keen on joining the industry?
I would like to encourage all the young chefs at the helm of just graduating or in college to make the most of this time. Read, watch food documentaries and experiment in your home kitchens. In addition, do a little good for the world and the community – it is the utmost need of the hour.
However, most importantly, do not give up. If you use this time well, sitting at home right now, while uncertainty about the future looms large, will turn out to be a blessing in disguise. This is a testing time for the whole industry and humanity at large – you are not alone – and the future, where you will shine bright again, is around the corner. We will eventually get through this together, and by then, you will have learnt and grown a lot, honed by the experiences of today.