Chef Asish Roy, executive chef, Rambagh Palace, Jaipur speaks about his journey in pursuing culinary arts as a professional career, passion for which kindled at an early age and was intricately influenced by his mother
What inspired you to pursue culinary arts as career?
My memories of food are intricately woven with the memories of my mother. From a very young age, I have seen my mother’s passion for cooking – her love for natural ingredients and all things homemade shone in the flavours of her dishes. Her cooking was never limited to a certain type of cuisine – she prepared everything from condiments to marinades to comfort food with the same enthusiasm and passion. A love for gastronomy and the influence of my mother have left a lasting impact on both, my personal life and professional career. Her can-do spirit was what encouraged me to never give up and pursue a career in the culinary arts.
In addition, my love for travelling and exploring new places, combined with the people from different walks of life and cultures that I’ve met across the globe have taught me not just how to create art on a plate but also instilled in me a number of life lessons and experiences that have over time translated into each of my dishes. The culinary arts is a highly inclusive experience and evokes the artist in oneself.
What were the initial challenges and opportunities throughout your journey in the culinary world?
Gastronomy as a skill requires time and patience. Sometimes one runs out of both, as trends change rapidly, in step with dynamic customer demands. Hence, one of the biggest challenges was to keep myself updated with the current trends and methodologies through time and adapt to these changes real-time. However, I am a firm believer that every challenge is an opportunity in disguise, and that I have honed my skills further over the years, with every new experience.
Be it experimenting with the amalgamation of unique flavours, perfecting plating as an art, meeting customer expectations while creating delight or harnessing the power of innovation while staying true to local flavours – all my years as a chef have helped me learn and grow. In my career with IHCL, I have been very lucky to have had a number of opportunities – including being an integral member of initiatives such as The Chambers Kitchen brigade at Taj Bengal, Kolkata and the photoshoot programme for Late Chef Anthony Bourdain; in addition to learning under the wings of numerous experts such as expat chefs, Chef Morimoto and more.
How has the stint been with Taj? While many have a story to dictate of being associated with the brand, what’s your inspirational tale?
While cooking for one’s family and loved ones is highly rewarding, being a part of a professional kitchen is a different kind of experience altogether. Suddenly, all of the intricate processes and details in whipping up a recipe begin to make sense and the magic and joy of creation takes over. My journey of over three decades with IHCL has been replete with many an eventful experience and travel. IHCL has given me many opportunities to not only develop as a chef but also acquire new skills in the culinary arts. From being the deputy chef of Taj Bengal to the executive chef at the renowned Rambagh Palace in Jaipur today, my journey with Taj has allowed me to expand my cultural perspective in terms of flavours and cuisines; in addition to enhancing my leadership skills via the Taj Leadership Program.
Moreover, I have learnt the art of versatility and about the macroeconomics of kitchen through many once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. IHCL – and Taj – is truly an inspirational and supportive organisation that not only drives you to aim higher but also recognizes your talents. Be it the many internal awards, and even industry recognitions such as the prestigious National Tourism Award for the Best Chef and more recently, the ‘Best Chef Award’ by FICCI in 2019, my mentors and colleagues have been my biggest pillars of encouragement and support. I have also had an opportunity to serve some distinguished personalities from around the globe over the years, and all these achievements have always motivated me to do more.
What strategies have you devised to make the guest experience the Tajness in F&B, once the businesses are rolling in full strength again?
As ‘India’s Strongest Brand’ as rated by Brand Finance recently, Taj is synonymous with legendary hospitality and world-class service. Adapting to the new normal keeping in mind people’s safety and health as priority, will be key in terms of customer engagement as people will gravitate more towards trusted brands, with strong safety and hygiene SOPs clearly laid out and strictly practiced across hotels. At IHCL, we have implemented exacting standards of safety and hygiene by augmenting our already stringent protocols.
Be it the thermal screening of all employees and guests, intensive hospital-level sanitisation, new contactless processes and social distancing measures including relooking at restaurant seating, mandatory training and provision of adequate PPE to all associates, and digital menus and QR codes; we are taking all the necessary measures whilst continuing to offer our trademark Tajness with a restrengthened commitment. While we have always followed a farm-to-fork practice at Rambagh Palace, keeping in mind the increasing need for health and wellness, we are putting greater emphasis on wellness-oriented food sections for healthier meals and greater level of immunity.
Moving forward what would you suggest the aspiring chefs keen on joining the industry?
I truly believe that there is no age for learning and that one should develop a passion for learning, as that is the only way to move forward in whatever career one may choose. This is of even more importance when one is pursuing a profession in the culinary arts as along with creative and artistic talent and a keen sense of taste and smell, one must learn to embrace change. Flexibility is key in matching step with dynamic customer expectations and innovation plays a significant role. Being a chef translates to long hours in the kitchen, coordinating with multiple stakeholders – being collaborative and a team player will go a long way in making the journey easier and more enjoyable.
Sustainability is the need of the hour, and upcoming chefs will need to focus on not only decreasing overall wastage but also adopting more sustainable and responsible methods to create a better world for the future.