Chef Jose Thachil, executive chef at Taj Madikeri Resort & Spa, Coorg, a professional culinarian with expertise in gastronomy, leads the culinary operations at Taj Madikeri Resort & Spa, Coorg. Instrumental in bringing local recipes and flavours to fine dining experiences at the resorts, Chef Thachil speaks about his journey with IHCL
What inspired you to pursue culinary arts as career?
Like every little boy from a traditional Indian family, my childhood was mostly spent studying and playing outdoor sports. I hadn’t zeroed in on any particular field or vocation as a career path back then, but I always loved a good meal! As I reached my teen years, I started discovering my burgeoning interest in the culinary arts. I came from a traditional South Indian household, where the women dominated the kitchen. However, my family diverted from the norm – my father was very fond of trying new cuisines. You would often find him taking over in the kitchen and trying different recipes. This trait, I realised, runs in our family. Soon I started enjoying cooking meals by myself, and began to consciously spend more time on nurturing this interest further. This was also the time when the country was beginning to be introduced to different cuisines and the many possibilities of curated dining experiences at leading hospitality brands. That’s when I realised that I could do something that I love for a living!
What were the initial challenges and opportunities throughout your journey in the culinary world?
I believe that all the challenges that came my way have only been stepping stones in assisting me to reach where I am today. They say ‘Never judge a book by its cover’, but when it comes to food, usually, the one more appealing to the eyes is chosen. Thus, it has always been a challenge to incorporate, not only the right ingredients and healthy options for our guests, but also make every dish a visual delight. Working in the kitchen is indeed a demanding profession. Once I started working, I realised that there would be some trade-offs my family and I would have to make. It is a profession that requires a lot of passion and dedication, combined with long hours perfecting the art. And that’s why you really have to enjoy every bit of it to succeed. I am blessed with a great support system in my family, who have always understood what my work means to me and supported me throughout.
Another hurdle that I came across in the initial phase of my career – and in all honesty, my biggest challenge – was to overcome the bias that used to earlier be associated with men in the culinary field. While many were uncertain about me choosing the culinary arts as a career, I took this as an opportunity to prove that I could be successful in anything I put my mind to. The opportunity to work and learn under some amazing mentors over the years have moulded me into who I am today. My career with IHCL has given me numerous opportunities to travel and work at different places alongside renowned experts, which have further enriched my learning and development.
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?
I began my career with IHCL as a hotel operations management trainee – this was my very first job in a professional kitchen. I learnt the basics of my job here, so it holds a very special place in my heart. My first stint was with the iconic, Taj West End, Bengaluru. We launched what today are very popular brands – Blue Ginger and Blue Bar in Bengaluru and I was given the opportunity to lead their end-to-end launch. Post this, my culinary journey took me to Langkawi, Bhutan and finally Taj Madikeri Resort & Spa, Coorg. Bhutan was an immensely interesting assignment, as it was here that I had the honour of meeting with the Kings and Queens of countries, Presidents and Prime Ministers, Ambassadors and many dignitaries. This experience not only was a great honour and truly humbling, but it also brought out the flamboyant side of me, which translated onto the recipes I created.
IHCL, as an organisation, truly believes in not just supporting but encouraging talent and provides opportunities to those willing to go the extra step and learn from them. Each new step with the company has challenged the best in me to shine, and has reflected in the work that I do at the hotels. From teaching me leadership skills to encouraging me to take on additional responsibilities, each of my assignments have contributed immensely to both, my professional and personal development. The culinary arts is not just about kitchen expertise or the flavours you bring alive on a plate – it is more about the story that your food narrates and how it connects with your guests. And Taj, which has been rated as ‘India’s Strongest Brand’, allows me to do just that with the best possible resources and support through talented mentors and colleagues, every step of the way.
What strategies have you devised to make the guest experience the Tajness in F&B, once the businesses are rolling in full strength again?
At IHCL, we believe that a dining experience is not only limited to food and its many accompaniments – a great meal is an emotional experience that involves all the senses. It has always been our endeavour to create experiences that delight by ensuring that every touch point is set-up perfectly. Be it a beautiful ambience, well-trained warm staff with an eye for detail, delectable food to satiate one’s tastebuds or great wine, we focus on everything to create an experience that is spectacular and exclusive.
And while we will focus on this approach that showcases our sincere care while putting our guests as the central focus of the entire experience, we will continue to ensure the highest standards of safety and hygiene, keeping in mind that the wellbeing and health of our guests and associates is our highest priority. Along with our promise to deliver our legendary Tajness with a restrengthened commitment through enhanced safety and hygiene processes at all IHCL hotels, our chefs will continue being meticulous about culinary details, fundamental techniques, unique flavours and a kitchen that delivers the very best and freshest of products of the earth straight to your table. No detail or element can be less important or more important than the other – because a great meal is not the one that just fills you up but is a flavour that lingers in memory long after the experience has passed.
Moving forward what would you suggest the aspiring chefs keen on joining the industry?
Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage and exhaust you, let them inspire you. Let them make you even hungrier to succeed. Just as much as passion and talent are important elements for the success of any career, so is hard work and loyalty. Put your efforts in all that you do and do your best. No titles come easy, and one has to face many ups and downs to reach their goals in life – don’t let hurdles discourage you. Focus on learning at every stage, sharpen your skills, create your own unique style and techniques, and work hard with determination, patience and persistence. There is no alternative to hard work, and constant learning is what gets you going every single time.