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Chef Nitin Mathur: Chefs need to be prepared to adapt to the ‘new normal’ life that we are to embark on

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As the HoReCa sector in India gears up to welcome their guests back post the crisis, keeping the Tajness intact in the gastronomic creations at Taj Santacruz, the executive chef at the hotel Chef Nitin Mathur says, “We will continue in our endeavour as we re-design our menu with additional healthy options across our restaurants, and redefine guest dining experiences within the hotel, keeping in mind safety procedures”

What inspired you to pursue culinary arts as career?
The women in our family, especially my grandmother and aunt have taken immense pride in their cooking styles and techniques. We had recipes and preparations that were associated with their names. This did play an important role in piquing my interest in the food origins of our Kayasha family and eventually became a priority. I believe I was destined for a career in the kitchen the moment I started understanding the ingredients used by my grandmother, and the traditional recipes that were prepared as a family ritual. I learnt how important it is to respect each ingredient and its capability of transforming any recipe when paired with other elements. With each dish, my team at Taj Santacruz, Mumbai strives to present it in its most authentic form, true to its roots.

What were the initial challenges and opportunities throughout your journey in the culinary world?
25 years ago, when I began my culinary journey, chefs were not recognised for their work the way they are today. In fact, it was a profession that was frowned upon by many as they were not used to the culture. It did take a bit of convincing my family members as well, to take this path ahead. Today, they are indeed very proud of my journey and the learnings that I have gathered on the way.

At present, we find ourselves in a time when Instagrammers have taken precedence, and restaurants across the globe are working towards putting their best foot forward. Basis my experience across varied cities in India, I have come to realise that guests are certainly willing to experiment more with aesthetically appealing recipes than they are with the unvarying dishes on the menu. Innovation is certainly key, however, so is a thorough understanding of the diverse palate of our guests.

While many have a story to dictate of being associated with the brand, what’s your inspirational tale?
I have had the honour to work across Taj hotels in numerous cities across categories. My journey to Golden Dragon at Taj Krishna, Chinoiserie at Taj Bengal Kolkata, House of Ming at The Taj Mahal Hotel, Mansingh Delhi have resulted in a unique Masterstroke menu crafted for China Inc at Taj Santacruz, Mumbai. In pursuit of more experience, I have spent time learning and perfecting regional cuisine styles; its influences which have deeply shaped the way I perceive a recipe and its presentation.

The most sought out boss and even humble as a guest, Sir Ratan Tata continues to be the most valued person I have had the opportunity to cook for. His all-time favorite dish – crab meat soup with dim sums speaks volumes about simplicity and soulful recipes making for the most memorable dining experiences and has been truly inspiring.

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 Taj, we believe in having an informed, attentive and careful approach, ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our guests and associates. We will continue in our endeavour as we re-design our menu with additional healthy options across our restaurants, and redefine guest dining experiences within the hotel keeping in mind safety procedures.

Moving forward what would you suggest the aspiring chefs keen on joining the industry?
I would reiterate the fact that one must cook as if they are cooking for their loved ones. The care, dedication and concern they show while plating a dish for a family member is incomparable and is also the key to having a gratifying experience while serving guests. Having said that, chefs need to be prepared to adapt themselves to the ‘new normal’ life that we are to embark on. The dining experience is set to change and we need to be ready to adopt new methods, be mindful of the new guidelines and continue to fulfill guests’ wishes.

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