Chef Sandip Narang, executive chef, Taj West End, Bengaluru, in conversation with Express Food & Hospitality, speaks about how food ingredients and their fascinating stories have attracted him to pursue a career in culinary arts
What inspired you to pursue culinary arts as career?
A chance reading of Harold McGee’s iconic book “On Food and Cooking – The Science and Lore of the Kitchen”. I picked it up from a used books sale and have been hooked ever since. I was completely intrigued by reading about the magical reactions that cooking has on various food ingredients and the amazing stories and history of various foodstuffs and products. Also, I find myself feeling the most comfortable and at ease in a professional kitchen.
What were the initial challenges and opportunities throughout your journey in the culinary world?
The challenges were like any other that one can expect any young professional to face while acclimatising to a new work environment. The opportunities, however, have been immense – and one of the biggest was the opportunity to travel within and outside the country, which allowed me to get exposure to different kinds of cultures, ingredients and cuisines. Travelling, I believe, is the biggest teacher for a chef, and the best way to understand the eating habits and trends of a destination and its people is to sample the local cuisine of a place. I have been lucky to have learnt something new through each of my travels, many of which have been translated to the unique flavours and methodologies I use in my recipes.
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?
Right from my days at the hotel school, I had aimed and wanted to work at the Taj. It was a dream come true and a privilege to get selected and I have enjoyed every single moment here. IHCL and Taj Hotels is an outstanding organisation with a rich legacy, which is reiterated by the fact that Taj was only recently rated at India’s Strongest Brand by Brand Finance, and the company has given me immense opportunities to learn and grow from the masters of the craft.
What strategies have you devised to make the guest experience the Tajness in F&B, once the businesses are rolling in full strength again?
Our main objective while designing the Food and Beverage experiences is to ensure that the trust that our patrons have in our brand is further strengthened even as we continue to delight them with unique dining experiences and flavours. We have implemented enhanced safety and hygiene protocols keeping in mind the wellness and health of our guests, whilst ensuring that they experience our legendary Tajness with a restrengthened commitment. Alternate seating arrangements to maintain the required social distancing protocols, QR code menu scanners, easily accessible sanitisers at different points are just some of the measures we have undertaken to maintain guest safety. In addition, all our team members have been trained and have been equipped with safety equipment such as masks, face shields, and gloves to ensure extra protection and hygiene.
Moving forward what would you suggest the aspiring chefs keen on joining the industry?
For those contemplating to becoming chefs and joining the industry, I would say that professional kitchens are amongst the most amazing places to work at and that one should always follow their passion. And, to the young chefs who are already in the business, my advice is to taste as many different cuisines and ingredients and dishes as possible, experiment and try as many different things as you can, read religiously, travel, and work in as many good kitchens you can. For a chef, there is no end to the learning you receive every single day. The more you see, the more you learn!