With an illustrious career spanning over three decades with IHCL in India and abroad, Chef Sujan Mukherjee, executive chef, Taj Coromandel, while speaking to Akshay Nayak highlights that it is critical to get into the details of gastronomy to avoid fragmented learning
What inspired you to pursue culinary arts as career?
Hailing from Kolkata, West Bengal, India, like any other youngster of my generation, I was initially unsure of which career stream to pursue. But in the due course of time, as I introspected my passion, I chose to pursue hotel management. While none from my family members belonged to the same industry, I knew I always loved assisting my mother and grandmother in the kitchen. More than relishing their delicacies, I was keen on knowing the process and ingredients that went into making a delectable meal each time. Being blessed with the good fortune to grow up in a joint family with over 20 members, I not only witnessed family functions come to life but also fascinatingly participated in every meal prepared for large gatherings. I also have fond memories of shopping vegetables and different varieties of fish, and learning the right technique to pick the best quality of produce. I will always agree that when I opted for culinary arts as my specialisation, the liking for it came to me naturally owing to the entire environment that I was being molded in. Being a workaholic and someone who loves to hold the rein of responsibility, I think has been a few of the key reasons for me being here today.
What were the initial challenges and opportunities throughout your journey in the culinary world?
I started my career as a hotel operations trainee at Taj Hotels, New Delhi. Initially being home-sick and having to learn to converse in Hindi (as I came from a Bengali medium school!), were some of the challenges that came my way. But as time progressed, I understood that the long hours and demanding work life were much more important for me to prioritise as an integral part of my learning curve. I remember the days when I would struggle to cope up with the speed of work with others in the kitchen. But, it also felt momentous on those days that I would chop over 100 kg of onions alone for large events and gatherings. The grinding period of the initial four months was indeed the key factor for inculcating in us the essential skills for us to fly higher. I shall forever be indebted to Tal Palace, New Delhi and my mentors for giving me a foundation that still stands my forte.
How has the experience been with Taj?
Being a veteran of the Taj group of hotels, I truly believe that this brand and company are an ocean of opportunities. While the admiration for Tata Group marked the beginning of my journey with the company, the nurturing of this organisation has made me spend over 32 years here. In my journey, though I have seen many people who joined with me move on to other assignments, I proudly believe that the entire care and appreciation that Taj has given me is difficult to seek elsewhere. From enriching my experience during my stints at Taj Bengal to Taj Dubai to Taj Coromandel, Chennai, the organisation has entrusted me with roles of responsibility that I have loved to honour while experiencing every sphere of the world. Stepping into Taj Coromandel enhanced my learning with the new ingredients of South Indian flavours. Ever since 1988, every passing year has only helped me embark on a new journey of growth from where there has been no looking back. From preparing food for celebrities to VVIP’s to having received an appreciation from Chef Pampa himself, which was an inspiring moment of my journey, I have enjoyed and grown in leaps and bounds, every step of the way.
Moving forward what would you suggest the aspiring chefs keen on joining the industry?
I would only say that young bright minds need to understand the importance of local products and their usage while cooking. Matching the flavours of the cuisine to the seasonality of the ingredients available is important as you learn of the freshest ingredients available in the close vicinity of their workplace. It is critical to get into the details of gastronomy to avoid fragmented learning. With growing awareness, paying attention to the nourishment served in a platter is also an important aspect to focus on, in addition to the overall marriage of flavours and presentation of dishes. The world shall forever be inclined to their “mothers’ food”, thus traditional recipes shall be the key to success in the years to come.