From his hard working days as a trainee at The Ashok, to serving Barack Obama, former president of USA as the executive chef of the property, Chef Arvind Rai has never shied away from the responsibility of showcasing Indian cuisine at international forums. Speaking to Food & Hospitality World post his National Tourism Award win, he shares his eventful journey
Starting his career as a kitchen executive trainee in 1987 with India Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), Chef Arvind Rai, executive chef, The Ashok was soon shifted to Kovalam Ashok Beach Resort in Kerala. After four years of rigorous work, he was later moved to Hotel Khajuraho Ashok in Madhya Pradesh. Initial years with ITDC hotels not only gave him the much needed experience, but also prepared him for his future role. He recently won the coveted National Tourism Award under the category of ‘Best Chef of India – 4 to 5 Star Deluxe, Heritage Classic and Heritage Grand category for the year 2015-16’.
Commenting on how he feels, Chef Rai shares, “It is indeed a great experience to receive such an honour and be acknowledged for my hard work. Many times it has been said that only ITDC chefs receive these national awards, but I must say that working here truly prepares you for the toughest of jobs. Here, one not only gains knowledge about the industry or basics of culinary, but also establishes the skill to master the kitchen.”
Apart from managing the restaurants and banquets at The Ashok, the chef is also responsible for catering the state banquets hosted by the vice president of India and the Prime Minister of India at Hyderabad House. This also includes ministry meetings and other important functions held at the hotel. While many are strategically pre-planned, often some instant meetings for international delegates require utmost attention while managing the hotel at the same time. Chef Rai, who seems to have mastered the art of multi tasking, informs, “Now we are used to the hectic work and responsibility. While managing the functions is challenging at times, they enable us to showcase Indian delicacies to international guests. Majorly we serve authentic Indian dishes while keeping their preferences in mind. It requires constant co-ordination with the respective ministries and pre planning as we represent our nation.”
Chef Rai has had the opportunity to serve some eminent dignataries like Bill Clinton, George Bush, Prince Williams, Nicolas Sarkozy, Maithripala Sirisena, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama among many others. Recalling his experiences, he mentions, “It was fascinating to serve George Bush as he loved our cuisine. In fact, everyone has always appreciated Indian cuisine and indulged in the local delicacies. We make sure the menu has options which give them a proper outlook of Indian dishes.”
A graduate of IHM Pusa, he is an active member of Association of Hospitality Professionals and joint secretary for the chef’s organisation, Indian Culinary Forum. For the past 20 years at the hotel, he has mentored and trained several chefs who have now established international restaurants and have been promoting Indian cuisine. He is also an external examiner for IHM Pusa, IHM Gwalior and Delhi Institute of Hotel Management.
Over the years, he has represented India at many international food festivals in Moscow, Russia; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Budapest, Hungary; Johannesburg, South Africa; Taipei, Taiwan; Rome, Italy etc. He has successfully executed events in leading five-star hotels which showcased authentic Indian food which was greatly appreciated by the dignatiries. When asked about the experience, he says, “Being part of the international events has been indeed a great learning experience. To be able to manage authentic Indian flavours with limited resources is an interesting task in itself. There have been times when we carry Indian masalas to bring out the traditional flavours in new destinations.”
When asked where he sees the future of Indian cuisine, he says, “We at The Ashok have also transformed over time to suit the changing Indian palates. While traditional cuisines demand heavy spices, new generation also wants lighter menus. But being an epitome of Delhi culture, we have still rooted to local dishes and mix of Indian cultures. The world is only starting to get to know Indian cuisine in a better manner. They are now exploring spices and flavours that dominate our cuisines are part of everyday households than just restaurant menus.”
As part of the ISO 22000:2005 food safety team of the hotel, he ensures strict food safety and quality control measures. Chef Rai has been nominated as an ‘Industry Expert’ on Board of Governors of IHM, Hajipur, Bihar. He has been honoured with SILVER HAT Award 2015 by Indian Culinary Forum and Hospitality Achiever Award – Chef of the Year 2017 by Association of Hospitality Professionals.