Chef Sultan Mohideen recently joined Signum Hotels and Resorts as the grand master chef. He has also won many awards including the National Tourism Award in 2014 from Ex-President of India, Pranab Mukherjee and has also served Superstar Rajni Kanth in 1996. In conversation with Akshay Nayak, Chef Mohideen highlights his efforts in revisiting and promoting Indian cuisine
What inspired you to pursue a career in culinary arts?
I wanted to become a Genetic Engineer and do research on Human DNA. But during my graduation, I found this is possible only from the USA, for which my financial status didn’t allow me to go ahead. At the same time I read a couple of articles on French culinary history, and some of the globally popular chefs’ lives, wherein at that time, almost 35 years ago, Indian culinary history was not even documented and chefs we not doing that great in their profession. As I got admission to three-year Diploma in Catering Institute – Chennai, I was delighted and started to focus on developing my basic skills. Later it was Oberoi Hotels Management Training Programme and the exposure in the kitchen that made me focus completely on the culinary profession.
I learned if you control the art of food taste; through the tongue, one can achieve the best in his life.
It is a chef who can make the impossible possible by means of honest creativity on food and present it with love to human mankind. This is my inspiration to pursue culinary arts.
Having served the likes of known celebrities and VVIP dignitaries, what challenges and opportunities did you face in excelling in your art in food?
First – one should be perfect in his subject. For me, it is my art of cooking with love and it’s both scientific and technical knowledge of blending the selected spices and ingredients to create a ‘wow’ factor in each and every dish that I prepare.
Before any VVIP visit to my hotel, I take the entire history of the VVIP and his likes and dislikes, food habits, etc. Then I plan the menu in line with his country’s food with our ingredients and taste. Our food is presented with a pinch of an interesting element to it. This makes the VVIP feel that they are in their own circle of food likes. Moreover, I take the time and opportunity to explain to them our Indian food and its heritage. How to relish the menu course by course and how to compare his food to ours, etc, etc. This makes my life easier and the maximum mileage of happiness from the VVIP.
During my regular days, I do a lot of research on heritage cuisines of India and check the different combinations and presentations and record the same with historic reasons. Read the historic books and get the recipes from them. Do trails by means of festivals and I develop my repertoire on the particular cuisine and which is presented to VVIP after a fine selection and presentation.
I keep benchmark and standards for myself by exceeding guest expectations from time to time.
It is also very important to check the leftover and return food from VVIP’s table for all sorts of tests to ensure if I was successful in my commitment to him in all directions.
Every creation for me is a masterpiece of art in cooking because cooking is a department of performance of art. My first success in handling a VVIP or Head of The state spread among the hoteliers that I can handle any type of events of formal events for Heads of states. Even the biggest sports events such as the Commonwealth Games, SAF Games. My other great confidence developed when I planned the Army Day Celebrations for three years consecutively with the national themes and exceeded their expectations, with a professional and personal satisfaction of serving the Army Chiefs.
Indian cuisine, though vast but majorly undocumented, how do you plan to bring the lost delicacies back to spirit?
It is by continuous research and traveling to different places of historic importance and reading the manuscripts, stone cuttings, books, etc. to develop the menus then present it to food connoisseurs so that all comments are recorded following which the final menus are devised.
Indian food differs from state to state, district to district, and even place to place, equally from season to season. According to me, ours is the only country to have summer, winter, spring and other seasonal cuisines apart from the distinct festive cuisines, which is like an ocean.
If we go step by step and dish by a dish we can reproduce the history in this field. There is no limit, which stops one’s enthusiasm.
Our country had hundreds of rulers – Maharaja’s and their kitchens, which is still existing, if they all come together and help me to present the Indian food in one platter, it is possible to make our Indian cuisine achieve great recognition. The many states’ tourism department and historians need to come together and help the chef community so that we can reproduce the forgotten cuisine of India.
As the Grand Master Celebrity Chef, how are you aiming to leverage the F&B offerings at Signum’s portfolio of hotels in India and abroad?
First I would like to make a standard and highly acceptable menu with balanced cuisine selection for the entire chain. A standard of food should be served in all my outlets in India and abroad. Our food standards cannot be compromised. I have my production operations policy – POPs for the chain which is the bible for all Hotels to follow. Our monthly, yearly festivals are designed and executed as per the set procedures in India and abroad. My prime aim to spread our Indian Cuisine abroad through various events and dinners. Our F&B will have the same standards all over the chain. We have set timings for all the services and service recovery systems in place from the day we start an outlet. A well-trained team of chefs will travel all over the world and in India to train our food standards.
Your guiding tips for the budding chefs while pursuing culinary arts.
There is an excellent opportunity for youngsters in this field. If they are committed and work with positive thoughts, the sky is the limit to achieve accolades. Both health and wealth can be created in this profession with the highest regard for respect from everyone. as my first lo