In an exclusive interview with Steena Joy, Chef Manisha Bhasin, corporate chef, ITC Hotels & WelcomHotels speaks about her journey as an ITC chef and how it has empowered her to delve deeper into the world of food
What inspired you to enter the culinary world?
I have always been creatively inclined and food gave that medium where one could create a different palate on the plate each time. It’s a different world all together..no stereotypes but a creative expression that reached out to so many people. I think food brings people closer and gives great joy.
Which would you list as your major achievements/milestones?
I take each day as it comes…There have been so many learnings and so many people who have made me what I am today. Right from my days as a young intern and later as a management trainee with ITC Hotels where like everyone else, I dreamt of being an Executive Chef! The major achievements have been many from catering to some of the famous heads of States, being part of the launch team of new restaurants Westview, Pan Asian; developing new food concepts like Dehlavi, Food Sherpa; reviving heritage cuisines. Fortunately, a lot of emphasis is given to food philosophy and R&D at ITC Hotels and this really empowered me to delve deeper and discover more. The senior leadership has been extremely encouraging and this is evident in our world renowned cuisine. They really trigger such inspiration in the team that one wants to create better and better. Gaining from their foresight and experience has been one of my biggest rewards. The top chef award, ACE Award of Culinary Excellence by Marriott Worldwide in 2002 stays as one of my major achievements. Also taking Culinary Class at CIA, Culinary Institute of America, where one dreams of studying in the student years, was another milestone to cherish.
Though the kitchen is usually a woman’s domain, why do you think there are more men chefs in hotel kitchens?
This is no longer true as we now one see an increase in the number of young girls joining kitchens. More students from IHM are joining, thus making it a more conducive atmosphere to work. And technology has helped in a big way with labor saving gadgets.
What advice would you give aspiring lady chefs?
Passion and Perseverance. Once you wear the chef coat, gender should cease to matter, keep an open mind. Read and learn about food, its heritage and historical contexts.
How has ITC Hotels helped shape your career?
I joined as a management trainee and have worked with only ITC. That itself defines who I am. I have got ample opportunities from the organisation and the encouragement required to excel in this field. From trainee, to management trainee then junior sous chef to what I am today, ITC is a very integral part of my journey.
What role can chefs play in building sustainable hotel kitchens?
A very major role as food is the common link for all. At ITC Hotels we practise Responsible Luxury where a big part of our produce is locally sourced. There are several initiatives that aid sustainable hotel kitchens. Chefs can educate the vendors on sustainable procurement, ensure that farmers share zero chemical produce, food waste recycling, healthy eating, introducing energy efficient technology and so on. All these are interlinked and food sustainability is limited not only to the hotels but the entire society.
ITC Hotels was the first chain to set up food testing labs pan India. For us food, be it the philosophy, taste or hygiene is extremely important. We have been accorded global food safety and hygiene certifications. This is indicative of our focus and commitment to the guest on this parameter.
Since more than three decades, ITC Hotel chefs have been integrating local products and using fresh, seasonal produce and other ingredients on our menus with a shift to more sustainable and healthier cuisine. This would offer diners unique food experiences and and a greater connection to the locations they are visiting in a more sustainable way. At ITC Hotels we offer local cuisine under the aegis of our Local Love programme where each hotel promotes the city’s cuisine heritage. We also offer Sunya Aqua- Zero mile water in our restaurants and banquets.
Your stress buster?
Painting. I like to use water colours to paint and most of my paintings are food inspired.
Your favourite kind of food?
My favourites keep changing depending on the cuisine one is involved in. However, end of the day a great biryani meal with family is food for the soul.
Giving back to the community?
Giving back to the community is something I feel very strongly about. It is our responsibility as chefs to create awareness on safe and healthy food amongst society. And with social media and other platforms, lot of work is happening on it already. Conducting healthy cooking seminars in schools, encouraging farmers to grow honest produce by creating markets for them. Supporting FSSAI in their Eat Right Campaign. Creating awareness on safe food by working with IFCA and creating modules for teaching on the same are some of the initiatives one takes as an individual.