Chef Davinder Kumar, president, Indian Culinary Forum and VP (F&B Production) & executive chef,
Le Meridien New Delhi, started his career in 1972 with the Oberoi Group of hotels. The group later sponsored him to go to the Lychee Technique de Hotelier in Paris, to work with selected chefs specialised in French cuisine. He was also the sole Indian representative at the International Cooking Festival held in Tokyo in 1983 and was awarded a medal for his presentation of Indian cuisine. He speaks to Steena Joy on how the culinary scene has evolved in India and his vision for ICF
What inspired you to don the chef’s hat? A few childhood memories that helped you decide to take up the culinary arts as a career?
After graduating from Delhi University, I wanted to pursue a professional course. Cooking was my first love and the exposure to hospitality only fanned and kindled my latent passion for culinary arts. Enormous growth opportunities domestically and internationally, a chance to create a niche for myself, ability to become a role model for young aspirants, this being a skill and creativity oriented profession, all these inspired me to don the chef’s hat.
You career map from The Oberoi group to Le Meridien?
The journey from the Oberoi to Le Meridien was like a rollercoaster. I joined Oberoi Group of hotels as a kitchen management trainee. Upon completion, I was sent to France to hone my skills in French cuisine. I worked in various hotels in India and abroad. At the age of 29 I became the executive chef of Oberoi InterContinental hotel which is now known as The Oberoi. After working in various hotels in India and abroad, in 1985, I joined Le Meridien Delhi as executive chef and now I am heading the team as VP F&B Production. It has been successful journey, full of challenges yet rewarding and I have received many accolades including the best chef of the country by the Ministry of Tourism .
How has the culinary scene particularly in Northern India evolved over the decades?
There has been a paradigm shift in cuisines as well as the food business. A few essential changes that I have seen over the years are: food habits in general India are cultural specific but in the last few decades dynamic changes have occurred due to the fast growing economy, a shift from traditional to modern technology, globalisation, industrialisation, etc, evolving taste and ever increasing demands for fast and processed food has taken centrestage.
After Indian cuisine, Asian cuisine has made a big mark in this part of India. Menus have become smaller but on the other hand at social functions, menus have grown bigger. A lot of focus is on presentation and display, live cooking – even in restaurants or banquets, chefs showcase their culinary skills live. Portions have become smaller, with simple and creative presentations. Regional cuisines of India have made their presence. Design element in Indian food has evolved from traditional serving style to ethnic yet chic plating.
There has been a huge transformation from ethnic Indian cuisine to Modern cuisine over the years. Indian food has evolved and is now at par with any other Modern global cuisine with so much health awareness. One trend which is fast catching up is healthy cuisine, where focus is on fresh, seasonal and local produce.
The perception of chefs as a career has changed over the years thanks to TV and Social Media. Your insights?
Today, chefs are in the forefront and are considered to be the star attraction for any F&B business. In light of the increased recognition of a chef, both inside the kitchen and outside world, the profession is being looked at as a sought after one, that not just helps one in satisfying the palate of customers but also brings them recognition and fame. Being a chef today is more appealing then ever. Today’s chefs are recognised , not just as artisans of food, but also for their skills as culinary ambassadors. There are wider career options and commensurately the rewards are also very satisfying.
What advice would you give to aspiring chefs?
My advice to inspiring chefs is that you should be focused, strengthen the basics, embrace technology yet hone your culinary skills, creativity and innovation is the key to success, never stop learning and always cook from the heart with love and attitude!!
As president of ICF, what is your vision for the Forum? How can such Forums grow the chef community?
Indian Culinary Forum is dedicated solely to the advancement of the culinary art of India. Prime objectives are:
- To encourage and inspire junior chefs through training and competition
- To enhance international culinary prestige In India
- To encourage youngster to consider culinary as a career within the hospitality industry
- To enable the fraternity to remain competitive, both nationally and internationally, especially by addressing changing trends and emerging challenges .
My vision is to grow ICF in terms of membership, host culinary workshops and seminars to impart knowledge, upgrade all events to international level, associate with various food shows, exhibitions and organisations to support and create awareness.
India has diverse regional cuisines. How can these cuisines, especially the forgotten ones, be revived?
Well, regional cuisines have become popular over the years surely, there is more scope for the growth which can be attained through hosting regional food gourmet festivals, creating food hubs/food courts serving regional cuisines of India including forgotten cuisines.
Daily workout, listening to music, photography and ravelling are some of my stressbusters.