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Payal Sahni’s interaction with Mr. Akshay Pandit, Executive Chef, Crowne Plaza Jaipur

Please let us know about your earlier journey of your professional life, and what kind of challenges you faced.

It all started with a fascination towards the profession and after completing my hotel school in 2007.

I chose to enter the kitchens of The Leela Palace Bangalore which was known for its finest restaurants and world-class ingredients. This is where I met my world of great Chefs and overwhelming respect towards the profession.

After about a year and a half of culinary skill training, learning to manage kitchens and more importantly learning INTERVIEW Payal Sahni’s interaction with Mr. Akshay Pandit, Executive Chef, Crowne Plaza Jaipur. Q the business, I moved back to Mumbai and started taking control of a diverse culinary portfolio including an All Day dining, Executive Club Lounge, Bars, banquets and Fine Dining Kitchens. After about 4 years of mastering the skills of kitchen and managing diverse age groups of professionals, it was time to discover International Hospitality Brands and I was fortunate to open Chennai’s first Roof-Top Fine Dining Grill Restaurant.

After having developed a successful fine dining restaurant and making the All Day Dining Restaurant at Westin Chennai being awarded as the Best Brunch in Chennai; I wanted to further explore my profile and take on new hotel openings to understand the whole process right from the scratch.

So I moved on to pre-opening a 273 rooms Marriott property in Kochi. This is where I developed from a hands-on cook to a Chef and understood the meaning of nurturing a team where passion, dedication and attitude were more important than formal education and degrees. After about a year and a half I moved on to taking control of multiple outlet operations with an upper upscale brand, the JW Marriott Bangalore. This is where I learnt to pace my management and culinary skill set to the requirements of the varied outlets.

By the end of the year 2017 I joined at a multi-property role of a Complex Executive Sous Chef with the biggest and most renowned convention center, Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center and Marriott Executive Apartments with a total inventory of 750 rooms and some great high potential restaurants. And now, here I am as an Executive Chef with Crowne Plaza Jaipur where the endeavor is to create never done before culinary experiences for the city of Jaipur. In terms of challenges, quite frankly there have never been any major challenges with the profession if you are really passionate about what you are doing.

How did you overcome those challenges?

It’s all about a continuous learning process where one has to better himself every day. There is so much to learn that one cannot complain about challenges. The trick lies in using challenges as opportunities which eventually creates a path for success.

Please let us know the advice you would like to give to the budding hotel management students.

Hotels studies are more to do with logic than theories, however culinary predominantly requires excess study are research on ingredients, cooking process, varies cuisines available across the globe and a good knowledge of what’s in trend.

Only if you are ready and passionate about discovering food not just on the table but the entire process of how and where it comes from and what you could do with it, should you get into the profession. It takes more than just cooking. A Chef needs to be well informed, multi-tasking, disciplined and highly energetic in order to make justice to the profession. Study and practice not to please but to understand the core of cooking as anyone can have an opinion on food but only a well-educated Chef knows the difference.

Coming back the present scenario, do you think the new way to look at the things should be the outlook going forward, if yes what are those changes.

The present scenario definitely has altered the way we carried out our operations and business as a whole. Hotels have always practiced the highest level of hygiene considering the scale at which we operate. As such the new normal isn’t really a new thing when it comes to the hygiene practices in a kitchen. However some of the new measures would definitely be implicated in future when it comes to group dining.

It’s more to do with crowd management and a new hygiene parameter of crowd hygiene comes in the picture. The minimal handling of commonly touched surfaces, distanced seating, smaller and fresher individually portioned food or mono-portions is the way forward at least till the time we are ready and comfortable to accept sharing of food which is a common culture across civilizations.

What would you like to advice the key point that could be considered while planning a theme occasion

The present scenario calls for smaller, intimate events and celebrations and avoiding chaotic dining spaces. As a Chef and hospitality professional, these are my recommendations.

a) Plan and book the venue well in advance

b) Prune the guest list

c) Invite the guests well in advance, so that they can plan their travel accordingly

d) Do a recce of the venue in advance and discuss in detail the event beforehand with your core team. Given that travel and arrangements may take a while more now-a-days, planning is the key.

e) Keep the arrangements seasonal and local. The closer the team is to the source, the more stress-free you will be in present situation of the new normal.

Please let us know your favorite theme or combinations for a wine and food and cocktail parties. (Please let us know more about the vegetarian/ vegan combinations).

Wines are back in trend and not just plain straight up but shaken and stirred. Wine based cocktails are really bringing in some much needed twist to the typical age old cocktail party.

• Typically reds are paired with heavy and whites are paired with light natured food. However when it comes to wine cocktails the combinations need to be made depending on the ingredients of the cocktail.

• I would usually pair strong aromatic ingredients like mushrooms, shallots, garlic, canapés and salads with a crisp dry white wine based cocktail.

• I would keep bakes and gratins with a full bodied whites or a light red fruity and aromatic red wine.

• Indian gravies and biryani go very well with full bodies red wines and fruits are best enjoyed with dry whites.

• There are dessert wines which go terrifically well with Indian desserts too.

The present scenario definitely has altered the way we carried out our operations and business as a whole. Hotels have always practiced the highest level of hygiene considering the scale at which we operate. As such the new normal isn’t really a new thing when it comes to the hygiene practices in a kitchen. However some of the new measures would definitely be implicated in future when it comes to group dining.

In your opinion how or what do you think, the occasions should be planned in a way that it is completely memorable/ classy / yet very safe special occasion.

The best way would be to keep a good mix of personal favourites, current trends and of course, time and location of the venue. Keeping personal favourites will make sure that your occasion will always be a memorable one. We recommend keeping in mind the venue location and season so that the décor can be done appropriately and we can recommend menus that are fresh and complement the occasion. Example a summer brunch mehendi menu will be completely different from an evening menu for cocktails and sangeet. Trends can be followed but the bottom-line should be to do décor that makes you happy. During this new normal, we have our standard, rigorous protocols for cleanliness and hygiene that are followed to the last bit to ensure a safe and stress-free event for our guests and team.

Any last words to keep the momentum going?

As they say, fortune favours the brave. The current ongoing pandemic has been a complete unseen crisis that has forced us individually and collectively to rethink our work and resources. We really have to adapt to a new normal and have faith and keep moving forward to build up momentum for future growth. It will not be an easy route but the tough roads do lead to amazing destinations.

 

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