What can I say, they have the power to transform the world! And I know a person who thinks alike and also happens to be our very first guest chef!
Introducing a new campaign! “Clean Eating Pioneers”
Chef Saurav was stock-taking at the time we arrived, the sun was low and we sat at the outdoor section, where we settled down for the interview.
A Bengali from a middle-class family, Chef Saurav hails from Kolkata. His father was in government service and his mother, a homemaker.
He said he wasn’t sure exactly how he came into the profession, but it was a 4-year process with a lot of struggles, but as soon as the first 4 years had passed he accepted it. He began enjoying the process a little bit at a time. He did his schooling in IHM Calcutta and his training in Taj Bengal, Calcutta. A year and a half he started working for a cruise line, The Royal Caribbean International. He started there as a Commie and that is where he learned all the rules of the game! After his 7 and a half years on the cruise liner he became the executive sous chef, and after that he returned home to get married.
What made you become a chef?
“Practically speaking it was someone’s advice”
When he was doing his training in Taj at the banquets, he was very young and his cousin brother was a veteran at Taj who was always watching Saurav’s performance. Chef Saurav thought that his cousin had been a manager for a long time and him looking out for Saurav and giving him crucial advice meant a lot.
What does a typical day in your life look like?
He spontaneously said
“HECTIC. Especially during weekends!”
He usually wakes up in the morning has some tea then get to work by 10, walks the whole perimeter of the restaurant, the back, staff changing room, etc, because the entire back of the house comes under his observation, from one end to another, whatever we cannot see comes under his job description, and this takes him about an hour! Tasting is a big part of his day. There are some special and important dishes in the kitchen that he has to taste every day to maintain the quality of the food and service at his restaurant. By noon he and his team have their daily briefing and at 12:30 pm the lunch crowd starts which then goes on until about 3:30 pm – 4 pm. Post lunch they take the time to check stock and place orders to replenish whatever is needed. Right after that the dinner rush comes and the day ends around 11 pm!
What is a dish that you cook that you’re most proud of?
There was a brief pause, Chef looked lost, and after about a minute or so, all he could muster up was
“I’ve never thought of that”
There was another brief pause, and then
“There’s no particular dish as such!”
He said when he realized how serious this business was and said it was no funny business, that someone is going to be paying for what he cooks, when he realized that everything was a lot different after that where every ingredient that he used in the dish, quantity and quality, it all became very serious! If the customer who ate the food was satisfied, he was proud. He said “Something is going on in their head when they eat my food, and at the same time something is going on in my head too! For example when there’s a new dish,I think of a mushroom served in a particular way, does the person consuming the mushroom think of it the same way? Is he able to read my intentions of the dish or not?”
What is one dish that you struggle to make?
“That would be my cuisine! Indian cuisine, or better yet, Bengali food”
Whenever he tried to make something that he had some 10-15 years ago, he could never make it right, and that frustrated him a lot! “I may have had the same dish in some of my aunt’s houses and when I think I have to recreate that dish, it’s just impossible, with my cooking I can usually give a no show explanation like this is a Caprese salad and no matter what anyone says I know its Caprese salad! But when it comes to my cuisine, everyone has a lot to say about it, especially my aunts who point out that this is not how you make it and I too know I cannot match that level of mastery.A professional kitchen is entirely different from a home kitchen, and that’s why everyone says that the best chefs are our moms. Because whatever we do, we can never beat them.”
If you could have dinner with one famous chef from history, who would it be?
His way of cooking, his approach to modern cooking is very different. He has a book called ‘Fat Duck Cookery’ and a restaurant called ‘The Fat Duck’ and his book opened my mind in a lot of ways, as if some scientist was doing some experiment in the kitchen. Heston is a British chef, and his style is to take ancient recipes, modernize them and present them in fresher ways as if they were deconstructed and reconstructed all over again making it feel like something entirely new! And I feel like he has influenced me the most in the last few years. After his book I read a lot of similar books and found that it was a refreshing approach to the modern-day culinary line.”
Good observation! I checked, that’s exactly what he does!
If you could live in any other city, which would it be and how would it influence your cooking?
“Honestly, I want to be in my hometown. if I ever got a chance to be a chef in Calcutta. I’d take Heston Blumenthal’s approach and try to reconstruct my Bengali food! And I don’t know if it’ll ever be successful or not but I would love to try it out someday!”
It’s been in his heart for a very long time! He wanted to live in his home, where he grew up and where his friends were! In the last 15 years with all that traveling, he said he couldn’t believe that he didn’t have a single friend because he was constantly moving around and every friendship he made through his journey was brief because they knew it was for a short while! And that’s one thing he misses the most!
What is your earliest memory of food?
His most vivid memory was one flavour that you and I could have never gotten right, it’s customary to be reserved and isolated for a while, eat some simple boiled food made on a wood fire when an elder in the family passes away, “A very striking memory” he said that stayed with him. The elders of his family used to fast during the day, eat fruits and yogurt and other simple stuff, and the kids used to eat some simple rice, it was boiled rice with potato, other vegetables, and a whole lot of ghee. His aunt used to serve them some rice on a banana leaf. It was a very powerful memory that stayed with him throughout! There was little to no spice, even the salt was very coarse and yet he couldn’t forget that smell, just rice ghee and wood smoke made in an earthen pot.
He then said, “This is something I’ve never revealed to anyone only because no one asks me these things and so I never think about it.”
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
“I wanted to be a writer”
he said “I was a very reserved child, not very enthusiastic, the world of writers, books, and poets was fed to me by my uncle, he used to give me books after books and when I finished them I kept getting more! Until this day I’m grateful for him to create that book hunger and thought that the world of books was beautiful! Some of my friends in college and I even started a little magazine in Bengali, which wasn’t so successful but we managed to publish two or three issues but then all of us dispersed after college and couldn’t continue it! But I know one thing that one day I will write again! I appreciate the writing community, but if you ask specifically, I fondly appreciate the magic-realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, it’s very unique as a novel! Or someone like Milan Kundera!”
What do you distinctly remember about your first day of college?
“My school was very nearby, almost walking distance but college was in a different city. The first thing I remember is me complaining that college was so far away, classes started at 9 in the morning so I had to get up at 4, take an auto the train station, take a train to one station, take another train and again take a bus to college. It wasn’t like I had to do this once or twice, I had to do this every day! I lived in the northern part of Calcutta and college was in the southern tip. And that was the first impression, that it was so far!”
I was curious to know Which teacher had the greatest impact on him and why?
He said, That would be his uncle, he used to take English classes from him, he was like a private tutor, at the period in time it was like a coaching centre, Saurav used to go there and mingle with everyone, seniors, juniors and all! Until class 10 he used to learn literature from his uncle. He said he was never a favourite student of any teacher, he wasn’t a backbencher maybe a mid-bencher, just an average student
It had already been an hour since I had started asking him questions, but he seemed very accommodating and very patiently sat and answered everything. I asked him “What was the happiest day of your life?”
He immediately said” When my daughter was born! I still can’t believe that I’m a father! When I was off at sea, I used to call my parents every time we reached a port, and I’d speak to them for 45 mins or so, and when it was time to go my father would ask me to stay for a bit longer, even though we had spoken about everything and had nothing to say he’d still insist on me just staying on the line. I used to find it weird but he used to tell me when I become a father I’d know what it felt like and now I can say I do! I then asked him “How would you like people to remember you?”
And without hesitation “As the best father!”.
If they made a movie of your life story… would it sell?
I’d like to think so, yes! There’s a lot of drama, emotion, masala, broken hearts, love affairs not only here, but around the world back when I used to travel! But at the end of the day, I need to come home to my family – my wife, child and parents! That’s where I find true happiness, and that’s what my life is about!