Chef Manjit Gill is the Corporate Chef at ITC Hotels & President of IFCA – Indian Federation of Culinary Associations. He is passionate about popularizing Indian cuisine on the global palette and believes that only if Indians start taking pride in their native cuisine and present it well without aping the West, it would very soon be the next big thing on the global arena. In his relentless efforts to attach due recognition to the Indian Culinary Art in the pantheon of great cuisines of the world, he is educating the masses in India and abroad about the richness and depth of Indian gastronomy. At home, he is also in regular parleys with food enthusiasts, hotel and restaurant owners to work together to raise the standards of Indian food industry. Follows the conversations…
What inspired you to choose Hotel Management?
“I had a natural inclination towards creative things from the beginning. I was an average student, not clear on what career to pursue till I passed schooling. It was my father who came across this new booming career through the newspapers and one day asked me to give it a shot. So I did. I chose cooking as my major subject. It started exciting me and I realized that this was what I actually want to go ahead with.
I began my formal career as a Food Production Trainee in the Oberoi School of Hotel Management and was selected for the Kitchen Training Programme where I got the opportunity to hone my skills. After graduating from Management School of Oberoi Hotels International, I joined ITC Group in 1997.
I decided to popularize the goodness of Indian food sans any western influences. I did it pure Indian style. I began doing seminars, workshops, road-shows, TV shows, writing books, and what not to increase people’s knowledge base and bring back the lost pride of Indian cuisine.
This has borne some fruits. But I alone cannot bring about radical changes. We all have to work together. While Indian food is better placed in the global arena today, there are miles to go.
I have always told my juniors that they may learn any cuisine they like but they must know their regional cuisine inside out; they must master it. Being jack of all and master of none does not work in my kitchen. We train our staff to perfection, to be taken seriously and to be unparalleled wherever they go. This uncompromising philosophy has won us accolades and prestige world-over.”
Who was your inspiration when you joined this line?
“Very frankly, back then we did not have any role models as such. My parents and wife were my biggest inspiration and support. I remember how seeing me in uniform filled them with pride, as if they could not ask more from life. They guided me with whatever little they understood of this line and stood by me in all thick and thins. While my father introduced me to this line, the women in my life – my mother and wife reinforced my passion for cooking. Whatever I am today, I owe it to them.”
How involved are you with the kitchen financials?
“Oh! we are business managers! Profit from the F&B is the only thing in a hotel that is calculated on a daily basis. So we have to be super at culinary mathematics. It includes a range of factors:
Forecasting: You have to calculate how much food you have to purchase for the next day.
Profit Management: You must understand that once you buy something, cost has been incurred. Now how you make profits out of it without compromising the quality, is the game. Here your business acumen and salesmanship play a major role.
Guest Understanding: when you have a party in your restaurant, you need to be aware of what kind of people are coming, how many of them are coming and what their food preferences are. Notably, there is different food consumption in different cultures. Food consumption also differs with occasions. It would be different for a wedding, a cocktail and a wholesale dealer’s outlet opening party.
Yield management: Yield standardization is where the profits lie. On hundred kilo de-boned chicken, did I get 42 gram chicken or not? If I got, say 35 gram, it means more meat is thrown with the bone. How much was the wastage? Such things have to be calculated on a daily basis. While cooking you also have to ensure that the dish is neither over-cooked nor under-cooked. Else it results into wastage and translates into immediate losses.
Price-to-Portion Ratio: Chefs must carefully decide on the portion size for the price it would be sold at. The worth of the dish should match its selling price. And the portion size of each dish should be same for everyone. It shouldn’t be that someone is getting 100 grams and someone only 70. At the same time, we must watch out for competition. You have to outdo them by being reasonable in costs, best in quality and high on profits. How many applauds one gets for one’s dish does not matter at the end of the day if one doesn’t make profits.
Among other factors you need to calculate are labour cost, cost for food promotions, staff training, etc.”
The interview conducted by India Hospitality Review over Lunch at ITC Maurya Sheraton, details of which can be found at their appropriate section.