Think that commercial kitchens around the world do nothing but churn out food? Imagine that all chefs think and behave in the same fashion? Some of my chef friends reminisce about kitchens on the other side of the globe.
When Chef Ravitej Nath, Executive Chef of Trident Gurgaon went to Hilton Beijing for an Indian food festival, the first thing he noticed was that chefs there made their own tea first thing after reporting for their shift, poured it into the tall glass jugs with lids that are a common feature around China, and sipped from their own glass all through the day, replenishing the tea when necessary. The contrast between Beijing and Port of Spain in the Caribbean was remarkable: there, each kitchen – garde manger, bakery, continental etc. – had its own boom box belting out music 24×7. From time to time, chefs – singly or in groups – would begin dancing to the music, never taking their eyes off the range.
Chef Bill Marchetti, celebrity chef, noticed the deafening noise of a kitchen in India, where shouts, pots and pans clanging and the roar of high-pressure burners contrasted painfully with the last country he worked in: Japan, where deathly silence and excruciating formality was the order of the day in the kitchen. Chef Marchetti vastly appreciated the Japanese propensity of following a recipe to a T, because he never had to train them to follow his recipes: just giving them his recipes was enough. The same was never the case in China, he rues, where for some reason, his chefs could never get a risotto right. Either they turned it into Chinese congee, or into fried rice: there were only full-stops: no commas in China.
Gilles Favre, Executive Pastry Chef of ITC Welcomgroup, didn’t expect his glass of white wine in Seoul: it’s a tradition at the end of every shift in France, but he hadn’t bargained for the sheer number of energy drinks and ginseng tea that did the rounds in the kitchen at Seoul. Anyone celebrating a birthday or anniversary would appear on duty laden with cartons of energy drinks. Chef Avijit Ghosh, Executive Pastry Chef of The Oberoi New Delhi, was struck by the fact that every single chef in his workplace outside Paris reported for duty with his own baguette. Bought from a favourite baker, distance from home or crowd outside notwithstanding, the shift would start with bread being broken – literally – and eaten with honey and black tea. On the other hand, what Chef Tirath Singh of Old World Hospitality, remembers most about his stint in Paris was the reverence with which the chefs treated their knives. They were personal property, unlike in India, where the hotel issues them to staff.
Andrew Whiffen, Executive Chef of The Oberoi New Delhi is struck by a single aspect of kitchens in India: the number of poojas. Prayers, says he, are said for everything from new equipment onwards. Marigolds and ladoos appear out of thin air, prayers are said, and it’s back to work as usual.