WHO Delhi-based chef Manjit Singh Gill has been in the profession for almost 30 years. A graduate of the Institute of Hotel Management, New Delhi, he is now the Convener and President – Indian Federation of Culinary Associations. He also works as Corporate Executive Chef, ITC Welcomgroup.
What makes a good chef?
According to the Vedas, there are four essential qualities — a proper knowledge of ingredients; the ability to feel, touch and involve oneself completely in the process and not just in giving directions; a high level of concentration and presence of mind; good thoughts while cooking to make the diner feel happy.
Any initial setbacks?
I’ve been a vegetarian since childhood. There was no my meat in my house, so I never developed a taste for it. When asked to beat an egg, I had to tell my teacher that I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t take the smell. He replied, “Then you can’t become a chef.” Over the years I’ve made myself stronger, made all sorts of meat and realised that it isn’t a big deal. You get used to it.
Most memorable meal?
Thirty years ago I came across a fascinating book,Taste Divine on local Indian food. I tracked down the author to an ashram in Haridwar. She invited me for meditation and dinner. She made upma and beetroot soup and explained how particular she was in buying vegetables. For instance, she never bought beetroot without leaves. This was a turning point in my training, which had been western then. It encouraged me to understand and try and make Indian food.
What do you think of fusion cuisine?
I am not against creativity but what people call fusion is not the way forward for our food. People come here to understand Indian food. There is already so much diversity when it comes to Indian cuisine, with Aryan influences in the north, Dravidian in the south, Portuguese, Greek in other regions. Discovering and learning these cuisines is what I call evolved food. It makes no sense to not try and explore this storehouse of knowledge. However, cooking has become more efficient and economical with new gadgets and technology. What previously took five hours to cook now takes two. That’s modernity. Fusion is like presenting an unbaked pie.
Bhanu Priya Vyas