Cooking In Kathmandu
G.C. - Can you give us a brief summary of your career and how you came to be appointed as the Executive Chef of the hotel?
V.G. - I passed out of hotel school –IHM - New Delhi, India in 1993 and started my career with Sheraton hotels. I was with Sheraton for close to 5 years during which time I specialised in Indian cuisine.
I relocated to Saudi Arabia and worked in Riyadh and Jeddah for about 2 years in a fine dining Indian restaurant-we had a very unique concept for this restaurant-the food was authentic Indian however the presentation was very western-clean and elegant on beautiful plates-very exciting to do!
I moved back to India and joined Leela Palace Bangalore (Kempinski) as a pre-opening resource. Here I met a dynamic Australian chef called Anthony Reynolds who offered me a chance to work in the western kitchen. I jumped at the challenge and the opportunity to do something new --the next year and a half were spent working harder than I had ever before—learning contemporary western food where for the past 6 years or so I had done only Indian cuisine.
I suppose this knowledge that I gained stood me in good stead because after 1.5 years at Leela I applied for a job with the soon to open Park Hyatt Goa and was offered the position of Executive Sous chef—thus began my career with Hyatt.
I have been with Hyatt for about 7 years now and took over as Executive chef at Hyatt Regency Kathmandu 2 years ago.
G.C. - How many outlets do you oversee?
V.G. - I oversee 6 outlets including 2 restaurants, in room dining, banquets and two lounge/pool outlets.
G.C. - How big is your team (how many are male, how many female)?
V.G. - I look after stewarding too so I have a team of 88-I have 4 ladies working in my kitchen team.
G.C. - How is the kitchen set up, do you follow the European brigade system?
V.G. - I have an Executive Sous chef who deputes for me when I am away,3 Chef de Cuisine,4 Sous chefs, 14 Chef De Parties and the rest are Commis.
G.C. - What type of training do they have before they join the hotel, do you train them, and do they apprentice or go to cooking school?
V.G. - We recruit team members from 2 sources—firstly from other hotels, food service establishments-these members will usually have some experience behind them and secondly from our internal apprentice training program-for the apprentice program we take candidates that have done at least one year of a hotel school or sometimes when we find candidates in other departments who may want to switch careers we offer them the option of this program.
G.C. - How many of your team are from outside of Nepal, and what is the language of the kitchen?
V.G. - I am the only expatriate in the kitchen—I am Indian –the language of the kitchen is Nepalese and English.
G.C. - What style of food do you cook, is it global or are you influenced by the location?
V.G. - I like unusual, but clean, elegant-WOW presentations and concepts, like to get the basics right in any dish, like to keep the flavours simple and uncomplicated. Location definitely should have an influence on any chef as this is where you can get fresh, seasonal produce - preferably organic. When one buys local it also helps to keep costs down and encourages the local farmers and producers.
G.C. - Where do you buy your ingredients from, approximately how much is imported how much is domestic?
V.G. - Like I said before I try and buy whatever is locally available—about 80% local and 20% imported.
G.C. - What are the best local ingredients that you use?
V.G. - Fresh Himalayan Rainbow trout, herbs from our own organic herb and vegetable garden in the hotel (we are the only hotel in the city that does this!),asparagus and lettuce from our garden, strawberries, mango, very nice shiitake and oyster mushrooms.
G.C. - Can you describe a dish that you use them in?
V.G. - Fennel flavoured Himalayan rainbow trout on a bed of garlic mushrooms and asparagus spears.
G.C. - What has been the greatest learning experience from your current position?
V.G. - Team work is the key ingredient to success and the secret to being a good leader is to get together a bunch of talented people with a great attitude and emotionally engage them to achieve the company’s goals-a committed and passionate leader can make all the difference.
G.C. - Can you offer a few words of advice to the chef of tomorrow that would like to cook in Nepal?
V.G. - Nepalese are a very friendly people and on the whole I found them very eager to learn –I would suggest you acquire experience in more prominent locations and then come and work here if you want to – the strict labour laws make it difficult for novice foreign chefs to get a job.