Man behind the kitchen door

  • Aanchal Bedi, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 21, 2014 11:29 IST

A connoisseur of culinary delights, with an avid interest in cooking, Davinder Kumar, vice president (F&B Production) and executive chef, Le Meridien, New Delhi, has been a chef for more than four decades. “After graduating from Delhi University, I was looking for a professional career which involves skills, creativity and innovation. It was only when a friend of mine took me to a hotel that I realised I had found a place which suits my interests,” he says.

Kumar started his career in 1972 with the Oberoi Group of Hotels. After completing a three-year diploma course in kitchen management, he was sponsored by the Oberoi Group to go to the Lycee Technique de Hotelier in Paris, where he ­specialised in French cuisine. “In the 70s, culinary experts were not that popular due to lack of awareness. For people, a chef was just a khansama who never gets a girl to marry. This perception has changed with time. Today, chefs are decision makers. They are not merely in kitchen. Instead, they are in the front as sales and marketing people,” he says.

A typical day of the executive chef starts at around 10am, after which he conducts meetings with all the chefs, takes a round of all kitchens and sees what important events are lined up for the day. Lunch and dinner time involve supervision of various kitchen operations and ensuring hygiene and quality control.

Talking about the challenges, Kumar says, “With new hotels and food chains mushrooming in every nook and corner of the city, the job of a chef has become very demanding. The work involves a fair amount of sacrifice as well. During the festive season, your family may be celebrating at home but you are on duty. You need to understand that you are first married to the hotel and then to the family,” says Kumar.

In a bid to master the intricacies of different cuisines, Kumar has travelled across the globe. “This profession needs regular upgradation of skills. You need to come out of the box and broaden the horizon. Keeping pace with the world is important,” he says.

Explaining ways of getting the basics right, Kumar says, “A good university definitely helps in the foundation of a strong base. Also, the organisation with which you start your career in this field matters a lot.”

Over the years, he has received many awards for excellence in the culinary arts. He was the sole Indian representative in the International Cooking Festival held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1983 and was awarded a medal for presentation of Indian cuisine. He also received the National Tourism Award for Best Chef of India by the Ministry of Tourism. His contributions to promoting Indian cuisine globally include many books such as ‘Kebabs, Chutneys & Breads’ and ‘Just Kebabs Celebration of 365 Kebabs’.

“Although in the initial stages of this career the pace of growth is slow and money is less one need not get disappointed. This is because in the long run there is considerable stability and money. Hard work, dedication and positive attitude almost always pay plump dividends,” Kumar concludes.

All you need to know about a career as an executive chef

The executive chef heads the kitchen team and related activities in a catering outlet, restaurant, hotel or a food chain. He/she is responsible for the food quality and presentation. An executive chef is also involved in management work, including business development, financial planning, tracking and keeping abreast of industry developments and trends, as well as designing menus

* National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology, New Delhi;
* Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology & Applied Nutrition, Mumbai;
* Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi;

The best hospitality management graduates, who pass their bachelor’s exams with flying colours, are lapped up by big hotels for kitchen management trainee (KMT) programmes, which last for a minimum of two years. After this KMT programme, you can go up the ladder and become a chef de partie,then junior sous chef, sous chef, executive sous chef and executive chef

Skills and traits
* Good customer service skills
* Ability to lead and manage a diverse group of people
* Creativity is essential
* Always serve the guests with a smile
* Handle pressure of the job, willingness to always remain cheerful and put in long hours of strenuous work

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