They rule the world’s most exclusive kitchens such as those in the White House and Buckingham Palace, taking care that the powerful people they cook for never go hungry.
This week, chefs to the heads of 16 countries are taking a break together from sizzling diplomatic dinners and leisurely royal luncheons to savour the multi-cuisine flavours of India.
These top cooks, including personal chefs to the US President Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, French President François Hollande, and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, are members of the elite Le Club des Chefs des Chefs, a world gastronomic association of personal chefs to heads of states.
The club is having its annual general assembly in the land of spices.
“It’s an exclusive club because one can be part of it only if one is a chef to a head of state,” said Gilles Bragard, the founder-secretary of club.
“If politics divides people, a good table always gathers them. Chefs are great diplomats.”
The delegation, which includes Trudeau’s Indo-Canadian chef Neil Dhawan, visited the Rashtrapati Bhavan kitchen on Sunday, where Montu Saini, the executive chef to President Pranab Mukherjee, treated them to gol gappas and aloo tikkis.
Saini had literally cooked up a storm to convince the club to convene its annual meet in his home country.
“India has been a member of this club for three decades and never once had it hosted the general assembly,” he said and revealed how he put fellow club members on a guilt trip over depriving India an opportunity to host their signature event.
So, immediately after becoming the President’s executive chef in June 2015, Saini started writing mails to invite the club to India. “It took me a few months because the club goes to a country only if the head of the state invites them.”
He didn’t need to cook up the invitation; it bore the country’s seal.
“I want to show them Indian cuisine and culture. The chefs will visit the spice market in Old Delhi and will go to Agra and Jaipur, where we have booked camel and elephant rides. I want them to return to India and open restaurants here,” Saini said.
The country’s mouth-watering spread of street food is on each of the 17 visiting culinary delegate’s mind.
The British royal chef, Mark Flanagan, says London has many Indian restaurants, but the country’s street food is so rich that he has to try it here, where it originated.
“I tasted the aaloo tikki at the hotel and it’s absolutely amazing. I think I’m going to try that when I go back.”
White House chef Cristeta Comerford, who cooks for Barack and Michelle Obama, their children and world leaders the couple hosts, is excited about her first trip to India.
“I was promoted to head chef after the dinner I prepared for Indian PM Manmohan Singh. Today, I’m in India and it’s a wonderful feeling. I got my first sari, and will be wearing it.”
When she returns to Washington DC, President Obama can expect some spicy curries on his table.
“I’ll take Indian spices, as much as I can, considering the luggage I’m allowed to carry,” Comerford said.
Christian Garcia, chef to Prince Albert II of Monaco, said they were looking forward to becoming “ambassadors of Indian gastronomy” after their visit.