Making biryani is a management lesson in itself: Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi - Hindustan Times
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Making biryani is a management lesson in itself: Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi

Jun 22, 2023 04:29 PM IST

Celebrity chef Harpal Singh Sokhi believes biryani has an organizational structure, just like an organization, with around 40-50 ingredients in its making. In his book, The Biryani Leader, he explores leadership and management through the lens of cooking biryani, offering unique perspectives on topics such as effective strategies, preventing burnout, and upholding workplace ethics. The book provides valuable insights applicable to different facets of leadership and is a must-read for culinary and management students. Sokhi's inspiration for the book came from his love of studying the principles of a vessel and finding parallels in organizational management.

“I firmly believe biryani has a complete organisational structure in itself. I mean, around 40-50 ingredients go into its making just like hundreds of people make an organisation,” says celebrity chef Harpal Singh Sokhi, popular for his jingle ‘namak shamak’. The chef was in Chandigarh for the launch of his latest book, The Biryani Leader.

Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi with his latest book, The Biryani Leader (HT Photo)
Chef Harpal Singh Sokhi with his latest book, The Biryani Leader (HT Photo)

He further adds that when you taste a good biryani, you taste one flavour and not individual flavours of the ingredients just like an organisation is represented by one leader who embodies its essence.

Throughout the book, the chef offers similar unique perspectives on leadership and management as derived from the art of cooking and serving biryani. The book, he says, delves into the depths of biryani’s communal dining experience – unravelling valuable insights applicable to the different facets of leadership.

“The book started with me explaining the concept of cooking also being about management. What ingredient should be added where, when and how, in order to achieve a desirable result. Gradually it developed into a guide that provides familiar but unique food for thought for culinary as well as management students,” he says.

In The Biryani Leader, chef Harpal takes the readers on a flavourful journey, demonstrating how the iconic dish of biryani can serve as a guiding force for aspiring leaders. Drawing from his culinary expertise, he explores a range of topics including avoiding overcooking, preventing (employee) burnout, fostering adaptability, crafting effective strategies, and harnessing the power of ingredients (resources available).

He also delves into the importance of upholding kitchen (or workplace) ethics, while also emphasising the significance of developing short and long-term organisational plans. Using the imagery of preparing biryani, he presents a recipe for success that can be seamlessly translated into the realm of management.

Talking about the inspiration behind writing this book, he says I love to study the principles of a vessel – how a certain ingredient will behave when added to a pot at a certain time, and find parallels in organisational management. “For instance, adding zeera, mustard seeds, and curry leaves into a vessel containing hot oil will cause a reaction, and the ingredients will start to splutter. Similarly, when you add a person with passion or flair to a workforce or team, they are bound to cause a flutter,” he explains.

When asked why he chose biryani in particular, he says when you apply management principles in cooking, you see that it is the one dish that has been the leader in terms of sales, so it felt right to choose it over others.

With all the talk of biryani making the attendees hungry, the chef reveals that his favourite variant of the dish is the Hyderabadi one. “Having had the opportunity to train under Nizami cuisine experts Begum Mumtaz Khan and Ustad Habib Pasha, Hyderabadi biryani being my favourite is quite natural.”

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