Khazana in khana
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The qualities of an exceptional chef are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: An abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance. The greatest challenge is to continuously innovate tells Vandana Ramnani

education Updated: May 29, 2009 13:03 IST
Vandana Ramnani
Vandana Ramnani
Hindustan Times

Niladri Sekhar Desai, 30
Job: Sous chef

“In childhood memories of every good cook, there's a kitchen, a warm stove, a simmering pot and a mom,” Barbara Costikyan has said. And like all young boys, this one too loves his mom's home made food, especially fish curry, and he's a chef.
Meet Niladri Sekhar Desai, 30, Sous Chef at The Pavilion, ITC Maurya, the 24- hour multicuisine restaurant. His aim in life is to “strive to learn and practice the best of the industry with focus on team building and development, ultimately performing as a skilled leader.”

He enrolled for a chemistry honours course but ended up completing his diploma in hotel management from the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Kolkata. “Maths always complicated my life,” he says with a grin.

He began his career with ITC Grand Maratha, Mumbai, where he received his basic training and worked as a Chef de Partie and there's been no looking back since then. “I always had a knack for cooking and wanted to show off my culinary skills,” he says. The decision to enter this field was a conscious one and his family was apprehensive at first, as expected.

If you chat up with chef Desai, you would know the truth in Bryan Miller's statement that “the qualities of an exceptional cook are akin to those of a successful tightrope walker: An abiding passion for the task, courage to go out on a limb and an impeccable sense of balance.” The challenge for him is to “continuously innovate,” he says, adding a chef needs to always look at outperforming his competition.

He works 10-11 hours a day, sometimes even 16 hours during peak season but every day for him is a “challenge”, “ a new day – exciting and full of surprises.” “You need to work really hard, it's a tough job but it pays, and at the end of the day it gets you the recognition you deserve,” he says, recounting how happy and satisfied he feels every time actor Jackie Shroff asks him for his favourite gulab ki kheer whenever he meets him.

Every youngster wanting to enter the hospitality arena should be sincere in his work, hard working, focused and an extrovert, he says, adding if you've just passed out of college and are an above average student, you can expect to earn Rs 8000- Rs 10,000 and at the management level Rs 45,000- Rs 50,000, depending on the company and the experience.

And future plans? “I hope to be in the same chain as an executive chef but in a different property.”

Ask him what a meal at home on an off day is like and he tells you it's as innovative as a simple chappati, dal and subzi. And dinner? Well, his Hyderabadi wife, a pastry chef, cooks up some delicious biryani. Some food for thought, surely!

Career Ladder

Career options:
Hotel management, Airline Catering, Self Employment and more
Trainee : Rs 6000
Assistant Manager : Rs 15,000 to Rs 25,000 per month
Manager: Rs 20,000-Rs 25,000 per month
Deputy Manager: Rs 15,000-Rs 20,000 .
Resident Manager : Rs 40,000-Rs 55,000
General Manager : Rs 60,000-Rs 80,000
Vice President: Rs 80,000-1 lakh

Pluses and Minuses:
Hospitality calls for a lot of creativity, and that personal touch. Job satisfaction is very high.
There is no limit to what you can earn if the business is yours.
It is a varied career, and even with lots of experience, there is always something new to learn.
There is lots of potential to work abroad and travelling to gain exposure.
Competition is fierce, with new bars, restaurants and hotels opening every week. So constant improvisation is the key.
The industry demands long working hours, which can hurt your social life.
You can’t survive without teamwork and a passion for the job.
Despite its glamourous appeal, the job is physically very demanding.

First Published: May 27, 2009 16:00 IST