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#puneonmymind: Rajendra Kelshikar on how culinary arts promote local culture and the civic authorities can support the endeavour

Rajendra Kelshikar, culinary expert and food entrepreneur, says that culinary becomes one of the elements that provides enjoyment and a complete experience to unwind to its city population and how this has its own challenges.

pune Updated: Jul 18, 2018 15:49 IST
Rajendra Kelshikar
Rajendra Kelshikar
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Rajendra Kelshikar,culinary
Rajendra Kelshikar.(HT PHOTO)

Every industry has its own snags and so does the food and beverage industry. All such hitches have the potential to affect smooth functioning of the business. Culinary is an art. It can be taught to an extent. But unless it is within you, one cannot excel. Those who excel, demand a high price and there are not many of them in the field.

Pune is an ideal, people-friendly city with diverse cultures and art. Being mainly an educational, IT and industrial hub, Pune has a young population which demands culinary nostalgia. Culinary becomes one of the elements that provides enjoyment and a complete experience to unwind to its city population.

Nevertheless, there are gaps in this, faced by the customers and by operators. India, predominantly and also due to its religious beliefs, is a vegetarian country. Customers who eat non-vegetarian have restricted themselves to eating chicken and/or fish. There are many other kinds of meats available which are considered more exotic in the culinary field, but aren’t part of the menus as there is no big demand.

From the service point of view, there has been a shift to convenience foods and therefore, many quick service restaurants (QSR) have appeared on the scene. Most of them are self-service restaurants where the elaborate table service is absent. Somehow, there are not many fine dine restaurants as there are too many challenges involved in operating these. Such restaurants need more space, expensive equipments, exceptionally trained service manpower, trained chefs, etc. All these factors make operating a fine dine place difficult and also add costs, making the venture less profitable.

One major factor in operating culinary enterprise is difficulty in getting trained employable manpower. There are many reasons why the F&B operators face manpower shortage. Long working hours, 365 days, 24/7 operations involving hard physical work, three shifts in a day, salaries being on the lower side compared with other industries, etc. The job needs special skills. A candidate needs to spend four years of studies spending a huge amount as fees. The salary structure in this industry does not encourage anyone to take up hospitality as a career choice. There are more disincentives than incentives in the hospitality field.

Moreover, hospitality personnel are preferred by the other industries as well, as they are trained in a particular fashion which makes them customer-friendly in their approach and behaviour. Though food is every day need for all, preparing and serving in a restaurant becomes a challenging task once a price tag is attached to it. Especially when the art of culinary transforms simple food into a fashion statement, in terms of look, taste and manner of service. The art in culinary becomes a significant aspect. It becomes a social, artistic and technical commodity. Fashionable terms are often used on the menu cards and eventually these result in driving the price tag high.

Culinary is part of city’s culture and tourism as well. People travel either for business or for pleasure. It’s the culinary that keeps a traveller happy because he gets part of the culture of the place. For the local population it’s the way to make life interesting and becomes a social activity. This is where, help from the local authorities if extended, can assist the F&B enterprises run better. Easy licensing procedures, relaxed operating timings, reasonable taxation, etc are certain factors which can ease effort of doing business. Absence of cooperation in these areas can make it unpleasant to operate a business.

In a way, culinary providers have unseen partners. The local authorities are one such example. A need for cooperation and coordination within the industry at all levels is required for the business to flourish. For example, awnings in front of the establishments are not allowed by the city administration. Awnings make a eating place look attractive; it looks inviting and somehow suggests festivity and celebration. It also protects customers from the heat. From the operator’s point of view, many are not aware of the capital requirement as well as the overheads needed to start and operate a culinary venture. Keeping financial viability becomes a challenge as one goes overboard with investments, which eventually results in offering poor service and even closing the shop.

Longevity has a lot to do with financial stability. A peculiar aspect of culinary enterprise is that almost everything that is sold in this business is perishable. Sometimes even the life of a restaurant can be very short and closes down quickly. For every hundred restaurants starting anew, around eighty close down.

Apart from other things, the location, the dining area, the kitchen layout and design form major and critical tools for success. Many lack this knowledge. Moreover, creating the right look, feel and atmosphere is an accomplishment in itself. Operations team, menu and cuisine, selling price and the competing operators become hindrances if the operators are not from the industry. Everybody thinks that it’s easy to start a culinary enterprise. New entrants in culinary business get into it with intent of earning easy profits. Recently, many non-hospitality candidates have been seen jumping into this field and eventually exiting as quickly as they entered.

Fads in culinary do not last longer either. Diet foods, low-carb food, fat-free, calorie-free and what not, do not succeed in the culinary industry. Food is for pampering and is a vehicle for thorough enjoyment. Highly qualified chefs do not fancy these kinds of fads and neither do they have the time to work on that, but then there is a demand.

First Published: Jul 18, 2018 15:13 IST