Chef Deepak Bhatia is a firm believer in Passion. It is this passion that brought him closer to good food as a child; this connection grew so intense that he eventually chose the path that had him discover in him the chef he always wanted to be, which grew out of his passion and hard work. This he chose at the cost of quitting a profession that his family would have loved to see him in. However, what followed next is history and there has been no looking back.
With a rich heritage of 30 years in the culinary business, Chef Deepak has earned a name for himself in the growing F&B industry in India. While working with the Hyatt Group, he has been accredited with starting many Hyatt hotels in different parts of the country. Today, at Westin he overseas culinary operations at the various F&B venues of both the hotels situated at MG Road and Sohna Road with close to 100+ chefs working under him. Chef Deepak took out some time out of his busy schedule to share with the TravelRasoi Team a few of those moments that helped him grow in this profession –
How did the thought of being a chef come to you?
I have been a kid with typical likes and dislikes. But as a person I believed that simple things are the most difficult things to attain in life. I used to go to school, play just like any other kid, but I also used to love entering the kitchen after coming back from school to see what is being cooked. The pleasure that I used to get to taste from the kadhai is incomparable.
I used to watch my Mom cook and that used to be a different feeling altogether. And the same thing is repeated with my wife too; I would go straight to the kitchen and taste whatever she has cooked from the pot. That inquisitiveness has always been there.
But I am a sportsperson too. I used to swim 3 kms every day and represented Mumbai and that required me to have lots of protein and substance rich food. So that’s how I got inclined to good food and later tried my hand at cooking. I also have a couple of cousins whose friends were in the profession of chef. I then had the opportunity to see a commercial kitchen and that’s how I got fascinated by this profession. My brother is an engineer and my father wanted me to become an engineer too. I even got admitted into an engineering college. But I knew that was not my forte. I applied for a degree in Hotel Management in Mumbai (IHM), underwent 3 years of training and graduated to become a chef in 1983.
Could you trace your journey of how you started as a Chef?
I got into Oberoi School of hotel management for a post graduate diploma. Out of 120 students, I was among the 4 who got selected and probably the only one to get into Oberoi Mumbai. This further stoked my passion to become a chef. I passed out of Oberoi School in 1985 and started my career with Oberoi Delhi and Mumbai.
After working 5 years with Oberoi, I shifted to Australia (Melbourne) in 1988. I lived there for 6 years, and while there I tried my hands in everything; I worked in restaurants, pubs, Qantas flight catering and so on. I came back to India in 1994 and joined Hyatt Delhi as its Chef de cuisine and worked there for 16 years. I started the restaurant which is still running for 22 years, TK’s Oriental Grill.
I have been into this profession for 30 years now. I also worked for Leela Mumbai for 2 years. I joined Westin in 2012. During my 16 years stint with Hyatt, I have opened many Hyatt hotels. I have opened Hyatt Kathmandu, Hyatt Regency, Kolkata, Hyatt Regency Mumbai.
What was the first dish you had prepared as a professional chef?
As a chef trainee, I used to be very dedicated towards my work. I remember doing Live cooking 30 years back, in front of the guests. My first dish was Grilled chicken breast with Morels (Kashmiri Mushrooms) sauce, flamboyance with a brandy and cognac. Talking about this dish 30 years back, this used to be big trendy at that time. This was also one of those moments that built up my passion.
What kind of struggle did you have to face during the start of your career?
I don’t say working in the kitchens is a struggle, but in the years when we started it was not so easy. You are learning the European cuisine that you are not familiar with and plus there was no access to the Internet. You had to learn the hard way by working with chefs of different nationalities. And when you go overseas you are competing with the international chefs. My idea was not just to confine myself to Indian cuisine but I wanted to become an international chef. So my initial struggles were somewhat related to getting acquainted with different cuisines.
If we come to the current time, gone are those days when people used to work for a company for many years. Nowadays professionals want change and they hanker after money. So I have realized that you keep on training new talents and after sometime these people leave you. The attrition rate is very high. So holding on to your assets is one key challenge today.
Could you cite any memorable experience or incident from your early days of cooking?
I remember when I was the Chef de cuisine, I took the catering for just 14 people. I prepared around 3-4 varieties of cuisine. There were a big variety of vegetarian items in the menu; there was western food with lot of grilled items as per the liking of the guests and there was Asian food too. So this was one exclusive party which I had done outside the hotel. And this was for none other than Amitabh Bachchan and his family. It remains a big lifetime memory for me.
How many chefs work under you?
Around 90+chefs work under me in Westin Gurgaon. There are over 30 chefs in Westin Sohna Road. So almost 100+ chefs report to me daily from both the hotels.
Who has been your biggest critic in your career?
I take this in a very different way. I believe that you are as good as your team. You are good as long as the last customer walks out happy. But there might be someone who would not be happy or comment something on the food. So for someone to become a successful chef, listen to the customer first. This is what I believe as the customer is always the best critic.
Which style of cooking do you admire?
I like any food that is honest. Honest in the sense that the use of ingredients should be fresh and good, which eventually would get you a good dish. Be honest to your recipes and food. Food can really speak. You can play around with food, but what invariably brings back the customer is the taste. Focus on quality, good recipes and ingredients, and keep its presentation simple and elegant.
What is your favourite ‘ghar ka khana’? Do you also cook sometime?
I like whatever my wife cooks with love. She makes the best yellow Dal, Rajma, Aloo gobhi and bhindi. I prefer simple vegetarian food at home.
I used to cook while we were in Australia. But in Delhi I rarely cook. When I am in the mood, I prepare chicken curry/lamb curry for my family.
What is your favourite pastime?
In my free time, I love to be with my family, watch TV, listen to music, surf the net, do my workout at the gym or go for a walk. I used to swim and golf but now I have given up that lifestyle. I have to be in the hotel for 10-12 years and my irregular work hours do not allow me time for these sports anymore.
Any cooking tips you would love to share with the readers?
Like I have mentioned, cook it simple but with good ingredients. Whenever you plan something new and you happen to find that you do not have the right ingredient, do not panic. Patience and passion is most important while you are in the kitchen.
What is your advice to the new talents in the industry?
My advice to the budding chefs is that if they are good, then nothing can stop them from becoming an accomplished chef. But they have to keep trying consistently. Competition is very tough and creativity is very high.
What is your signature dish?
My signature dish is Grilled Tiger prawns. The ingredients used are –
|5 pc.||Tiger prawns|
|10 gr.||Red/Green chilli sliced|
|5 ml||lemon juice|
|15 gr.||Shallots chopped|
|10 gr.||Garlic chopped|
|5 gr.||Mixed lettuce and basil salad|
- Season the prawns with salt and pepper. Dust with flour.
- Heat oil in a pan; add prawns, sauté until golden brown in colour.
- Add shallots, garlic and red/green chilli and cook.
- Flambé with cognac, add lemon juice
- Season with salt and pepper to taste
- Serve with mixed lettuce and basil salad.
– Anjali Sethi Joshi / Samrita Baruah