Right at the tender age of 11, he realized his dream, and today at 41, Executive Chef Ramon Salto is busy establishing his stamp in India at The Leela Ambience Gurgaon Hotel & Residences. He has come across numerous struggles, be it missing the precious moments of his loved ones or sometimes being succumbed to solitary celebrations. Yet, this man knows his path and his dedication allows him to move forward surpassing every stone on his way.
In an interaction with TravelRasoi, Ramon reveals his journey and the twists and turns of his life that only provided him with the motivation to be the perfectionist that he is.
How did the thought of being a chef come to you?
When I was 11 years, there was a special activity at school where we could meet professionals of various backgrounds (usually parents of our classmates). It was specifically arranged for students to find inspirations for their future careers. For that activity, one day a chef working on a cruise ship came to share his experiences around the world with us. And it was that day, when I knew I wanted to be a chef and travel the world. Well, here I am today, in India, which is my 11th country.
Where did you learn to cook? What is the first dish you had prepared as a chef?
Cooking was always a part of me. Growing up among foodies, I remember my grandmother and my parents preparing delicious dishes for the family. My father was also a butcher for 45 years and I took up a few techniques from him too in the kitchen. So, initially I was a self taught cook. But it was another experience, which proved to be a final trigger for me to consider it professionally. When I was 16 years old, I had a summer job as a multipurpose boy in a country club. I learn things pretty fast. And knowing that trait, one day, when one of the guys in the kitchen left, the owners of the country club decided to transfer me to the kitchen. I stood up to their expectations, as in few days I was pretty comfortable with my new role. After that summer, I enrolled myself in a Culinary school where they thought me how to cook.
The fist dish that I remember cooking at home with my sisters was ham and cheese cromesquis; in the country club, I the first dish I tried my hands on was the roasted meat cannelloni. Those were before my professional life began. Professionally I tried crepes suzette flambéed as my first recipe.
Tell us one experience of yours during the initial days of cooking? How many years have you been in this profession?
My first job after culinary school was in France in a 2 Michelin restaurant, called LA BARBACANE, which was in Medieval city in Carcassonne. I was pretty young, only 18 years old. I remember the Chef asking me for 550 turned potatoes with five faces (a very classic French garnish). The Chef came and told me, “Ramon, every single potato with five faces, all right?” After 4 hours, and after turning faces for about 550 of them, the Chef inspected the potatoes and he got furious because, while some had four faces, some had six faces and some seven faces. So at the end, he asked me to make mash potatoes out of the entire 550 pieces, and to make five faces for another bunch of 550 potatoes. That day, I learnt the importance of being a perfectionist in the kitchen.
I started my culinary school when I was 17 and today I’m almost 41 years old, so I have close to 24 years of experience in the business.
What kind of struggle you may have come across as an accomplished chef?
Being an international Chef, you go through many struggles. For instance, at the personal level, on occasions, such as Christmas and birthdays, you end up celebrating alone, all by yourself; there may be funerals of your loved ones that you can’t attend; special moments of your children that you are not there to witness because you are busy working. In all, with accomplishments, come sacrifices too. To be a Chef, you need to be passionate about what you do or else you will never become an accomplished international Chef. For example, from a batch of 25 culinary students, only six of us are still in the business, and among all of them, I’m the only one working abroad.
Who has been your biggest critic during your journey?
I have the pleasure of working with lots of food critics, great bosses and managers who always keep me on my toes. They are always there to guide me and to provide constructive criticisms, whenever they deem necessary. However, in my life, I’m the toughest critic of myself. I love to cook a perfect meal and see my guest enjoying those moments.
What’s your thought on fusion food? What’s your favourite?
Fusion food is a great trend. The only problem is that when you mix cuisines and techniques without expertise and experience, it becomes a Confusion.
I am a foodie and I love many cuisines and dishes. Perhaps for me, among the top, will be Japanese, Singaporean, Peruvian and my own Catalan food, which I can count as my favourites.
Which style of cooking do you admire the most?
I honestly prefer continental that under my point of view is healthier. But I will say that term is wrong, under that name we have many types of cuisines and that needs to be specified.
Which is your favourite ‘Ghar ka Khana’ (Food at Home)? Do you cook at home sometimes?
There many comfort food dishes that I like, such as Spanish omelette, paella, roasted chicken and salad.
Yes when I’m at home I always cook for family, friends and relatives.
Any advice you would love giving someone aspiring to become a chef?
Never give up, follow your passion, always share your knowledge, use always the best ingredients and be honest in your career.
Could you share a cooking tip with us?
When you cook a dish remember that the main ingredients is love for food, if you cook with love everything will tasted delicious.
Signature Dish of Executive Chef – The Leela, Gurgaon
– EB / Anjali Sethi Joshi