He chose the profession where his heart was, creating magic for the palate. While he had his shares of both good and bad moments, Ganesh Joshi has, over the years, proven why he is one of the best at what he does. After all, donning the garb of the Executive Chef of Vivanta by Taj, Surajkund at an early stage of career was not a small feat by any measures. His accomplishments in his 30 years of career not only set a high standard for his contemporaries in the F&B industry, but also set a good example for budding chefs who look up to this profession with a passion to be the best.
That the Indian Food industry is on a trajectory can be construed by reading about the views and insights of great chefs like him. Let’s read about TravelRasoi’s conversation with Ganesh Joshi, Executive Chef – Vivanta By Taj, Surajkund and how he continues to cook up a charm for his guests –
How did the thought of becoming a chef come to you?
When I started my Hotel Management, I was not very confident of talking or had a good command over English. So the safer zone for me was the kitchen. The kitchen was one area I thought I would not get exposed to people much, given the kind of introvert boy I was. That nature of mine however can be said to have been a boon to me as it gave me the opportunity to explore my creativity aspect. I also have spent a considerable amount of my student life in a hostel and the kind of food prepared by the cook there would be so horrible that it would drive me to think of experimenting with food later in my life and cooking something delicious for everyone. These small things helped me take a decision to be a chef and that is how I landed into this profession.
I passed out back in 1987 when there were very limited hotels. Getting into Taj then was a big honour, but getting into the kitchen of Taj was even a bigger honour. I consider myself lucky to have got the chance of entering Taj kitchens at such a young age.
Where did you learn to cook first?
Learning something and taking practical training is completely different. You learn something at home first. So the learning starts from home. I too learnt a bit at home when I tried my hands at cooking something new. But actual learning for me started when I joined college and I did my Hotel Management. I did a special course from Lucknow, (IHM Lucknow) way back in 1984 and passed out in 1987. I took a specialization in food production. The basic introduction to the culinary world has happened there for me, in terms of both theory and practicals. But the wow moment for me was when I came to the Taj kitchen, because it was here that I was introduced to different cuisines.
What was the first dish you have prepared as a chef?
I don’t exactly remember but I had first prepared an omelette. And I made it real soft.
Tell us one experience of yours during your initial days of cooking.
I joined Taj Mahal, Delhi in 1987 and it’s been 30 years I have been working for the Taj Group. While I was doing my course, we used to have these practical sessions every month and specialized chefs used to come under whom these practicals used to be conducted. My trainer chef used to be a tough person. I always used to be the 3rd or 4th one to give the presentations and the reaction I got from him used to be a mixed one always. On one particular day, the Chef checked the food prepared by everyone but he did not check mine like he always did. I grew suspicious of having messed up with the food and that after he was done with everyone, he would come and point out my mistake and insult me before everyone. But it turned out that he liked my food very much, so much so that he kept on praising it by saying that my preparation looked really very fresh. He wanted to see if the freshness lasted till the end, and luckily it did and my preparation received great appreciation that day. That day I realized that the Chef whom I always considered so tough has a heart too. I would also say that this particular moment helped me in building up my confidence. For me it just seemed like yesterday and whenever I remember that moment, my confidence brims up once again.
I also remember another incident of a banquet being thrown, which was attended by Rajiv Gandhi and I was in the pasta stalls. He asked somebody to arrange pasta for him; those days giving a light pasta used to be a treat. I served him that and he liked it so much that he came to the banquet and thanked me for making it so well. So nostalgic moments like these keep me going and keep the chef in me alive.
Can you brief us about your journey?
I worked for 3 and a half years in Taj Mahal, Delhi and then went to Taj Khajuraho in 1990. I came back to Delhi in 1995 to Ambassador Hotel, and then in 2000 I went to Taj Residency (its Taj Deccan now) Hyderabad. I then joined Taj Pamodzi in Zambia in 2004 and then came back to India in 2010. I opened Taj Vivanta in Srinagar and was there till 2013. From 2013 August onwards I have been with Taj Vivanta Surajkund.
What kind of challenges have you faced at the start of your career?
I would never call it a struggle; rather I would call it a journey towards excellence. Everyday used to be a new day and I always yearned to make something new each day. Everyday used to be a new challenge. In our line of business, changes are to be accepted as a new challenge and it makes us a new person. The guests are changing, demands are changing and of course trends are changing. So in this changing environment it is never a struggle but a learning experience. Yes, hardships always used to be there but the biggest accomplishment is that I have been working for Taj and I got selected in my first ever campus interview. Also, I became an Executive Chef at an early stage of life. Just after 4 years of joining, I became Chef in charge and 7 years of joining I was the Executive Chef. Even today when somebody asks me where I work, I first tell them that I work for TATAs and then specifically tell Taj Vivanta.
Who has been your biggest critic during your journey?
Myself and few of my colleagues also; I would not call them critics but they have been constructive critics. And that has helped me to grow in my profession and to be a better chef and also a human being.
What is your idea about fusion food? Which style of cooking do you admire most?
This is something I am never happy to answer. Food is always appreciated when it is in its original form. Fusion for the purpose of experimenting with food is there but I don’t see a longer life for it.
Indian food for me has no match. There is no parallel to Indian food. Because it is like an ocean; the more you delve into it, the more you will get ideas. There is no boundary to set to it. You get ample opportunity to play around Indian food. You have some kind of boundations in other cuisines. In contemporary times, lot many trends have come in and I appreciate that too.
‘Healthy Food’ is very much in trend today. What do you have to say?
At the end of the day, hotels have to run their businesses. We have to act as per the emerging trends. Today we get demands from our customers for food with ingredients that boost mental stability or food that is low on cholesterol or gluten. We do all these things; but let me tell you, the food that we have today or the ingredients that are used in it have been there since centuries. Why is it that our forefather never felt sick by having this same food but we do? The biggest culprit today is the lack of physical activities or exercise in our life. If you balance the food as per your body requirement along with exercise, you do not have to run after what we call today ‘Health food’.
What is your favourite ghar ka khana? Who is your favourite cook at home?
My favourite is always yellow dal and freshly boiled rice with some vegetables along, maybe palak alu.
At home it is always my wife who cooks, but I also look forward to eating food cooked by my mother. I cannot choose one as both of them are my favourite in terms of their individual style of cooking.
Do you cook at home for your family?
I cook sometimes for a change. Like my daughters want to have something which their mother does not know, then I cook for them. I love making pasta for them or lasagne or any western food.
What do you do in your free time? What are your hobbies?
I love sleeping. Whenever I get time, I also catch up some Indian movies and love listening to music. I am a big movie buff and so whenever I get time, I go for movies. Of late I have started my old habit of reading.
Could you share a few cooking tips for our readers?
Don’t try to do anything over. Also, please maintain the natural flavours in the food and do not expose it to excess heat. Do not be too experimental with food; try to keep it in its original form as much as possible. When you experiment with food too much, you do not cook but you kill the food. Give the required time for cooking.
Any message you would like to give anyone aspiring to become a chef?
Come to Taj Surajkund and work with me (Laughs). Whenever you choose this profession, please go to the basics and start from a scratch. Please understand the Nature and why it has created food and how it is effecting your system. Accordingly try to understand that balance.
What is your ‘Signature Dish’? Any recipe you would like to share with our readers?
Dum Ki Nali
Ingredients:- (Recipe for 4 portions)
|Lamb Nali (Shanks)||1kg|
|Boiled onion paste||200gm|
|Brown onion paste||75gm|
|Ginger and garlic paste||40gm|
|Desi ghee(Clarified butter)||50gm|
|Roasted cashew- nut paste||100gms|
|Roasted chironji (Charoli) past||20gms|
|Black pepper powder||2gms|
|Rose petals powder||1gms|
- Take a pot, put lamb nali, boiled onion paste, brown onion paste, ginger garlic paste, deggi mirch powder, whole gram masala, salt and one and half litre of water, cover it with a lid and cook over a slow flame for 45 min.
- Then take out nali from the pot and keep a side. Now add tomato puree, cashew and chironji paste and all remaining spices, cook over medium heat for 10 min. adjust the seasoning and consistency, strain it through a fine strainer and add nali back into the gravy cook it for 3 min. over a medium heat and served hot along with naan or steamed rice.
– Anjali Sethi Joshi / Samrita Baruah