With an extensive number of resorts, both in the country and overseas, Club Mahindra incorporates the best of the region in which its resorts are located to give guests an authentic experience. This is not only reflected in its architecture, design and activities, but also in the cuisines it offers. Here’s a peek into the life of Chef Abhishek Gupta, who has been with the holiday company for seven years. In this interview, he talks about his journey as a chef and shares how Club Mahindra helped him grow as a professional and what makes it different from other resort chains.
When did you decide to become a chef?
Since I was five years old, I used to watch my mother prepare various delicacies at home for us. I used to love sitting in the kitchen with her and asking her questions; the ‘WHATs’, ‘WHYs’, and ‘HOWs’ of cooking.
I soon began helping her cook by cutting vegetables, making masala, baking and more. Gradually I started developing an interest that turned into a passion and eventually, a profession. Soon after I finished school, I decided to do a culinary course to help me sharpen my skills. There has been no looking back since then.
Tell us about your experience with Club Mahindra so far?
My experience with Club Mahindra in one word has been ‘amazing’. Interacting with customers from across the world is a wonderful learning experience.
You can find Club Mahindra resorts all across India. As a chef, it is exciting as I get to learn more about different authentic cuisines and recipes from some of the exotic interior locations.
Is there a ‘most popular dish’ amongst customers?
Yes, of course. I interact with many customers on a daily basis in the restaurant. As most of them travel from other states, they prefer ordering dishes from the local cuisine that they probably have not had before.
I am in Udaipur right now, and the most requested dish by our members is – Dal-Bati-Churma, Ghewar, Gutta Curry and Laal Maas.
What do you think Club Mahindra offers that other resorts don’t?
Guests here are treated like family members, not just customers. We create a strong bond of trust with them. At Club Mahindra, we work as a team with four main values in mind:
• No room for the ordinary
• Experience is everything
• Make smiles
• Proud to belong
These strong core values differentiate us from other resorts. They are also why our guests keep coming back for the experience again and again.
In your opinion, what is it about the food that Club Mahindra offers that sets it apart?
Every tourist destination is blessed with its own features. They offer different cuisines, which Club Mahindra replicates most authentically so that our members enjoy the best of what the region has to offer. I think this is what sets the food at Club Mahindra resorts apart.
How do you test the quality of your ingredients?
Quality ingredients are crucial for any chef. There are standard specifications that we abide by to ensure everything that leaves our kitchen is top quality. We have specifications for every item used in the kitchen, such as:
• Packaged foods from vendors must be FSSAI certified. This is checked by a team comprising of purchase managers and chefs on a daily basis.
• We ensure ingredients come in a specified manner and are at the right temperature when we receive them.
• Most of our resorts and kitchens are ISO 22000 certified. It is mandatory that these processes are documented and adhered to, by everyone involved.
• We have ongoing training and set of internal as well as external audits that take place from time to time to ensure there are no lapses.
As a chef, do you get unusual requests from customers? If yes, can you tell us a few?
Yes, we do get a lot of special requests. Some of the requests are very basic – less oil, less spicy, less masala, some modification in ingredients etc.
Some of the requests are for foods for kids and senior citizens – mashed food or baby food, no spices etc. We do get a lot of requests for Jain food (no onion, no garlic) as we have a lot of members travelling from the western part of India.
Which dish on your menu takes the most time to prepare?
According to me, the ‘Mac and Cheese’ takes a long time to prepare. The pasta is cooked sub-par, the sauce is cooked for two hours, and a roux takes another hour. Both are mixed and rested for some time before re-heating and serving.
Secondly, Bati takes a long time to prepare.
Indian gravies and the sauces of western cuisines also take longer than usual to prepare.
Any tips you can offer on cooking restaurant quality food at home?
There is an expression used to define all that goes on behind-the-scenes in a restaurant kitchen. Let me share a few of my secret tips as a chef that will help anybody cooking at home.
• Mise En Place –This might be the most important tip of all. “Mise-en-place” is French for “everything in its place”. Before you cook, have everything measured, peeled, chopped and ensure the pans, oil etc. are all within your reach.
• First In /First Out (FIFO) – It refers to using the first things purchased and brought “in” first, so they are the first things to go “out”. In commercial culinary, ‘FIFO’ means rotating the restaurant’s stock or inventory. This ensures the oldest foods are used first, so they are less likely to spoil. The concept can also be adapted for the home kitchen.
• A sharp knife is essential – Sharpen knives on a regular basis. Dull knives are dangerous and make cutting more difficult.
• Cook with 1:1 ratio of butter and oil – Oil stops the butter from burning, and butter adds richness to a dish.
• Taste as you go – It is important that you know what your dish tastes like before you serve it. Sometimes an extra pinch of salt or a dash of spice ensures perfection.
• When baking, only mix till all ingredients are incorporated. Overmixing cause toughness by developing gluten in the flour. For light and fluffy cupcakes, mix until the batter comes together.
Do you have an idol from whom you are inspired?
My idol is Dr Chef P Soundarajan, Corporate Executive Chef at Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd. He is my inspiration; I've learned so many things from him. Besides him, I closely follow Chef Gordon Ramsay.