India’s Top Chefs
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It's not for nothing that the word "chef" is derived from the French word for "boss". Today, young men and women are pouring out of catering schools armed with degrees and spatulas, each determined to be the big cheese. In a nation where people are passionate about their food, chefs are rapidly attaining rockstar status. This year, for the first time, the Union Ministry of Tourism felicitated three chefs for being the best in the business. We speak to the award winners about how to cook up a storm.
When you spot him in the kitchen, he's as likely to be brandishing a paintbrush as a ladle. During his career, his method of approaching an empty plate has been similar to an artist approaching a blank canvas. His dishes are as visual as they are delectable, a style which has become something of a trademark.
As a child, Sabyasachi Gorai, 39, figured he would go in to the arts like his family. "I thought I'd become a tabla player or take up one of the performing arts. My only reservation was that artists are usually hungry." says Gorai. And while a bit of hunger and deprivation has produced some of the world's greatest art, the young boy from West Bengal preferred some meat on his bones.
"Cooking happened almost as a fluke. While I was waiting to hear from art schools, I got through to a catering college. This was the early '90s and standing in the lobby of a luxury hotel in a suit seemed very glamorous. Also, I was pretty sure people in hotels didn't really work much. My first internship shattered that misconception forever," laughs the man now universally known as chef Saby.
It was during this internship at the British Airways flight catering kitchen in Kolkata that Gorai realised he didn't want to be the man in the suit. He had, along the way, found a medium to express his artistic yearnings. "We had to work in every department in the hotel, but it was the kitchen that appealed the most to me. That was because I realised that cooks have access to so much food. The storage rooms in kitchens were like Ali Baba's cave, and I enjoyed myself as only a Bengali boy can, around unlimited amounts of food. Then the head chef caught me red-handed and mouth full. I was terribly scared but he just looked at me and said, "If you haven't put on 10 kilos by the end, you haven't done your training right."