come from a humble background and a humble city. Most people in my city didn’t even know what Hotel Management was. India had entered the high speed internet age, which meant that I would visit cyber cafes and research about cooking and its prospects as a career. This was in 2012. The clouds of 10th Boards were looming on our heads and the peer pressure of doing well was getting to us. Now, while most of my fellow gene pool members have been great in academics, I was, what some academic supremacists would call “Slow”. Everyone would say “Guy has potential, wasted still, but he has it”. I wouldn’t mind. Most of the time it was said behind my back when they thought I was out of earshot. You know, I love to discuss traumatic experiences I had in the past. Gives me a sense of retrospect of where I was.
In College, my first day in a somewhat formal kitchen was the coveted BTK or Basic Training Kitchen, under the Legend, Chef V. K. Iyer. He was teaching us the different cuts of vegetables, how to peel onions, how to hold the peelers, and so on. While the more conversant of my batchmates got bored seeing something they must have seen many times, small town me was mesmerized. Sitting there on those uncomfortable stools, surrounded by people from all walks of life, seeing Chef Iyer demonstrate the utmost basics of cooking, it gave me goosebumps. I had finally made it where I belonged.
Ms. Juhi Gonzalves was the Assistant Training Manager of JW Marriott Hotel in Sahar, Mumbai when I walked into her cabin to give the first ever interview of my life. Scoring not so well in non kitchen subjects made it difficult for me to land a good internship. Most hotels didn’t even consider my application. So, this was kind of a do or die sorta situation for me. The interview in itself was more of a conversation to be honest. Little did we both know at that time, Juhi ma’am would become a crucial mentor and support in my days ahead. JW Marriott Sahar was the first 5 star hotel I had stepped foot in. We were seated in their banquet hall, which was the single most spectacular room I have ever seen in my life. We had an all you can eat hi-tea buffet waiting for us. Focaccia was so soft, you could literally rest your head on it and nap. Perfect cups of coffee. As a lower middle class college student from a tier 3 city living in Mumbai. I got tears in my eyes, seeing what good food actually was! It also made me realize that I was in the right place. If they can pamper people, half of which they won’t even hire at the end, like this, imagine how good of a company this will actually be! Anyway, I don’t remember much about the interview.
What I do remember is the path they had us take to reach HR, it went through their main kitchen. Man, I have to be honest with you all that in my humble opinion, it was the happiest moment in my life till then. Seeing these people, dressed in white, making it happen. We were taught that the Kitchen is the nervous system of a hotel. Seeing the Chefs working in perfect sync, was mesmerizing.
The interview went well, I think. I was honest, and didn't pretend to be someone I was not. By the end of the day, I had received my offer letter. For the first time, I didn’t feel “Slow” or “average”. It meant something so overwhelmingly uplifting that on my way back to my hostel, I was crying the entire time.
Juhi Ma’am, as I affectionately call her, never made it look like an interview. As I said before, I don’t remember much about what she asked me. But somewhere in those 10-15 minutes, she saw something in me which made her consider my application to intern with The Biggest Hotel Company in the world.
January 1st, 2016. 7:00 Hours. JW Cafe Pantry Kitchen.
I reached the Pantry kitchen, ready to be a future Michelin star chef.
Chef Lionel Noronha, then a Commi Chef, greeted me and welcomed me to the Kitchen team.
“Babu, you’re going to do the most important job of a Chef.” He said, as he handed me a duster.
You could say that the first job in a kitchen I had ever done was cleaning the refrigerators. Chef Lionel then showed me the various things needed for a smooth Pantry op. He showed me the main a la carte kitchen which was live. It was here I met Chef Aniket Patil.
Chef Aniket is the single most wholesome Chef I have ever met. Sure, he had the infamous “Chef’s tongue” but having conversations with him made me want to be like him. He was caring, nurturing, stern and strict when he had to be yet, always teaching, always showing how things got done.
It was a New Year’s Brunch, and everything had to be super special. Honestly, writing this in 2022, having visited some of the best hotels in the country, I still haven’t seen the kind of Buffet JW Marriott Sahar does.
For the first time in my life, I saw a whole roasted Suckling Pig as a carving. A fried fish counter with 25 varieties of fish to choose from. So many dishes that I had never heard of!
My father had given me this gospel lesson which as a student chef, I will always remember
“Your subconscious will learn more than you can imagine, so long as you keep your eyes and ears open. Listen to what people are saying around you and you will absorb useful information like anything!”
And another sound advice came from a former roommate and brother, Aakash. To give you a bit of context first, during the second year of college, we have to mandatorily go for an internship or Industrial training. To manage that, the administration of the college divides the entire second year batch in two, alphabetical. He went to the internship in the first batch, whereas I was in the second one. Coming to the point, his advice was, “I know you know a lot of stuff, but you should be dumb to your seniors. That way they will teach you their methods, and you will end up learning.”
What a Bro!
Although I didn’t do any cooking whatsoever on my first day in a Professional Kitchen, by the time my internship got over, Chef Aniket called me the best intern he had had in his career spanning many countries and also became sort of a Godfather to me in the Industry, so much so that I know that as long as he is around, I will never be out of work. Juhi Ma’am became one of my biggest supporters. I left the Hotel more confident about myself, more in peace with what I was aiming to do. Above all, I had fallen deeply in love with the Culinary Profession. And I think that was the biggest takeaway.