With over four decades of experience, Chef Davinder Kumar, president, India Culinary Forum, has witnessed a complete transformation of the culinary industry in India. From innovative trends to twisting classic recipes, he elucidates about his journey so far By Saloni Bhatia
From a humble start with the Oberoi group in 1972 to leading an entire food division at Le Meridien for over 30 years, Chef Davinder Kumar, president, India Culinary Forum, has had a fulfilling career. His travels across the globe have enabled him to understand the intricacies of various cuisines and how to infuse it in his recipes. As the sole Indian representative at the International Cooking Festival held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1983, he was awarded a medal for his presentation of Indian cuisine. In 1985, he joined Hotel Le Meridien, New Delhi, as executive chef and is currently working as the hotel’s vice president (F&B production) and executive chef.
Remembering the earlier days, he says, “When I started, the profession was not widely popular. Today chefs play a vital role in the hotel industry. They are not just cooks but play the role of financial controllers, trainers, supply managers, recruiters among others. The wide knowledge through internet, TV shows and travel among people has given this profession the much deserved recognition in the industry.”
When asked about how he has excelled in multiple roles during his long career, he shares, “One has to constantly innovate to bring something new to the table. Nobody comes back to enjoy the same dish over and over again. Innovation is the trick to retain the customer.” But at the same time he feels that it is best to stay rooted to the culture and experiment with Indian dishes.
Shift to local
With more than 40 years of experience, the chef has seen a radical transformation in the culinary industry. He says, “There has been a drastic change in cuisines as the focus has shifted to local produce. The availability of products has become convenient as you can easily source all the English vegetables from a nearby vendor which was not the case three decades ago. At Le Meridien, we have given more importance to the local produce than using refrigerated products. By using produce which is regional, we also maintain the quality of the dish.”
As major cafes and restaurants are opting for Western cuisines, Chef Kumar prefers to stick to regional recipes. He remarks, “We don’t need foreign ingredients to enrich our cuisine as we are the land of spices. I am against the use of French herbs in our Indian dishes. Our food should not deviate to that extent that it loses its niche. We have surely evolved to attain international standards but it is still the Indian spices that stand out in a dish.”
Availability of technology and raw materials has made a big impact on the cuisines and how we consume them. Today, as people look forward to new ideas, chefs are challenged to be more creative – be it in taste, uniqueness or presentation. People are more aware about ingredients and even indulge in conversation with chefs through the open kitchens. Therefore, the job is very challenging, mentions Chef Kumar.
Talking about the upcoming trends on the dining front, he says, “Soon the convenient foods will be competing with fine dining experiences. But as far as restaurants are concerned, the kitchens will be more interactive with live cooking sessions and the chef directly engaging with his customers.”
Chef Kumar has authored two books, Kebab-Chutney and Bread and Kebab-365. He informs that he is working on his third book which will also feature Indian dishes with a twist.
India Culinary Forum’s Chef Awards 2016
The 13th Annual Chef Awards was organised by The India Culinary Forum at the Ashok Hotel in New Delhi recently. These awards recognised and honoured culinary excellence. Chef Kumar mentions, “The main agenda has been to offer a platform where chefs can exhibit their talent, demonstrate their skills and share their knowledge. The idea was to promote the culinary profession and build its image amongst people. We have been able to cross those barriers and create an industry of talented chefs. The function featured events and competitions that encouraged chefs to showcase their talent.”
The chief guest was V K Duggal, former director general tourism, Government of India and international tourism advisor. The culinary extravaganza kicked-off with the four-day long trade test where participating chefs competed in 11 culinary categories and showcased a series of live culinary skills. Chairperson of the jury was Chef Alan Payen, WCWB Ambassador from Mauritius.
Chef Kumar says, “Every year we aim to patronise authentic food culture and motivate chefs to be innovative and creative. I am sure it was a valuable experience for the entire chef community to maximise their potential and growth in the sector.”