Once a chef, always a chef? Not really

November 18th, 2008 - 10:52 am ICT by IANS  

Chennai, Nov 18 (IANS) Something interesting is cooking in the kitchens of star hotels in this city. Chefs are hanging up their food-stained aprons to don well cut suits - an attire which they once shunned with disdain.Executive chefs at several hotels, including the Radisson, Courtyard Marriott and The Park, have sought to dispel the old saying among those at the helm inside kitchens - once a chef always a chef!

“After 10 years of cooking in commercial kitchens, I have hung up my apron and put on a suit,” says Courtyard Marriott food and beverage director Prakash Jayadevan.

“I now plan to start eating without being a critic. I want to eat to enjoy,” Jayadevan, 30, told IANS, after being promoted from being an executive chef to his current position just a week ago.

Hotel industry officials said the food and beverage division was normally the domain of restaurant managers and not people from the kitchen. But all that is changing.

“The normal growth prospect for an executive chef is to become a corporate executive chef in charge of kitchens of different group properties,” said chef Elango Rajendran, now a food and beverage director at Radisson.

“For that to happen, the hotel company has to grow, failing which a chef will always remain inside the kitchen unless he decides to change roles.”

Another chef who changed not only the role but also his company is Willi Wilson, who was formerly the executive chef at The Park, but is now the chief operating officer at Somerset Greenways, a service apartment promoted by the Singapore-based Ascott group.

Ravi Chawla, chief executive of Empee International, told IANS: “It is logical for a kitchen person to head the food and beverage division, for he/she knows the back-end operations rather well. This would help the hotel in cutting down waste while promoting the hotel to the customers.”

According to Rajendran, all these years the chefs were considered “backroom” people, without much communication skills and involved only in finalising supply contracts.

Their only means of communication with customers and prospects were the culinary delights they created using their skills. “They were not in touch with prospective customers,” says Rajendran.

“But in the past 10 years this has changed,” he maintains.

“From being backroom players, chefs have started interacting with guests which in turn has improved their customer relation skills. In addition, the exposure in the media have sharpened their communication skills and improved their confidence levels.”

According to him, executive chefs-turned-food-and-beverage heads can effectively market banquets of hotels and restaurants since they are in a better position and authority to discuss the the main agenda of banquets - the food.

“It is around the food that the entire discussion revolves before a prospective client places an order with the hotel. Anybody can talk about event themes or settings, but not the food,” says Rajendran.

He, along with others like him, know best. For, Rajendran is at the helm of marketing and advertising of restaurants for the GRT Hotel group, which includes Radisson, Temple Bay and GRT Nature Trails - besides sourcing supplies for the kitchens.

“The market is tough and so is the bargaining. The challenge is to devise appropriate strategies,” he says, adding: “The road for a chef need not end here. To become a full-fledged hotelier one has to learn about managing the rooms.”

Adds Jayadevan: “Inside the kitchen, everything is centred on the food. Now it is more of interpersonal relationships, like motivating and training the staff.”

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