what does it take to be a chef with chef del
They say that the best way to a man’s heart is through his belly. Good food makes a man happy; and happiness is the most important part of life. However, it’s not as easily achieved as preparation of good food is quite technical. It is far more complex than tossing a few cubes of meat and noodles in a pan. That is why the field of culinary arts and hospitality is a serious one, and is blooming right now with many trying to get into the game. And like any other field, it would be nice to have some to look up to.
Realizing this, we caught up with Chef Dil Bahadur Maharjan, former Chief Executive Chef at the Embassy Restaurant, has worked with prestigious names in Dubai like Ritz Carlton, J.W. Marriot, Intercontinental Hotel, our Nepalese Gokarna Forest Resort, Mul Chowk Restaurant, Tamarind, and Crown Plaza; all of which goes to show that his opinions are to be digested fully. Now, he has taken a new turn in his career opening up his own establishment, Bagaicha in Jawalakhel, and Big Hotel soon in Biratnagar. All of these credentials go to a higher level when you acknowledge the fact that he comes from a village in Kirtipur. So, if you are someone working to make it in this industry, read on. If not, read on regardless for his words are virtues that apply to everyday life.
I NEVER HAD A FIGURE
TO LOOK UP TO WHO
WAS A DOCTOR WHILE
I WAS GROWING UP. SO,
DESPITE MY INTEREST IN
THE SUBJECT, MY FATHER
WAS MY ROLE MODEL SO
I NATURALLY GRAVITATED
HOW DID THE INTEREST OF COOKING COME TO YOU?
Whenever there was a reason to celebrate in my village, my father would be called to prepare the feast. Everyone would say that foods made by his hands were exceptionally tasty. And naturally, everyone admired him; me being one of them. In this way, the interest for cooking kindled in me, and seeing it, he took me under his wing. He taught me the basics of Newari food and that’s when I learned that the sensibility of saltiness or spiciness is not handed out, but acquired through practice. There was a lot of trial and error for me, but I persisted on as I cooked meals every day, and eventually made my passion a profession.
AND HOW DID YOU BUILD YOUR CAREER?
When I came to Kathmandu, there was a limited number of hotels and restaurants, and they only served the usual mo:mo and chow mein; and a fewer number had Chinese and Indian on the menu. Now, the latter two were a bit different for me, so I had to study them. I trained at Sherpa Hotel for a while and went to work at Yak Palace, which was also my first job. But eventually, I desired to learn more and better things. So, I set my eyes outside of Nepal.
I first went to Dubai and worked with Chinese cuisine. There, I was really inspired by the Chef who showed me that this is an intense line of work that requires an in-depth knowledge. Realizing this, I went to Scotland to study Hotel Management and got the opportunity to work with knowledgeable individuals from France, Germany, and Italy, to name a few. And from there on, I moved on to pursue my career more professionally.
SO IT CAN BE SAID THAT YOU WERE INTO THIS FIELD FROM THE START?
Well, not exactly. See, as a child, I really wanted to be a doctor. I was good at Science in school and I’d fetch good marks in it. And even though we were just simple farmers, my father would have gladly invested in me for Medical Studies. However, I never had a figure to look up to who was a doctor while I was growing up. So, despite my interest in the subject, my father was my role model so I naturally gravitated towards cooking.
AND WHAT DO YOU SPECIALIZE IN?
The first thing I picked up was the Newari flavor, then I moved on to Chinese, and then to other cuisines. But the thing is, b
eing a chef demands knowledge in everything. So I have had my hands occupied in everything from Asian to Continental, to bar and grill items. But, the most work I’ve done in is Italian.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DISH TO PREPARE?
There is no such thing as that. Cooking is my passion and every dish I put together is done with love. Without it, a dish is incomplete and I’d never serve anything like that.
WOULD YOU SAY THAT YOUR TALENT IS GOD-GIVEN OR ACHIEVED?
I’d say a mix of both. I believe that every individual has their own talents and that needs to be realized. In my case, I waslooking to be a doctor, but God had different plans for me. I eventually latched onto cooking, and worked to hone that skill
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS THE BEST PART ABOUT BEING A CHEF?
What I feel is that after being a chef, some of the virtue of your professional life transfers itself into your personal life. Whether you’re wearing the chef’s coat or not, you innately give into the nature of delivering what you promise. To me, that’s the best part about being a chef.
AND THE WORST?
This line of work is quite demanding, so you need to put in a lot of effort, and at times, make certain sacrifices. If there’s a family gathering or an occasion I am invited to, I have to apologize to them and get on with my work. If I make a commitment, I must honor it. I can’t say that I want to take some time off for myself and just get it; I need to give it up for my profession pursuits.
While this may be seen as a drawback, I believe that this applies to every profession. You can’t make it anywhere without making sacrifices. The result you get out of it is worth it. I’m lucky to have a family who understands this, and I see such an understanding to be a strong factor to get through this challenge.
WHAT 5 QUALITIES DO YOU FEEL SOMEONE LOOKING TO BE A CHEF SHOULD HAVE?
FOOD HYGIENE; you need to know whether the ingredients you’re using is at its peak or not
PERSONAL HYGIENE; you don’t want your clients to get sick because of you
BASIC KNOWLEDGE; you must know what is what, where it comes from, what to do with it, and how to make it consumable and digestible
LAYOUT OF THE KITCHEN; knowing where your utensils are and the way around is a must
SENSIBILITY; while coming up with a dish, you need to know your client’s pallet, things like whether they prefer the original taste or a fusion
WHAT’S THE BEST LESSON YOU’VE LEARNED SO FAR?
I would say that the skill of anticipation is it, because as a chef, I have come to know that being aware of your client’s wants and need takes you a long way. Knowing them will enable you to come close to their expectation and will sky rocket your chances of earning their satisfaction and smiles. Analogously, as you go on practicing this skill, you will feel more confident, and hence grow on to make better decisions and receive even better rewards.
ANY LAST ADVICE FOR BUDDING CHEFS?
The institutions that are working towards the education of hospitality are doing a great job. It is admirable that they have been able to draw knowledge from all over the world. So you need to make the best of it. One good way to go about it is by harboring the attitude to learn the concept of cooking rather than to just cook. The philosophy behind this trick is that if you learn to cook 100 dishes, about 70 will be executed well enough. But, if you master the concept of cooking, all 100 will be exceptional. So make sure you pay equal attention to both your theories and practices.
WORDS: NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTOS : GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR