It is the talent behind the kitchen doors, the chef, who’s largely credited for the success of a restaurant. To recognise this talent and celebrate their culinary passion and hardwork, chefs from the hospitality industry came together for the 14th Annual Chef Awards at The Ashok Hotel, Chankyapuri, New Delhi on 1 November. Organised by the Indian Culinary Forum, the award works towards developing a support and appreciation network for the community of chefs in India and abroad.

Anil Bhandari, chairman of the Organising Committee, said, “We instituted Chef Awards in the year 2004 to recognise and honour chefs for their contribution to the hospitality industry and society at large. There are five special award categories, which include Lifetime Achievement Award, Best Food Writer Award, Golden Hat Award and Silver Hat Award.  The Trade Test category includes Chef of the Year Award, Master Chef International Cuisine Award, Master Chef North India Cuisine Award, Master Chef Rest of India Cuisine Award, Master Chef Kebabs Award, Master Chef Indian Sweets Award, Master Chef International Confectionary Award, Master Chef Oriental Cuisine Award, Kitchen Artist Award and Student Chef of the Year.”

 The culinary extravaganza started with the four-day long trade test where chefs participated to compete in 11 culinary categories showcasing their skills in a series of live culinary tasks.

Sanjeev Kapoor, who was awarded the Hall of Fame award, spoke of the importance of accolades like these. He told Guardian 20, “Any award, reward, recognition in life is important and then when it is done by your own fraternity it means more and it is nice because over the years I have got many awards. So, what it does is it always prompts you to do more. In some sense it confirms that you are on the right path. It is a real motivator, though when we cook there is always instant gratification, those things are transient. But these things [awards] bring permanence to your efforts—that’s why they are of importance.”

About the tough life of a chef, Kapoor said, “It is a state of mind. Anything that you do would be tough… Excellence requires that kind of work, and this business is no different. The only difference is in this profession there are no weekends, there are no holidays. When everyone is enjoying, you are working; when everyone is partying, you are working; when there is Diwali for the whole world, you are working; when there is the New Year, you are more busy. So that way it is tougher because people don’t realise that when the world is enjoying and partying, you want to participate in that and those are the toughest days for you. Once you assign that thinking in your mind that it’s okay and that’s the choice I have made, then it becomes easier.”

When quizzed about the art of adding a personal touch to cooking, he said, “It works in many different ways. It is like colours—there’s blue, there’s yellow and when they mix, you see there’s green also. Now you can predict when you use blue and yellow, it will give green as well. You add something and the result is predictable. There are a few things you don’t know what will they turn out to be, but you want to know, that’s how creativity happens…You visualise things. In some sense you are an artist but you are a bigger artist if you understand the science of it.”

On the changing attitude towards the culinary industry, Kapoor said, “Cooking at home has changed. People talk about plating now, which was never there earlier that food has to be presented well. Our verbalisation of food has become better, otherwise when you would ask someone how is the food, they would say, ‘It’s nice’. That’s it. Now they will also talk about the texture. All that helps the whole business of food and food services. So, in my opinion it is a great thing.”

The chairperson of the jury, renowned Sri Lankan chef Alan Palmer was also present at the event along with other national and international chefs. As part of the celebrations, the ICF had also organised a Chef Summit for a consecutive fourth year, where eminent names from the hospitality industry, like Anil Bhandari (Chairman, A.B. Smart Concepts and AB Smart Placement), Chef Davender Kumar, Chef Sanjeev Kapoor, Chef Sudhir Sibal, Chef Manjit Gill, Chef Sabyasachi Gorai, Sourish Bhattacharyya, Sonali Sinha (CEO, Tourism and Hospitality Skill Council), Chef Vinod Bhati, Bikramjit Ray, Chef Shaju Zacariah, and many others were also present .

Chef Davinder Kumar, President of the Indian Culinary Forum and the Head Chef at Le Meridian, spoke to us about the significance of the ICF. “India Culinary Forum is an association of chefs, established way back in 1987. We complete 30 years of culinary excellence and it has been a very successful journey. Today, we have more than 1,500 members and we are engaged in educating and promoting this profession and giving them an opportunity of exhibiting their skills, honing their skills and sharing knowledge, promoting Indian cuisine globally and elevating its standard worldwide.”

He further spoke about the advancements in the culinary industry: “There is a change in terms of the skills of people, in terms of the recognition of chefs. Gone are the days when chefs were told not to come in the front. Today, chefs are in the forefront, they are the ambassadors. They showcase cuisines. There’s a lot of awareness. Now there’s an inclination towards creativity and innovation, which probably was not thought of 20 years ago. With advancements in technology, availability of a range of ingredients locally, chefs have got an edge over everything. Today, there is great scope for innovation. But we must also stay grounded as far as the culinary heritage is concerned. There’s a tremendous change in the overall standard of the culinary field.”

The Indian Culinary Forum is an association comprising professional chefs from northern India.

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