It was the
early 90’s when our Indian Government was occupied with reviewing, reforming
and laying the foundation for betterment, in every field one can think of –
health care, social security, education, finance, defense, technology,
agriculture, infrastructure and the like. We had no clue as HM students as to
what was in store for us after we would graduate.
generation of HM students are mostly influenced and updated by the media and
have a considerable amount of information as to what our trade is at presently.
They are highly motivated and driven by technology and much more aware of the
hospitality industry than we were earlier.
My 3 years
of Diploma in HM, happened in the year 1993 from IHM-Bhubaneshwar. Campus recruitment
were only from the Taj, Oberois, and a stand-alone resort from Goa. Jobs were
scarce then and about a dozen only from our batch could fix up their luck
through campus. It was by default that other students had to come down to
Mumbai or Delhi in search of a job and applying randomly as walk-in, as these
were the 2 cities which scored the highest numbers of star hotels.
world of hospitality, a fresh graduate has the numerous options to kick start
their career. During the 90’s, it was majorly the star hotels and we could not
think of any other avenues. I was one
of the lucky few to have been selected for Cidade de Goa’s recruitment drive in
1993. While I opted for Culinary, the recruiter influenced me to be with F& B
Service. Take it or leave it! It was a Hobson’s choice and no way could I turn
it down as we were financially parched at home. It was a matter of survival to
make both ends meet. I spent two and a half years at this Goan Resort, getting
exposed to the various outlets- fine dining, bar, banquets, room service,
coffee shop. I also found out that most of the local males were working
overseas and the hotels, usually hired outstation candidates. My outlook
started to change when I felt that I had enough of a resort hotel and I wished
to get exposed to a city hotel. Hence, I shifted to Mumbai in January 1995.
After a few
days of job search and a successful
walk-in interview at The Ambassadors, Churchgate, Mumbai, I was put into
Banquets and later to their Specialty Continental Restaurant. I could realize the difference in
working for a resort and a city hotel. There used to be a huge turnover of
staff as Mumbai was the gateway to overseas employment then. As like others, I
had a fond dream of globetrotting too and waited for any opportunity to cross by.
By January 1996, I found my new workplace in the unknown rigid culture and environment,
for a chain of Arabic and Western Sweets outlet in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Religious laws engulfed the place with various restrictions, but so what? “In Rome,
do as the Romans do” I went with the objective to learn and earn which was so
much deep-rooted that all my troubles seemed far away.
outlet, I showed interest and respect in anything I came across. Started
picking up the local Arabic dialect and in return taught my colleagues, beginner’s
English .In here, there was the French Head Chef, whom I befriended and used to
greet him and kept admiring his work. It was the first time ever that the
French knowledge earned during IHM days, came in real use. My work involved in
picking the selected confections as indicated by the customer and getting them
packed. It sounds easy but there’s a typical way by which Arabic desserts are
packed and definitely an art form.
happened quite suddenly after a month or so, that I was asked to report to the
French boss of the production section. He asked me to be his ‘assistant’ and I
grabbed the opportunity. Initially, it was very difficult to adapt to his
strict working standards he would follow. I still remember today, how we as a team,
gathered in chef’s office at sharp 11 AM to have the black coffee, how we
started work at 5 AM and left the kitchen at 1 PM with such precision. It can
never be forgotten how he rebuked and embarrassed me while I was having a
freshly baked croissant in front of the oven as I waited for the load of Danish
to be brought out .Till date I consider him as my Guru and taught me to what I
am today. He made me realize of what a baker should be: passionate, hard working,
focused, having patience, displaying honesty, standardization, time management
and most importantly ‘ownership’. All hail, Chef Patrice Monchausse!
while I was on a vacation in Kolkatta, I thought to myself of having a job
change. My concept is, in a job, if 3 things don’t happen simultaneously, I need
to be out of it . These 3 things are –time, knowledge and money. Work-life
balance was there as we were able to finish work on time. We were given timely
salary every month but it didn’t get raised by a single penny anytime
.Knowledge remained the same as I was the frog in the well .French Chef
returned to his homeland in 5 months after I joined him. Management rejoiced as
I could gradually bring in the same products, without any difficulty. Probably,
it was a large chunk of money that could be saved from the French Chef’s salary
that he wasn’t contacted anymore. But to mention, I am still in touch with my coach
through social media.
confidence I garnered in Middle East for 6 years till 2001 helped me to get a
job in Bakery and Pastry, Taj Bengal, Kolkatta. I started all over again as it
was a new setup and much different to the SOPs we followed in Saudi Arabia.
After a span of 2 years, I realized, I was not making any of the 3 things I needed
to continue a job.
My dream to
be on a cruise liner appeared when an agent in Mumbai was in the process of
recruiting in 2003. I was frequently taking leave from Kolkatta to Mumbai and
doing back and forth to complete the various stages of interview and official
proceedings for the cruise liner’s job. At a point where my Bakery head got
irritated for my intermittent abrupt leaves, I decided to end my service with
Taj Bengal as new employment offer was at hand. Little did I know, that my
passport was yet to be stamped by the US Embassy for Visa, where it got
rejected for reasons unknown. This unexpected blow left an indelible mark on my
mind and hopelessness loomed large in front of me and worth memorable to teach
me a few life skills lesson I could have ever stumbled upon.
never to resign from a job unless very sure of the next. Thereafter, keep
official documents updated always. While I said at the US interview that I was
married, my passport did not indicate the same. It wasn’t intentional at all. I
thought of adding the same once my passport was about to expire and apply for
the fresh passport. Or else, I could have said a white lie of being a bachelor
then. Incidentally, the US Visa officer was quick to find out the discrepancy,
which she didn’t mention then and it took me a decade to find out the reason
looked scary and grim without a job. It was better to hang on to Mumbai as job
openings were always scarce in Kolkatta. It became a ritual for me to scan the
classified job ads on every newspaper. I was frantically on the lookout for a
suitable job and be occupied when I
found a Jordanian advertiser was to come in to Mumbai for US Army Catering job
in Middle East again . Gulf region, politically then was at unrest- chasing of
Saddam Hussain. Taking up a job, in a war zone was challenging but no other
alternative was available. It was an immediate joining with a pay package
double the amount of what was committed by the cruise liner.
Jordanian representative undertook a 40 minute face-to-face interview and only
when he was convinced that I was more than willing and equally experienced and
ready to serve the US Army based in Jordan, he signaled me to leave my passport
behind for further processing. Very soon,
a group of selected Indian youth ready for the Army Catering flew together to
Amman, the capital of Jordan. Several days passed by and there was no sign of
our workplace. We were put up in a small
hotel and we were kept informed that our work would start once US troops
signaled us .One midnight, we were suddenly woken up and asked to hurry up with
our luggage to the waiting cars. Someone from the group, with a low voice said,
we were going to travel to Iraq to the US base camps. Most of us had the
impression that we would be working in Jordan for the US Army.
started in the darkness of the night and we got stopped at several check posts,
manned by US soldiers as was understood by the American flags stitched on to
their fighting jackets. It appeared , they were counting the heads and tallied
the number written on the permit kept safely by the driver. At one point, our passports
were stamped and realized we stepped into Iraq. About lunch
time, we entered the cordoned off US Army camps and the camp boss came forward
to show our working place - a makeshift shed turned into a kitchen and dining
hall. Our resting places were insulated portable containers with bunk beds. The
whirring choppers, military trucks with broadest tyres rolling on loose stone
chips, grim faced soldiers passing by, missile or scud alert sirens, bunkers
fortified with numerous sand bags, rippling effect of cannonade still remains
fresh on my mind .
kitchen, we used to get ready with 6 meals a day starting from midnight chow-
12 AM, early morning tea- 4 AM, Breakfast-6 AM, Brunch -10 AM, Lunch -1PM, and
dinner at 6 PM.It was here I experienced dry whip topping cream powders, egg
white powders, frozen and ready to serve pizzas and so many other ingredients
and techniques, unique to a common chef. The appreciable adaptability of the
soldiers to embrace any palate, whether it was Mexican, Chinese, mid- Eastern
or even Indian was noteworthy. Food was in abundance and hygiene and safety was
of the first order. Leftover food was simply discarded and strict Quality
Control officers were constantly on rounds.
couple of months passed by in uneasiness and I got used to the turmoil, heat and dust of the
barren lands. While the US and Allies were fighting the Operation Iraqi Freedom
outside the camps, the picture inside was one of rebuilding and construction-
Gym, Internet library, phone booths, postal department, army canteen , football
(American) ground for the benefit and welfare of the US soldiers and civilians like us who were mostly
concern cropped up next. We received our salaries in cash but were not able to
send home. The camp boss and others in authority requested the US Postal
department to come to our help. I decided to hold the huge amount of cash,
labeled and wrapped over by a thick Aluminum foil paper lest any scud hit us
and burnt everything. We had so much trust on the US military, that even if we
were killed inside the camp, our belongings and dead bodies would have arrived
to our dear ones. So, at least we could save our earned money, which was piling
up, in case of a fatal incoming air strike.
working with a diverse community, my tolerance and understanding over food and
culture broadened, the tenacity to work long hours increased, the ability to
take risks heightened. After all, “Fortune favours the brave”. I still
feel, because I missed my bus to catch the cruise liner, I could experience a
much better one in the war led zone.I am still lucky to be alive , to share the
experiences with our students. I learnt the ways to survive, the skills sets
required in emergencies. We could feel the caring attitude and respect, the
American commanders and chiefs bestowed on us through their rewards and awards
program. They kept our motivation high at all times.
wished to work, support and get exposed a little longer alongside US Armed
forces, my family in India was panic- stricken as media news were only flooded with terror attacks , mass killings
and kidnappings which brought distress and was unbearable for them. After
spending 15 months at the US base camp in Baghdad ,I safely returned back home.
My primary job search began through friends and I owe them so much. One job
offer interested me, which happened to be in one of the HM colleges in Delhi. I
was excited and successful , to clear the various stages to recruit a faculty and in 2005 I started teaching
F&B Service, Bakery and a few classes of Food Production. I was happy and
confident in classrooms as I had experienced both the areas of Service and
In 2008, as
part of my academic enrichment, through IGNOU, I was able to convert my 3 years
Diploma to a Bachelor of Science degree. By 2012, I was having a Masters degree
in Hotel Management. My job revolved around teaching in classes, attending and
organizing workshops, reviewing HM text books, preparing and evaluating
question papers and answer sheets for various Universities, delivering lectures
on media, judging culinary events, R & D with new or existing products
,writing articles , and many other
rigorous and stringent screening of selected chefs PAN India, USDA, Mumbai, in
2016 recommended 10 chefs, including me, to visit the USA for a 2 weeks
exposure in US Food and Agriculture under the Cochran Fellowship Training
Program. Joy and pride filled my heart. While in 2002, my US Visa got rejected,
the invite for the visit came from the US Government this time.
this International exposure during my tenure in academics, I had the
opportunity to visit Korea for the English Baking Camp and Saudi Arabia, as
part of the workforce during the GCC Summit organized by the King.
indeed exciting and remain memorable. I decided to file my nomination for the
ICF Chef Awards ,after being in the Hospitality trade since 1990. It took me
more than 3 weeks (2 hours per day) to compile and consolidate my candidature
for the category of “Pastry Chef of the year”. I was one of the winning faces
and glad I could hold the “Oscar of the Culinary Awards” There was no media
house left, who did not cover this event . The ICF Organizing committee, under
Chef Davinder Kumar’s leadership does definitely need a pat on the back for the
marvelous job they are doing for our fraternity.
conclude, I really don’t know, how much successful my journey has been but assuring you that I am
very much happy and really enjoy to be a part of the hospitality trade and
would consistently keep contributing for the growth , development and stability
of our community and our nation at large.
Chef Ranojit Kundu
HOD- Bakery &Pastry, Banarsidas Chandiwala IHM, New Delhi