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Chef Manjit Singh Gill, Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels

Chef Manjit Singh Gill, Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels wears many leadership hats beyond the four walls of the hotel group. As President of Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA), Chef Gill was instrumental in getting Indian culinary traditions and the artists behind it, the Chefs, recognitions and laurels at the global forum of Chefs – WACS. P Krishna Kumar meets with Chef Gill to know how he spends a day in his life

Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 11:30 Hrs  [IST]

dayinlife_chef_manjit_singh_gill.jpgChef Gill was busy finalising his travel plans for the WACS Congress 2014 at Stavanger in Norway while I met him at office at Green Centre.  He straight away started talking about the challenges of participating in global fora, sending representatives to participate in various global competitions and more.  Due to lack of publicity to culinary events by media and other channels, it becomes difficult to find sponsors.  Most of the times, aspiring people spend money from their own pockets to represent the country in global events.  IFCA had a great deal of difficulty in sending a team for the prestigious Bocuse d’Or culinary contest for Asia-Pacific region because of lack of funds, he said. At the same time, he also praised the ITC management which encourages people like him to devote time to the common cause of the trade.

A Master Chef against all odds
Manjit Gill was born in a middle-class Sikh family as the youngest of five siblings. The family migrated to Delhi during The Partition. His father, an advocate by profession, had taken a vow while admitting his daughters to a Jain school, that the whole family will follow vegetarianism. Young Gill, after completing his B.Sc. from Delhi University, was advised by his father to pursue Hotel Management. He joined IHM Pusa. He faced problems initially while preparing non-vegetarian dishes. He got admission into the prestigious Oberoi School (OCLD) as a kitchen trainee. He specialised in Western cuisine. While he mastered cooking western and Indian cuisines and cooked food for the Heads of States and who’s who of the celebrity world in his illustrious career spanning almost 40 years, he himself remained a strict vegetarian all his life.

dayinlife_chef_manjit_singh_gill_1.jpgPassion for Indian culinary traditions
After completing his kitchen training at OCLD, Gill joined ITC Maurya as a chef in the Mediterranean kitchen.  But, he wanted to learn more about food production, management, and other kitchen operations. The trend then was to pursue a crash course from a reputed hospitality institution like Cornell, Culinary Institute of America among others. But this required money. So, Gill took leave and went to the Gulf to work and make money and raise funds for his further studies. He worked hard and within eight months he saved enough money. He went to Cornell  to pursue advance courses in food production, F&B Control and Food production Management. When he came back to India, he rejoined ITC Maurya as Sous Chef.  

Hard work and luck helped Chef Gill grow quickly in his career, he admits. “When an American chef had to leave the job for some reasons, I was told to take charge of the entire kitchen. The responsibilities of an Executive Chef were bestowed on me when there were many senior chefs around. I took about a week to reconcile with it.  But, I took up the challenge and successfully delivered results,” he reminisced.

dayinlife_chef_manjit_singh_gill_2.jpgChef Gill soon started engaging himself in  international forums. He realised that a Chef is required to know one’s own cuisine, before mastering other international cuisines.  His focus slowly shifted from Western cuisines to Indian cuisines. “I have more than 3,000 books in my collection on culture, cookery and more.  Recipe is the last thing to learn in cooking, one has to learn about the people, their culture, their local flora and fauna, and more. I am totally committed to rediscover Indian regional cuisines and encourage people to learn about our regional cuisines,” said Gill.

Chef Gill got married at a very young age. “I got engaged while I was in my final year and got married at 22 when I was a kitchen trainee at OCLD,” he said. He had to strongly convinve his boss to get three days off work from OCLD for his marriage. “My wife was from a Sikh family settled in Indonesia. She still holds an Indonesian passport.” Chef Gill has three daughters and a son. One of his daughters is a professional chef and currently a faculty member at Welcome School. “I am also a proud grandfather of five,” he said as he smiles.

dayinlife_chef_manjit_singh_gill_3.jpgA workaholic
Chef Gill’s day starts quite early around six in the morning.  He prefers to check his day’s mails and respond to important mails in the morning as he feels “fresh” and “completely focused”. He also starts early from his home to office after  breakfast. “For breakfast, I eat a bowl of curd with shakar sprinkled on the top so I can enjoy the various flavors and tastes. I also have a small portion of savoury Indian preparation by the side,” he explained. Once in office at around 8.30 am, he moves as per his calendar schedules.  While in office, Gill’s lunch comprise dal, vegetables and bread. Evenings are dedicated for the activities associated with IFCA or other fraternal bodies. Chef Gill’s Sundays are devoted to  his  family.

Future Plans
Chef Gill wants to devote his time and energy to the cause of the trade once he is relieved from his official responsibilities. “I have no plans to set up a restaurant or start a business.  I want to remain a mentor. I want to emulate a Bill Galiger or Paul Bocuse,” he said. He has only one advise to the young chefs, “There is lot to discover, that would come only through learning and practice. One should be honest while feeding people, otherwise you will be slow-poisoning the society. Vedic manuscripts stipulate four essentials for a cook – Good knowledge about the characteristics of the ingredients; deep involvement; high level of mental application; and good thoughts.”

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