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‘Simple food prepared with fresh local produce is a rage today’

Monday, March 20, 2017, 18:00 Hrs  [IST]

A connoisseur in the fine art of cooking to the gourmet’s delight, Chef Davinder Kumar is an accomplished culinary artist with four decades of professional standing. Currently Vice President (F&B) at Le Meridien New Delhi, Chef Kumar holds high level of leadership qualities having served Indian Culinary Forum (ICF) as it’s President for over 15 years. A National Tourism Award Winner, he has couple of acclaimed cook books to his credit. In an interaction with P Krishna Kumar, he spoke on a range of subjects.

Q What is your take on the umpteen number of food festivals that are cropping up across the country? How is it helping the cause of culinary art and therefore chefs?
Food festivals definitely are good platforms for chefs to showcase their talent especially before the masses. General public never get the opportunity to see their skills from such close quarters. They also get a chance to taste 5-star delicacies at a reasonable rate. It is another way of brand promotions. We do a lot of food related events within our hotels, but they are more of promotions rather than festivals.

What I feel is that these festivals should not end up as business or commercial events. They should stick to the basic idea of showcasing the culinary skills and brand promotions.

Q As the President of Culinary Association of India (CAI) it is a great achievement for you and your association as government has started considering culinarians for Padma awards. How pleased are you in this achievement?
We feel honoured and grateful to Government of India for accepting our request. This is a big step in elevating the image of the profession as well as motivating more youngsters to look at this profession as a rewarding career.

It all started with National Tourism Awards for excellence in culinary art a decade ago. Ministry of Tourism has been continuing that tradition even today. Then, we started pursuing our case for Padma Awards and after consistent follow up the government acceded our demand. It’s a great beginning and we hope the government continues with the same in coming years as well.

Q Yes, the Indian culinarians are of course getting the recognition and rewards at the highest level, but India is yet to emerge as a culinary destination on the global culinary tourism map. What is the reason for that?
There has been perceptible change in perceptions about Indian cuisines over the years. People outside India used to associate Indian food with few select recipes like Chicken Tikka, Butter Chicken, Curries, etc. for a long time. That myth has been broken long ago, thanks to the government and other agencies who have played a key role in promoting our range of regional cuisines through food festivals and other events.

Chefs have also played a major role. Lot of Indian chefs with entrepreneurial abilities have gone abroad and set up successful ventures thereby promoting authentic Indian cuisines. Indian cuisines required to be refined a lot. Although there have been efforts to refine it in the past, there is still a long way to go.

Food has never been part of our tourism related promotions. For culinary tourism to prosper, we have to make food promotions an important component of various events and festivals the government and other agencies do abroad. Culture, heritage and cuisines all go together and due attention needed to be paid to all three aspects.

Q There is a lot of talk about food safety and sustainable food practices these days. How far the industry has been able to walk the talk in this direction and what are the challenges?
There are so many steps involved in the farm to fork chain, and there are challenges at each stage. The infrastructure is quite weak in our country. Whether it is grains, cereals, vegetables, fruits, seafood, poultry, we are not comparable to the international standards. If Washington apples can travel so long and stay fresh, why our own apples get damaged so easily? As chefs we can give the best of treatment and skills in preparing them. But if the basic product is not good, we cannot help it. That leads to lot of wastage also.

Food Safety and Standards Act is a good initiative. It has brought about a mindset change in the industry. There is still confusion about so many things. But at the same time it is a commendable initiative. Unless there are strict rules, there will not be proper compliance. FSSA is an all encompassing one; therefore I hope that it will bring an end to inspector raj.

Q What, according to you, are the new food trends in the market place?
I see a rather visible shift towards simple cuisines produced with local produce. The dining habits are also moving towards more casual dining. There is also a growing preference for healthy dining with a touch of organic ingredients. Even when preparing menu, we, chefs, keep these aspects in mind and try to present more healthier and nutritious menu. Food prepared with fresh ingredients and presented in a simple way without too much presentation or garnishing is trending today.

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