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Chef Christopher Koetke

Chef Christopher Koetke Vice President – Strategy & Industry Relations, Kendall College

Tuesday, October 10, 2017, 12:28 Hrs  [IST]

Chef Christopher Koetke, Vice President – Strategy and Industry Relations, Kendall College’ School of Culinary Arts is a known and very well respected authority in matters related to food. A Certified Executive Chef and a Certified Culinary Educator by American Culinary Federation (ACF), Chef Koetke is decorated with many awards for his contributions to the culinary trade and education. Chef Koetke was bestowed the prestigious Worldchefs Education Award in 2016 in recognition of his commitment to educating up-and-coming chefs. He served as the Chairman of the American Culinary Federation Foundation (ACFF) Accrediting Commission and continues to be its member. A member of the Education Committee of the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS), Chef Koetke holds the honorary membership of Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA). An admirer of Indian food, Chef Koetke spoke on varied topics related to food and chefs to P Krishna Kumar during his recent visit to Delhi to participate in IFCA national convention.

Q There is a whole clamour to ‘Go Local’ in the culinary industry today. How do you look at that trend sweeping in the culinary world?
It is, no doubt, the number one trend in the world today. I travel a lot and visit at least 20 countries in a year. Therefore, I get to see what is trending globally. The IFCA International Chefs Conference also captured the theme perfectly – Indigenous Knowledge, Sustainable Future. The local food has been losing relevance because of two reasons. One, of course, the local population’s losing interest in their food. When you eat the same food every day, you tend to forget how special the food is for you. The second and the prominent being the commercialisation and mass marketing of international brands. Even original American regional food is a victim of the latter. People forgot what their original regional cuisines are.

However, the younger breed of Chefs is trying to correct the course all over the world. They are trying to go back to their roots and recreate the food their mother and grandmother used to cook. In that journey they are able to reintroduce many dishes in a creative fashion, but at the same time without losing the foundation. I am seeing it playing out in Mexico, Ecuador, Honduras, and to certain extent in India as well. India being so large, so diverse and so rich in food tradition, there are so many young chefs who can embrace and play with and be creative about. In the US, the movement to rediscover our culinary roots is on for the last two decades. At Kendall, we focus a lot on local cuisines. Professionally, we should always value the food we grow up with and always realise how special they are.

Q How do you see culinary tourism helping the cause of local creativity and innovation and how established hotels are adopting local food?
I have always been a critic of hotels because they have been hesitant to embrace local food. Even, some hotels do not allow local chefs to express themselves in the kitchens. Indian hotels for some reasons have shown some inclination to showcase the local food.

Culinary tourism is of course a growing phenomenon. People want to taste local cuisines when they travel to a destination. No one would want to eat Pizza or Pasta, when in India. People are more adventurous and no more afraid to eat local food, thanks to internet and also to a large extent the influence of culinary media.

Q Since you mentioned about the diversity and rich culinary traditions of India, can you mention why India is not able to get in the rightful place as a culinary destination?
One of the countries which has done exceptionally well in exporting their food is Peru. The government has smartly promoted its food as a diplomatic tool and that paid rich dividends to them. India, too, has interesting products. To really push it, you need investment. The best way, therefore, is to use Chefs as diplomatic agents. In many countries Chefs are rockstars and great influencers. You can put the exporters behind them.

Unless you have strong ‘local’ impact, you cannot take it to the ‘global’ stage. The world today is inter-connected. There are so many things India can export. But, a healthy export economy works only if you have a healthy local. So the focus should be on developing local and celebrating it.

Q Globally, there is a lot of debate going on food sustainability. How do you look at it and how Kendall as part of your curriculum tries to impart the message of sustainability to aspiring chefs?
We at Kendall are focusing a lot on local for sure and also on sustainability. We wish we didn’t have to talk about sustainability, but we do. Globally, what is happening and predicted in terms of food sustainability on the longer term is absolutely scary. Predictions are that a billion people will be starving on earth because of the effects of global warming. We have to prepare students for that now to reduce the long term impact, so that they can become agents of change. In many countries, the general population looks up to chefs to usher in trends, bring in positive changes in consumer decisions as regards what to buy, shape public opinion about food, etc.

In India, the culture of vegetarianism is well entrenched. If you are following a heavily meat eating culture, the resources it takes to produce that are huge. Therefore, if people can reduce meat from their diet and move to plant based diet, that will help the planet in many ways. Chefs can talk about those things. It is also important that chefs start thinking how they use natural resources like water, energy, etc. wisely.

Q What is your take on mainstreaming the Street food?
Why street food getting popular around the world is because it is in street, the soul of the place lies. The food culture of the place is on its streets and not in fine dining restaurants. Therefore, it is important that you keep it authentic as far as possible. It is a big challenge. But, it is not always recreating street food exactly the same way. It is to me, taking ideas and playing with it and creating something interesting for others.

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