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  • Writer's pictureNiilesh Llimaye

Know your Chef? Interview with Chef Nilesh Limaye

(This blog is from my interview with Ekta Bhargava of Better Kitchen Trade magazine )

a typical Chefs life in the kitchen
  • What is your first impression when you hear the word ‘Kitchen'?

Its like that’s my Arena. Kitchen is where my Heart is. Whenever we go to a restaurant or hotel and if the Chef is our friend we always prefer to tell him lets sit in your kitchen office For Chai..

  • What is the importance of the kitchen in your day-to-day life?

It keeps us going. It maintains our balance. Its my worship abode.

  • What do you have to say on the gradual development of the concept of working kitchen when you started your career and now?

I was fortunate to be part of the team when Kitchens in Hotels had already been organised. It had a structure and a culture. The environment was very harmonious. We learnt from our peers, colleagues. We had ragging when the freshers joined and everybody would stop work when a good looking sales and marketing girl or a hostess would come inside to speak to Chef. Today the Kitchens have become the Show-centre. They are no longer backstage but now in the forefront. I am glad I was witness to this change.

  • What is the most challenging job in the kitchen in your opinion?

For me it was bringing the supplies from the stores and keeping tab of our section inventory. Their was a point when we would guard our mis-en-place of Chopped Parsley, Chopped Garlic, Spinach Puree like it was Gold so precious. Because if our neighbouring section would flick it when we got busy then the task of doing this three things again was dreadful too.For any chef will know what goes in chopping garlic, parsley and how difficult it is to do spinach puree with the quantity what we are talking is nothing less than 100 kgs.

  • How do you maintain hygiene and cleanliness in the Kitchen?

People know about hand sanitisers now but in Kitchens we have been using hand sanitisers since 1994. Kitchen hygiene and maintaining that standard is no easy job. Segregation of waste, Keeping the floors dry, Ensuring the walls are grit free, no stains.

Our gas ranges have no rust stains, fridges are cleaned always, fridge door gaskets have to be free of food particles. Kitchens have to be pest free and above all the Kitchens have to be airy, good ventilation, no oil deposits in the ventilation hoods,. They should have provision for Fire exit and a service door.

  • Tell us about the safety features of your kitchen.

All kitchens should be No Accident prone areas. Their should be at least 2.5’ space between the kitchen range and work table. The floors are non skid. Kitchen. Team members should wear clean, white uniform, Should wear safety shoes and always adhere to SOP’s while using gadgets and electrical equipments. Their should be gas leak detection sensors as well as sprinklers. Chefs should be accustomed to using fire equipments and they should never panic in case of emergency.

  • Which method of cooking do you pursue in your kitchen, traditional or modern?    With  the advent of technology Kitchens have also evolved. With the modern perception of commercial aspects for any business Modernising the kitchen has become the prime objective. We cannot work in commercial setups using traditional methods so our kitchens are mostly modern. However certain aspects of menu designing do allow using or keeping the   traditional methods of cooking active. It can be in Slow Cooking methods,  Charcoal pits, stone grinders or wood fire ovens. However they all have adopted modern technology keeping the ethnicity same.

  • Do you have a penchant for using new technology gadgets in your kitchen? Have you added any lately?                                                                                                                                                  Yes their is something uniqueness in using modern gadgets. They bring in. Ore complexity to the overall dish taste and enhances the work culture. We are getting used to using the sous vide and a portable vacuum machine. Cold press juicers are another upbeat gadget to enhance the natural juices in the sauces.

  • Describe the role of the trained staff in your kitchen? Do you face any specific challenges in hiring the desired staff?

Trained kitchen members are a boon in the Kitchen. The staff turnover is everywhere from small restaurants to big organisations. Their is constantly churning of quality staff every sector of Hospitality. People learn in one place , once they feel they have learnt they go and join another place. So it is a constant endeavour to keep looking for quality staff and sometimes we get a raw member then we have to mould him in our culture and then some stay -some leave.  The best way to hiring a new team member is to  determiner their attitude more than the skill so they can stay longer.

  • What are the different sources of inspiration that you look upto to design the menu of the restaurant and buffet? How frequently do you change the same?

For me inspiration is drawn from the artists and musicians. My favourite is RD Burman, Kishore Kumar and Raj Kapoor. Their adaptability to create such memorable pieces from various musical genres is amazing. Artists in calligraphy, painting, actors, Writers bring a different dimension to their creativity. A dimension we cannot see but we can feel. It soothes us or our soul. So it is fascinating. Cooking and Being a Chef are 2 different things. Cooking is scientific, it has a recipe, standards. If we use all that in a proper proportion we can have a very good tasting dish.

Even a novice can cook and a normal person can enjoy his food.

A Chef on the other hand is another level. I draw inspiration from the culture of the place. It can be a village or a cosmopolitan city. The culture of that area defines its taste and sophistication. Deriving inspiration is not a one time task. It is a continuous  journey. Its your unconscious consciousness. The Menu defines the Chefs work and his lifespan. It tells a story.

  • What are the essential health and lifestyle trends prevailing now-a-days that you like to incorporate in the kitchen?

Somehow I don't understand the contradiction in our policies.  We have such abundance of fresh, natural and indigenous commodities. However Govt. Policies are such that they provide subsidies to the processed food units. Because of which processed food industries are  mushrooming allover. But we are all aware of the harmful effects processed foods do to our health. So then invariably natural ingredients are getting expensive for normal people  and everyone is engulfed in a vicious circle of consuming processed foods, disturbing our health, going to Dr. Then realising natural ingredients were better but by then we get too dependent on medicines.

  • More and more people are becoming calorie conscious. Keeping the statement in mind, what are the dessert trends followed in the restaurants?

Current trends I see is mostly using low sugar or sugar free desserts. I also usually add a fruit based desserts on the menu which do not require any processed juicer or added sugars in the recipe. I also see using diet conscious variations like Gluten free, Flourless, vegan desserts.

Especially if we can have guilt free desserts why not?

  • Ingredients play an important role in food preparation. Do you prefer using local ingredients in your preparations? How do you select the vendors?     

Mostly local ingredients and prefer to using local vendors also. However their are challenges in consistency of the quality product. Its necessary to get the best quality and consistently getting it.

In India somehow we are lagging way behind in terms of definition of quality and its standardisation. Their is a abundance of quality ranges as per the pricing and pricing is affected by Diesel and Petrol prices.. This increase in pricing has also deteriorated the quality of our commodities.The price rise hasn’t benefited us as and as an end consumer that we get a better quality or value for money.

We are getting the same grade of ingredient yet that price has affected our quality and our pricing in the menu.

Eg; A certain 4 star hotel was charging Rs.4000/night  Now due to inflation the same hotel is charging Rs.6000. However price rise is not due to up gradation of the hotel or some more vale additions. It is purely because the costs , rents have gone up. In such a scenario it is become a world of survival not creation.

  • Which are the upcoming cuisines in focus?

We all have been speaking about Regional cuisines and Sustainability over almost 5 years. Today it is taking shape in a very small way. At least in respective cities their are people who are taking the advantage of their own regional food and exploring avenues. Dubai , London, Singapore cities  boasts of some entrepreneur showcasing Regional Indian delicacies. Yet the mass still prefers the time and tested dishes when they go out to eat. Hence experimentation is not happening as much it should be at least in India with different cuisines and ingredients.It will be time which I am hopeful when Chefs try creating their own mother cuisine to Avante Garde preparations.

  • Do you agree that there is a need to change the curriculum of culinary courses in India?

Yes and No. It is necessary to teach the traditional dishes correctly and properly because this traditional dishes form the backbone of the cuisines. If we get the basics right we can develop our own school of thought but to reach that level one has to be passionate, involved and breathe their passion.

The modern dishes or formats are derivatives of this classical dishes. We need a revolution of thoughts on questioning Why? We cannot make the difference in the dish or how can we achieve more perfection or upgrade a dish. Just as Music, Dance has traditional schools of thought so does cooking and culinary arts. However we need a modern world Escoffier now.

Today’s Culinary schools market only perception but the onus is on the faculty to actually represent what they believe. They should be knowledgeable to share their knowledge with equally interested , passionate students.

  • What are your views on framing the curriculum designed especially for Indian food?

We haven’t explored our ancient books and history which has documented facts about the ingredients those were relevant in that era. Our ancient cuisine is as classical as our music and dance and food has always been our one major source for our lifestyle.

Be it the classics of our dance and Music those Gurus definitely had a disciplined source of their food with which they gained that energy and expertise. If the  Kamasutra existed then the aphrodisiac food always existed.  If great wars were fought what was the scope of that food and the source that provided the energy, wisdom to strategise those wars, build miraculous temples, Forts.

To develop this curriculum we have to form groups of Historians, chefs, Thinkers .. Have multiple brain storming sessions on the documents that have food topics, Debate on this topics and ideate a Indian cuisine backdrop.

As an ancient civilisation we have been very progressive in incorporating various ingredients, cooking techniques and developed our own cuisine. But we haven’t actually studied the roots of this evolution.

For that we need Sanskrit scholars who will translate the upanishads and vedas to modern day relevance. If we can give the world YOGA and Ayurveda, then we can be sure that the nuances of KHADYASRUSHTI is also available.

  • India is extremely diversified where as its food culture is concerned. What according to you is the scope of popularising Indian regional cuisines across the globe?

One way to popularise Indian Cuisine is to  participate in World Culinary competitions with the intention to win medals. For that we have to first evolve our traditional dishes and bring it on par with the required International competition level.

Our restaurants have to be exquisite, sophisticated and really  on par with the todays top restaurants. For that the one word is Avante Garde.

For this we first need to be united as Chefs in India. Do lot of trials in actual cooking, How many Executive Chefs actually cook? The top hotels Chefs only do Managament. They don’t cook so we need Chefs who are strong in cooking, in taste.

A musician has to compose the main music, a popular  dancer has to dance to be known,A famous singer has to sing whatever it may take caused that’s what people pay for. A Chef cannot delegate to create new dishes. One has to  Practise and create a  template for college students across the world in Indian food and its complexity.

Its always Time to Cook and share our learnings

Sharing kitchen experiences

being awarded as the most recognised chef

Sometimes on the path we get recognised and this helps us to know we are on the right track.

being part of the event is a big event in chefs life

and their are moments where we have to stay grounded come that may

photo op with youngsters

Its always our fraternity that stays with us in all walks of life

Grandeur Hotel Du Monaco

so you are never alone even in the midst of grandeur

My first dive into the sea

hence balancing life and meeting people in the journey helps you to unwind

cold board

where you get to treat yourself with some fancy foods

nachos and cheese

where someone else cooks for you

and a kebab platter

serves you their delicasies

after a hard days work

finally its all about food and dishes and #ChefLife

curry time

vada pao time

Finally I love Food, I Cook Food , It gets obvious after a while.

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