Monday, July 22, 2024

Creating delicacies with a fusion of science & passion

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In an exclusive conversation with The Pioneer, the renowned chef Mahesh Padala, takes us through how the culinary happened to him, leading the Sheraton Hyderabad’s Indian Culinary Treasure Hunt, cooking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and much more.

Amartya Smaran

Chef Mahesh Padala, a panel member of MasterChef Telugu, is all cooked up to lead the Sheraton Hyderabad’s Indian Culinary Treasure Hunt.The initiative’s aim is to shed light on home cooks across India, who give their best to create unique and original dishes. Their idea behind the initiative is to bring the comfort and warmth that home-cooked food provides to millions of Indians back into the kitchen.

Holding no bars, over eight days, Chefs Mahesh Padala and Sanjay Rawat along with popular Food Critic Sankalp Vishnu and hotelier Pranay Verdia, will shortlist eight home cooks, who will be churning out dishes from eight different cuisines under one roof at Indian Culinary Treasure.

The Pioneer grabbed the opportunity to interview Chef Mahesh Padala, ahead of this one-of-a-kind initiative, where the Best Executive Chef for Marriot Global 2018, discussed his childhood, cooking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and his vision for the future.

When someone is super passionate about what they do, we tend to assume that they’ve always had some inclination towards it since their childhood. That’s not the case with the Chef. He says, “The reality is that I never cooked food when I was a kid. Joining college was an accident. My dad asked me to join hotel management. I joined because back in 2000 wearing a suit and tie excited me and it was a big deal.” He continues, “After a few months, they said you have to cook food and I said I am not going to cook food.

I stopped going to college for a good five to six months. In December of 2000, I went into training and that’s when I’ve seen a professional kitchen for the first time at ITC Vizag. I started liking the environment and I topped the college. When I start liking something, I go all the way. Then I started working for the same hotel for two years and moved to Taj.”

Coming back to Indian Culinary Treasure, the idea is really intriguing because no matter where we go, we crave homemade food. Well! We can eat fast food or restaurant food for maybe five days, but ultimately we all seek refuge in the comfort of homemade food. So, what’s the selection criterion, and what is the point of such an initiative?

“We’re that one culture in the world that bring that love and essence to food.” says the top chef, adding, “When it comes to the selection criterion is pretty straightforward. We look at the thought process behind cooking a particular dish, the taste of the dish, and finally the presentation. We’re going to judge people based on these three aspects and select eight home cooks. There are two elements to cooking— pressure, and pleasure. If you don’t give that love and emotion, you won’t be able to give the best. When you observe our mothers at home, they cook with such ease. There’s always a difference between someone who cooks with a recipe and a person who cooks a dish with love. That’s what we want to bring to the table with Indian Culinary Treasure.”

With over twenty years of experience as a chef, Mahesh Padala says that to date, a whole lot of travelers who land at hotels ask for a dish that entails the lip-smacking taste of homemade food. “Especially in India, there’s not a single person who doesn’t like homemade food. I’ve been dealing with guests for the last twenty years. Travelers don’t usually ask for butter chicken, they ask for a homestyle chicken curry. That’s the frequent request that we get. There’s doubt about missing out on that essence and people would’ve never thought about something like Indian Culinary Treasure.”

The Masterchef has had the honor of preparing food for many stalwarts of the country including Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Can you imagine the pressure that he must be going through? Sharing his wonderful yet shaky experience of cooking for the top man in the country, Chef Mahesh shares, “I cooked for Mr. Modi when he had come for International Fleet Review at Vizag in 2014. I cooked for two days and on the first day, I made ‘chai’ and ‘pakora’ for our Prime Minister.

On the second day, we prepared a complete ‘Kashmiri Thali’. My hands were shivering on the first day because I was surrounded by gunmen and several other people. (haha)”
Giving his two cents to the younger chefs, the forerunner of Indian Culinary Treasure avers, “Stay focused, disciplined, and passionate.

These three words are very important to succeed as a chef. You have to be focused and then comes discipline because with discipline comes consistency. One day you might be super enthusiastic and the other day you might be. You can’t say I’ll cook well only when my mood is right. It doesn’t work like that. I always say that cooking is beyond the ocean. There’s so much that you can play around with it. You chicken with turmeric, in the same way, you can make chicken with chilly powder. You can create thousands of recipes by being creative.”

Pondering over the vision he set for the future, the star chef enthuses, “My future goal is to create more talent. I want to encourage future generations. I was very clear on Indian Culinary Treasure to bring college students to understand the power of love and cooking.”
Ending the interview on an inspiring note, the passionate cook concludes, “My vision is to generate more chefs and give them a great platform to perform.

I’m here because someone had given me the platform to showcase my talent and I want to do the same with the younger generations.Today, around 50 chefs who trained under me are handling hotels as executive chefs and 500 people report to me. I am extremely proud of that. I want to leverage this and create a platform for others.”

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