Chef Manjit Gill: Culinary Artist, Explorer and Trailblazer
Chef Manjit Gill is known as much for his passionate vision as for his vast culinary accomplishments. Gill is Executive Chef of the ITC hotel chain, overseeing the culinary operations of over 100 restaurants throughout the country. He was one of the first chefs to popularize cooking shows in India. As a lifelong student of regional Indian cuisines and an advocate for their preservation, Gill been greatly influential on the Indian food landscape.
After spending so much time in the culinary arts, traveling the world and experiencing all types of foods, which is your favourite and why? How about your family member’s favourites?
After a long, enriching journey, all food cooked with sufficient culinary knowledge, meditative concentration, with good food thoughts and passion is always a favorite. Local and traditional food from all over the world are always well appreciated by me. My family loves me to cook for them but my wife being Indonesian is also a great cook and a big favourite at home.
You literally worked your way up to where you are today – what advice do you have for other young, aspiring chefs?
Be absolutely sure that being a chef is what your calling is!! Once convinced, indulge with love, hard work and dedication. Chart your goals and pursue them with unwavering passion. “Cook, eat and think”… and then you will be able to prepare food which is for the body, mind and soul.
It takes at least seven years of devotion to become a good chef. More like ten plus to become a great one. You must have a baseline knowledge of techniques and work for extremely demanding and exacting Chefs. Learning the details and trivia of a busy kitchen is not a kind process. It takes correction which is essentially criticism. Those who do not have the patience or the character to undergo the forging process will never be great professionals. And always remember to do a good job, as head chefs will remember you for that and network you on to better jobs.
Do you find that food changes or evolves over time, or do the “staple” Classic Indian dishes always stay about the same?
Food is evolutionary and keeps changing over time due to historical changes such as cultural exchanges which bring their own influences, new ingredients and cooking styles. The same has been the case with India, but due to its rich gastronomic knowledge it has withstood and maintained its sanctity. Change, as long as food maintains its textures, flavours and taste is fine. According to ancient books of wisdom, the Vedas, the food must conform to the balance of its six tastes.
What has been your proudest accomplishment to date?
I am still waiting! Am still learning and forever will remain an eternal apprentice.
When did you first know that you wanted to become a chef? If you were not a chef, what else would you be?
During my hotel management we were sent for industry exposure and it was there I realized that I had the aptitude to be a chef. Had I not been chef I would definitely have been in a profession which required the use of my hands.
When creating a “new” dish or expanding on classic Indian cuisine, where do you find the inspiration and influence from?
I am a traditionalist and enthusiastic to discover the dishes which inspire me to cook. Local grains, fresh produce of the season, knowledge of tradition and culture and skills have been my constant companions, although I must say that my understanding of gastronomic knowledge of India and the science of six tastes inspires me to create my dishes and spice my food.
Do any of your grandchildren show interest in following in your footsteps?
They are too young as of now, but of my four children, one of my daughters is a professional chef and the other two daughters and a son are great enthusiast cooks. Although I must say that my grandchildren do show glimpses of being good cooks.
Indian food continues to gain great popularity around the world as people are beginning to realize that there are more flavors and dimensions to this menu – why do you think it has taken so long for this to happen?
India as a country is today emerging on the global scene, and as is with other things, so is its food!!
Unfortunately Indian food has been hung between two ends of the pendulum, at one end is the Indian food of the perception of five basic curries…as advocated by many food experts and on the other, the same people who want to see foamed and spheroid versions of our food…..a concept so far from the reality of the varied and never ending repertoire of our
wonderful gastronomic heritage.
It is the diner which is still intrigued by this cuisine in spite of being pulled between two ends of the pendulum, primarily because he senses something more in this ancient, well established food culture.
In my opinion our cuisine has not even been unveiled, as yet it is misunderstood…it will be only once that they realize the philosophy behind the food [that] it shall be truly appreciated.
“For our cuisine to be appreciated to its entirety it has to be prepared and presented in purity.”
[The] sooner we realize, [the] better, and start understanding our cuisine beyond recipes, we can make our cuisine the most beloved cuisine of the world.