Early Childhood

  • I was born in a typical Punjabi family. The youngest of three siblings, my parents were working class citizens who taught us values and most importantly to have fun and an optimistic attitude towards life. I took those value systems to heart and sought fun.

  • Studies, they were just another chore to be done because you don't have other choices. I never displayed a remote liking to food or like some prodigy-chef started cooking at 5 or 6.

  • I was busy being harangued by my older brothers. Yes, I do remember helping my mother with the occasional jobs in the kitchen but then that was it.

Early Cooking

  • My mother was a school teacher who was away during lunchtime with her classes and students. Naturally, she cooked for us before she left for work.

  • Piping-hot food was like a fantasy, I dreamt of with the same intensity as many children my age then would dream of being, say, Superman. I began spending more and more time in the kitchen and before I realized it, it was my hobby.

  • To my surprise, I soon learnt my brothers would be happy letting me cook for them over time as they found a convenient way to get hot food during those wretched lunch hours. I didn't protest.

Eureka Moment

  • The Eureka Moment came when I was watching a TV program extolling (but needlessly) the benefits and the future of Hotel Management institutes. There was a time (you would relate to me if you're from my generation) where every youth wanted to be only a doctor or engineer or maybe a CA or a lawyer. That was it!

  • The next year, I applied for an all-India level entrance exam conducted by the National Council for Hotel Management. I was on another galaxy altogether when I found my name and roll number printed in the newspapers in a list of confirmed attendees taking the test. The selection process was successful and I got a place in IHM, Goa.

  • I had the flair and I had focus. I knew I wanted to become a chef right in the first year itself. Food production as a subject became a favourite rather than other subjects like hotel law or front office.

College Days

  • The three years of college were modestly successful. I won trophies and awards at cooking competitions, yet I never excelled as a student. A management program was the ultimate aspiration. And the best program? OCLD Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development, the finest training program conducted in Delhi by Oberoi Hotels.

  • Of course, the selection to this program was and is even now, extremely stressful and competitive by most standards. You didnt need 99% marks or a pedigree or a reference. It was purely something the selection committee knew whether you had it in you to succeed or not. The year I graduated from college, I could not get through the programme.

  • After a 55 minute long interview, I was told I did not make the cut.

My First Job

  • As badly as I wanted to be there, life definitely had a plan for me. The plan started with my first job at TGIF. I waited patiently all those months working as a drone in the basement kitchens, working in night shifts and chopping veggies.

  • The next pit stop was a hotel interview. The interviews were taking place in Shimla at The Cecil at 8PM the next day and it was my chance to be in a 5 star hotel so I didn't want to miss it. I left, forgetting in my excitement that I had to wear shoes for the interview.

  • At 7 am, I stood in front of the HR office where I was told the interviews were postponed. I told Major Chauhan that I would leave only on two conditions; either I get selected or rejected that day itself.

  • He asked me to wait and finally at 11.30 am he came to me, woke me up (I had fallen asleep on a warm couch in the office) and asked me if I was ready for the interview. I was. He agreed and soon enough I learnt I had gotten through.

Hotel JW Marriott

  • I moved to JW Marriott in Mumbai where I truly understood food as a business. It wasn't only about cooking but also about owning your tasks and seeking its fruition, re-innovating and taking a second look at first impressions.

  • I worked here for four years and under the tutelage of some the most phenomenal chefs, I gained a vision and a working style that cemented further growth and ambitions in me. A new sense of responsibility got into me when I fell in love and got married.

Foreign Shores

  • I left for foreign shores soon enough. London was the Mecca, the holy grail of chefs who specialized in Indian cuisine. I landed up a job with a (now) prestigious chain of restaurants. At first I served Indian food how we are accustomed to seeing and eating it in India. The locals just rejected it as not being flavourful and cool enough.

  • It took me about five months to sense what was required. The food that we crafted was nothing short of food porn. Mint Leaf quickly expanded into several locations. Amidst all this, my wife and I planned to have a child. Fearing my child would be deprived of cultural freedom and traditional Indian values, we decided to move back to India.