By Sourish Bhattacharyya
LAST NIGHT, the first batch of the Olive Culinary Academy (OCA) stunned the packed-to-capacity gathering at Food & Nightlife’s Delhi’s Most Delicious 2013 Awards at Pullman Gurgaon Central Park by producing a three-course meal in 14 minutes and 45 seconds — their allotted time was 15 minutes. Food and travel writer Rupali Dean tasted the smoked gazpacho and could only speak in superlatives, and Food & Nightlife Editor Sumit Goyal just couldn’t stop having the tiramisu.
What we were seeing on the stage — the audience consisted of the doyens of the food and hospitality industry, starting with K.B. Kachru, Anil Bhandari, Alok Shivpuri, Arvind Saraswat, Manjit Gill, Davinder Kumar, Sudhir Sibal, Arun Chopra and Shaju Zachariah, so it was indeed a moment of revelation — was the birth of a new generation of chefs: sassy, savvy, good at their work, and just loving it. Their backgrounds were as diverse as India, which made the group just the kind of melting pot that would produce the country’s first genuinely international cuisine experience. It is the generation that can talk about dining at Eleven Madison Park (the New York Flatiron district restaurant ranked No. 5 in San Pellegrino’s World Best 50 Restaurants in 2013) with the same ease as they can comment on their mother’s rajma-chawal.
The brainchild of Olive Bar & Kitchen’s founder AD Singh and his star chef, Sabyasachi ‘Saby’ Gorai, OCA is a brilliant initiative to nurture batches of young chefs who are, to quote HR jargon, ‘industry ready’ and little powerhouses of talent. After the show, I took AD to one corner and told him he should be prepared to lose his entire first batch to an industry famished for talent. He did seem worried at the thought, but he was excited by the idea of producing a new generation of chefs whom any company in the world (especially his own!) would love to employ. And as was to be expected of him, he was already planning how to retain these talented people by reinventing the role of the chef. What about making them brand ambassadors, for instance?
I could think of Eesha Singh, whose repartee left the normally loquacious ‘sadhak chhaap chef’ and TV presenter Saransh Goila, easily fitting into the role. When she was explaining the dishes being prepared by her fellow students, Eesha combined knowledge, good humour and a radiant smile. Yet, she has the most un-cheflike background — an English Literature graduate from Gargi College, Delhi University, she went to study contemporary dance at the Broadway Dance Center and the Pushing Progress Company, New York, learnt bartending while there and then worked with Ashley Lobo’s Danceworx Academy for three years before becoming a student all over again.
|Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai (third from left) and the young faculty of the OCA|
The other stories are equally inspiring. Padmaja Kumari Jadeja, whose father is the cook of the family, decided to become a chef after studying English Literature at Indraprastha College for Women and Fashion Marketing at the Pearl Academy of Fashion. Arshhia Chawla, who notched up 85 per cent in Humanities from Apeejay School, Saket, and then studied the Law for a year, chose to be a chef and not a lawyer. Sahil Arora from Faridabad went against the wishes of his elders, gave up his Business Administration studies midway and abandoned the safety net of his family business to become a chef. Mansi Chauhan, a Maths whiz, is pursuing a B.Com. along with her dream of becoming a head chef, in five years, of a successful fine-dining restaurant. Ritu Saigal is already preparing to open her own London restaurant in 2014. Divija Singh from Mayo has a law degree and a Master’s in Social Welfare from Jamia Millia Islamia. How many industry veterans you know come with such qualifications?
In this inspiring young group, Sofia Leyzarova is a name that stands out. Originally from Minsk, Belarus, Sofia grew up in a small town in New Jersey dominated by Italian and Puerto Rican immigrants, studied accounting and psychology at Rutgers, visited Delhi as an exchange students at St Stephen’s College in 2009, and was working for three years in New York City till she decided to join the OCA in the hope of eventually opening a Russian restaurant in Delhi. With so much diversity, I can see the kitchens of tomorrow taking on a completely new look. Each time I meet Saby’s protégés Dhruv Oberoi and Megha Kohli (a product of The Oberoi’s STEP programme, she has joined OCA after a stint at Olive Beach), I can’t stop wondering about the cultural shift that is taking place in our stand-alone restaurants. India’s culinary future is in very safe hands.