Dominic Chapman, a farewell to India

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th June 2014
The final installment in Dominic Chapman's travel blog for The Staff Canteen. This week Dominic reflects on what the journey has taught him as a Chef and as a person. He looks to the future to see how he will implement these lessons back in the kitchen. The food festival of Hyderabad has been a great success, educational, rewarding and fun. June is the end of summer and the start of the Monsoon season in India, the temperatures can reach 45c. Everyday has been incredibly hot in Hyderabad, temperatures have been hitting 40c-45c daily, the monsoon rains are late this year and between 12pm and 5pm the heat can be exhausting. Celebrating our people week (4) The beauty of cooking at a large hotel like the Park Hyatt, is that you work in fully air conditioned kitchens, stepping out onto the street is like entering a sauna. The kitchens are well ventilated, cool and powered by completely built-in induction ranges. The kitchen is the show piece of the restaurants and actually the hotel, the chefs are on stage from breakfast to dinner, they talk passionately, and at ease with their guests, about the food they produce. The lower floors of the Park Hyatt, Hyderabad, are a maze of stores, laundry rooms, kitchens, function areas and offices. Staff everywhere, busy scurrying about, making sure the hotel runs properly and the guests are receiving the  five-star treatment they expect. Every department has a manager and every manager has to sign a release form, the dry stores manager signs for dry stores, crockery manager signs for required crockery, glassware and all serving equipment, executive sous chef signs all daily orders, and so on. This can make the logistics of collecting a tin of tomatoes or extra serving bowl interesting. Planning is everything and a mobile phone to locate the right person, essential. My kitchen for 10 days I have been hugely impressed by the chefs and team at the Park Hyatt in Hyderabad, customer service is excellent in Asia and the experience of any guest is truly outstanding. They go a mile and beyond to ensure that any need is met and exceeds all expectations. The Hyderabad and Curry Life festival has been a huge learning curve for me, hugely challenging in places, with many last minute requests, media commitments, changes to the itinerary and tweaks of the menus, produce often arrives late or not at all, the quality of ingredients a constant issue. Acclimatisation and being very careful what I eat and drink, consuming the wrong food can take you out for days, (24hrs for me). These are some of the challenges for a British chef cooking in India, but I have been very lucky, I have had the experienced Curry Life team, to advise me and guide me through these challenges. The festival booked an impromptu cooking class and luncheon event, the guests were the wives of some of the city's most successful business leaders, I was told the class would be for 10 people, this quickly increased to 25, I cooked Piedmontese peppers, Coq au Vin and Cambridge burnt cream. Lunching ladies (2) These ladies came with a reputation, I was warned that lunch was the main agenda, I would have a short window to keep them interested in the cooking. We started with photographs and small talk, I then invited them to join me in the kitchen and we began cooking. They were brilliant, enthusiastic, helped me peel the tomatoes and asked plenty of questions. We cooked all three courses in an hour and it was a thoroughly enjoyable session. Cooking class was followed by a full ladies' lunch and lots of wine, the whole experience a hit and great fun. Another impromptu lunch was organised, this time no cooking class, but a different menu for the British high commissioner and guests. Chef Vamsi and the kitchen team have been a great support, the very kind hospitality they have shown me, has kept me at ease, and allowed me to enjoy a fantastic experience cooking in India. India and the life of a large hotel, is a very different world to my own, apart from the amount of departments and managers. I have no team of maintenance men, or laundry service, no one to repair a fridge or a night shift to make the bread at 3 am. Ramoji film city (2) The Hyatt is an impressive company, staff seem genuinely happy and proud of their work place, from the 17th June to 19th June, the Hyatt group, worldwide, celebrate their staff. During "Celebrating our People Week" Balloons appear all over the maze of corridors, there is a cake cutting ceremony, the staff canteen offers burgers, pasta, celebration Indian street food and sweets. The American flag is flown alongside the Indian flag, music is played, and in every small corner around the staff rooms and corridors, games are set up for top management and staff to enjoy. These games have been developed as a creative and innovative concept by the HR department, all employees are expected to take part. The aim is to show all staff in the Hyatt family, the same hospitality they show their guests. This is world wide staff motivation, reinforcing the company philosophy in an annual event. Very impressive stuff, and from what I've seen, 300 plus staff in this Hyatt, love it. Cooking school The Curry Life team, supported by Mr Amin Ali of the Red Fort in Soho, London, have once again organised a wonderful festival of food in India, all the team are passionate about food and have a real hunger for knowledge. It has been an inspired trip and I have learnt a huge amount, gained some delicious recipes and ideas.   Hyderabad is another incredible City of India, so much life and energy, once again the locals have inspired me, there is huge wealth in India, history and innovation, sitting alongside this wealth is a massive population, total poverty and  some serious social issues. I have found the people of India extremely welcoming, intelligent and articulate, they are opinionated about their food and love to share their recipes, every region has a different garam masala, curry sauce (gravy) for fish, meat or vegetables, different masala's, marinades for proper kebabs cooked in the tandoor, different naan or roti breads, vegetable, paneer and rice preparation. There is so much to choose from and so much to learn, I have just touched the surface of this magnificent country and I look forward to returning many more times in the future. Park Hyatt, Hyderabad India has been an incredible experience, I have loved this journey: cooking at the Hyatt, exploring the bazaars of Charminar, enjoying the luxury of the Falaknuma Palace and visiting Ramoji, film city, part of India's Bollywood productions. I highly recommend a visit to India for any hungry chef or restauranteur, as a chef, there are many comparisons to make between Britain and India, our world is a fascinating place and in food we can never stop learning. A huge thanks to the people of Hyderabad for your kind hospitality and generosity, you have a beautiful city. My attention now turns to my kitchen back home, In August, I open my first restaurant, with my name above the door, the Beehive at White Waltham in Berkshire. Life is going to get serious, I need to build a happy business, new team, create new menus and keep the locals coming through the door, a challenge I'm looking forward to. I hope you have enjoyed reading this journal, as much as I have enjoyed writing it, India is a wonderful country, not an easy country to travel in, but a country that makes you feel alive. Big love..

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th June 2014

Dominic Chapman, a farewell to India