Chef Ramaswamy Selvaraj, was recently conferred upon, the title of Chef of the year by the ministry of tourism. Explocity speaks to the obviously overjoyed Chef Selvaraju who tells us about how he began his culinary journey, how he mastered his craft and his best and worst moments in the kitchen
Chef Ramasamy Selvaraju, Executive Chef of Vivanta by Taj Bangalore is no stranger to awards and accolades. He has been honoured with the International Black Box Culinary Award Australia for pre-plated fine dining twice already and more recently, the president of India presented him with the award of Chef of the Year, by the Ministry of Tourism. Chef Selvaraju is humble in accepting the laurels that he has received but asserts that satisfying diners (which include Pope John Paul II, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan and former president of the United States Bill Clinton) is what makes him happy. In conversation with Chef Selvaraju:
When and how did cooking start as a profession?
My mother was my inspiration. I developed an interest in cooking because of her. I won my first medal in 1984 at the Chennai Catering College Food Competition. After that, in 1985 I won at the Chennai IHM. That’s when I realised that I actually could look at this as a career.
How has the culinary journey been for you?
It has been a wonderful process. I have learned so much from everyone that I worked with. I had the opportunity to work with Chef Cyrus Evalia from the London Hilton. He worked at Rendezvous at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai. I learnt the nuances of cooking from him. My work ensured that I travelled a lot and I worked with Chefs in the United States, Oman, Muscat, Dubai, Lebanon, Morocco, Germany and Italy. The exposure and experience did wonders to my understanding of taste, quantities and presentation.
What does winning the President’s Award mean to you? What edge did you have over the other chefs?
It was an extremely proud moment for me. There were many dignitaries present and I was in the company of some exceptional chefs. It’s not easy winning an award when there are so many talented people working the same industry. So when the award was conferred upon me, it felt great. As for the edge, I don’t think I had any. But I did match up to the judges’ expectations. They had a number of criteria like innovation, hygiene, health content, cooking process (like slow cooking) and innovation. I use natural juice and herbs and maybe some olive oil or red wine, rather than fatty foods for finishing. I guess I scored highly in their view.
What do you think of the dynamics of the food culture in Bangalore?
Bangaloreans know what they are eating. They appreciate, give suggestions and feedback. They are full of energy when it comes to giving their views and they don’t hold back when they wish to encourage you or appreciate you. They know their food. A lot of them know a lot about cooking.
Can you tell us about your worst memories in the kitchen?
I wouldn’t call it a bad memory in the kitchen, but there is an incident that is memorable for the wrong reasons. It was December 26, 2004 and I was the Executive Chef in the Taj Exotica – Bentota. That was the day when the Tsunami hit. We were located close to the sea and the hotel was packed with guests. I remember seeing a huge wave coming towards us, our personnel ushering the guests to safety, water, running to save our lives, chaos. I’m glad to be safe!
What advice would you give to an aspiring chef?
(Smiles and says) I think I could fit into a mentor’s role quite well. I work with a lot of young chefs and they have been regularly winning medals, prizes and recognition. My advice to them and any young chef would be that they should follow the recipe without deviation. Use the right ingredients; don’t use alternatives; don’t take any short-cuts. Follow procedure and guidelines and they will be fine.
If one were to criticize your food (say, Marco Pierre White), how would you react?
I am open to constructive criticism. I will first absorb his feedback and then analyse if he is making sense and if his argument is right. If he is, then I will definitely admit it and work to satisfy him. If I disagree with him, I will put forth my points and educate him politely.