Khushwant Singh

Manjit Singh Gill Corporate Executive Chef, ITC Hotels

Tara Singh’s pledge, of which he learnt in his later years, had a powerful impact on Manjit’s food habits and how he would view vegetarianism and non-vegetarianism.

‘While growing up, meat was never even considered as part of our every day diet. I never tasted meat, even though alcohol and meat were introduced once again in our household to entertain my brothers-in-law once my sisters got married,’ says Manjit.

Young Manjit was sent to the Government Senior Secondary School for Boys in R.K. Puram. An average student, always up to pranks, he, however, took a keen interest in science as well as arts. Physics was his favorite subject, and he boasts about his ability to apply science practically, which many can’t. ‘Even today, I can pass with distinction in mechanical and geometric drawing,’ boasts Manjit.

As a young boy Manjit was unaware that food was an academic subject too, but he vividly remembers seasoning his food often. It was while he was pursuing his Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) at Atma Ram Sanatan Dharam (ARSD) College at Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi that his father while researching on what profession his son could follow suggested hotel management, which he had read was a burgeoning career. ‘My dad would underline career articles in newspapers and hand them to me to read. He had read about hotel management in a newspaper after which he asked me to consider it,’ says Manjit.

Manjit, who was a top National Cadet Corp in school, wanted to join the army and even took a few entrance exams. However, his mother wasn’t keen for him to do that being the only son.

Hotel management was what Manjit was destined for and he soon found himself taking the joint entrance test for the National Council for Hotel Management and Catering Technology in the second year of his B.Sc. He cleared the entrance exam in 1971 and was enrolled in the prestigious Institute of Hotel Management, Catering & Nutrition, Pusa (IHM) in New Delhi. While there was joy at home, little did everyone realize how harrowing Manjit’s first day would be. For the first time ever, he would be encountering meat and eggs, something he had neither tasted nor touched up until now. In the core kitchen on the first day of the class, the students were asked to make mayonnaise, which nauseated Manjit. ‘Since I had never touched eggs, I wanted to throw up in the class while cracking them. I just couldn’t handle it,’ says Manjit. He vividly remembers walking up to the teacher and telling that he couldn’t do the task. ‘If you can’t then pack up your bags and head home,’ the teacher had replied, the answer shocking young Manjit. ‘I will do it’, said Manjit and soon devised a way to wriggle out of handling non-vegetarian items. In his group was his close friend Jatinder Uppal who agreed to Manjit’s formula that he (Uppal) would handle the non-vegetarian recipes while Manjit, the vegetarian. It wasn’t that Manjit had a taboo towards meat, but whenever he saw or touched anything non-vegetarian, it furthered his bent towards vegetarianism.

Manjit graduated from the institute in 1974 and during the course and various internships there blossomed in him a strong liking for working in the kitchen. It was a significant development in determining Manjit’s career. ‘I never fancied working at the front desk or any other department, except the kitchen.’

During campus recruitment, Manjit was selected by the Oberoi School of Hotel Management as a kitchen management trainee, a training that he would have to undergo for two years with a stipend of Rs. 350 per month. Since the first step in kitchen training begins from the butchery, Manjit soon found himself amongst butchers and mountains of lamb carcasses. ‘I just couldn’t fathom how the butchers and distributors could sip their tea as well as chop the meat. The very sight would make me sick, and I would step out for my tea break,’ says Manjit. ‘I think my vegetarian background was still bothering me, but I slowly started getting used to it and improving as I started touching and cooking meat.’

Manjit’s training began in the ‘western kitchen,’ which was the fashionable thing to do if one aspired to become an executive chef and the demand of the industry in the nineteen seventies. According to Manjit, a western kitchen that time was a very structured kitchen, and the learning process was very organized. During this phase, when he was just twenty-four, he got married to Salwant Kaur aka Sally, a Sikh girl of Indonesian origin.

Khushwant Singh
  • Agrima Goyal

    As cooking is mostly about chemical and physical changes, are Chef’s with science background at an advantage over others ?

    Agrima Goyal
    Class 11 (science stream)
    Intend to make a career in culinary science/arts