THE MASTER OF ALL CHEFS
Manjit Singh Gill Corporate Executive Chef, ITC Hotels
The Journey at ITC
Brimming with a newfound confidence, Manjit rejoined ITC after one year, and rest, as they say, is history.
The French chef, Roger Moncourt had quit ITC by the time Manjit returned from Cornell, which meant that Maurya was sans an executive chef. Even though ITC hired an Indo-American chef to fill this highest post, the interim period gave Manjit enough opportunity to prove his mettle. Those years, the two most significant events for all hotels were Christmas and New Year celebrations. As it happened, in 1980, the ITC was without an executive chef to plan and execute the menu for these back-to-back events. Even though a senior chef was officiating as the big boss, his limited training and leadership, since he came from the ranks, was a handicap when delivering for the big stage.
‘Months passed, and the senior officiating chef just wouldn’t take a decision on the menu,’ claims Manjit. The reason for deferring on the menu was he was awaiting a new executive chef to take charge. This lack of decision-making led to a panic situation as the calendar ticked to the 15th of December, just days away from the twin celebrations.
‘Where is the menu?’ asked the general manager of Manjit during a review meeting for the preparation. ‘The chef hasn’t prepared one yet,’ responded Manjit truthfully. Sensing the gravity of the situation the GM asked him to go ahead and take charge to create the menu. Manjit grabbed the opportunity and put his heart and soul into it.
‘The entire staff supported me, but there was more drama awaiting us,’ laughs Manjit recalling the adversity that gave another fillip to his career. According to him, the cold kitchen starts operations many days before an event since the display of food is their responsibility. However, the chef of the cold kitchen thinking that the hotel was not celebrating the two events had applied for leave. Undeterred by this new development, Manjit took on the new challenge, and his team put up an extraordinary show for both the events. ‘This incident not only gave me a new confidence but it also helped ITC realize that here was a chap who could handle any challenge,’ says Manjit.
Time went by and a new executive chef from the US joined Maurya. A few months later the ITC Maurya staff went on a strike, and the management again looked to Manjit’s abilities to handle the situation. ‘We managed the hotel but with great difficulty.’
The strike over, one fine morning Manjit was summoned for an early meeting. A pleasant shock awaited him. He was informed that the executive chef had resigned and the management had decided to give Manjit the overall responsibility of the food business of the hotel. To put it simply, what it meant was that the hotel’s five restaurants, the coffee shop, the disco, the bars, outdoor catering, the banquets and room service of 350 rooms were under his charge and the onus would be on him how he carved their journey hereon.
‘I was a sous chef at that time, and there were people senior to me. I didn’t know how to react because the responsibility I had been entrusted with was huge.’
In 1980, Maurya boasted of the most sought after restaurants in Delhi, which included the fine dining North Western Frontier cuisine restaurant, Bukhara; the beautiful rooftop Asian cuisine restaurant, Bali Hi; and the famous and popular Indian restaurant, Mayur. Then there was a coffee shop Amrapali; the (in)famous discotheque, Ghungroo; and two very exclusive bars, Madira.