Khushwant Singh

Manjit Singh Gill Corporate Executive Chef, ITC Hotels

He was one of the founders of the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations and presently is its president. Its prime role is to share knowledge and mentoring. In 2003, after a great effort, he was instrumental in getting India membership to the World Association of Chefs and Societies (WACS), which has more than one hundred countries as its members. It was a massive achievement, as it was a stepping-stone toward providing chefs with international recognition and exposure and honing their skills. It also helped raise the bar of food and beverages in India.

His work at WACS has not gone unnoticed, and today Manjit Gill sits as the chairman of the prestigious Culinary Culture and Heritage Committee, which has 103 member countries. He was the first Indian chef to be awarded with the honorary membership of the WACS. He is the force behind the National Chefs Conference, a biennial event. The conference has assumed an international standing, and the attempt is to bring diaspora chefs into its fold for a larger exchange.

Chef Manjit Gill has authored three books and lent his expertise to many food writers including Eat Wisely and Well (Penguin); Secrets of Indian Gastronomy (in-house publication of IHM released on its fiftieth anniversary); and Indian Spa Cooking (Roli Books).

Royal Vega

The vegetarian bug still stubborn, Manjit recently launched an exclusive chain of vegetarian restaurants in new ITC hotels. Called the ‘Royal Vega’ it is a signature vegetarian restaurant from the royal menus of India. That tinda (Indian round gourd) and bhindi (okra) cost almost rupees two thousand per platter apart, its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is one of the first initiatives to put together an exclusively vegetarian menu. After a lot of hard work of many years, this initiative was launched in ITC Grand Chola, Chennai, and has Manjit’s imprint all over. A fact that can be gauged from the description the ITC website offers: ‘Featuring a fine collection of signature vegetarian dishes from across India, Royal Vega showcases the classical grandeur of the vegetarian repertoire of the sub-continent and beyond… presents a delightful offering of delectable vegetarian food from the magnificent Royal Kitchens of India. Pan Indian in nature, the cuisine explores the blend of condiments, vegetables, and lentils’.

How the menu was set is a story for another day, but vegetarians surely have something to look forward while visiting restaurants, which usually is not the case.

‘It is something I am very proud of,’ says Manjit sounding ecstatic, as if his journey was finally making sense with the success of this venture.

He also has the proud privilege of researching and recreating food from the royal palace and times of the great Sikh ruler, Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He created it for guests during the unveiling of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s statue at Barakhamba Road, New Delhi.

Soon, it is time to conclude our interview, but the interview has stirred my appetite. Not vegetarian of course. We head towards Bukhara where he asks me to try the Sikandari Naan.

Orders did, I ask him my final question: Does the concept ‘secret recipe’ exist?

‘No. There is no such thing as a secret recipe. Any chef, who claims that it’s his secret recipe, has yet not evolved. These are the people who think that a recipe is supreme whereas it is just a guideline.’

According to Manjit great cooking creates recipes, but recipes don’t produce great food. He feels that there are fours essentials, which must be adhered to while cooking: knowledge about the characteristics of the ingredients; an emotional connect with the food; concentration; and finally having good thoughts when cooking.

Sat Sri Akal, I say and leave this Sikh icon that is busy blessing the staff reaching out to him.

For them he is not just a boss, he is a philosophy, one that needs to be understood, imbibed and followed.

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