Wednesday, June 19, 2024

The Chef Theatre: Sharing the Future Vision of the Culinary World

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At India Food Forum, The Western India Culinary Forum, The Western India Culinary Association presented the “Chefs Theatre,” which seamlessly united culinary virtuoso for profound discussions on prevailing industry trends, challenges, and pioneering innovations.

The session provided a unique outlook into the HoReCa industry, with chefs showcasing diverse perspectives and celebrating achievements that are shaping the future of the Indian culinary landscape.

Chef Suprio Bose, Founder, The Nomad Foodie, and the session’s anchor, initiated the discussion on evolving food trends. Acknowledging the shift from traditional career aspirations, he highlighted the dynamic changes in the culinary world driven by AI, ChatGPT, and modern technology.

“As everything evolves, so does the realm of food. In a world rapidly shaped by AI, ChatGPT, and modern technology, we are witnessing a dynamic and aggressive shift in culinary dynamics.”

The focus of the session aimed to explore topics such as the transition from hyper-local to progressive local, the influence of AI, and the impact of e-commerce on culinary businesses. Bose kicked off the conversation by asking panelists about the most significant technological change they observe in the culinary business daily. He asked: What is the most significant technological change you are observing in the culinary business day after day?

Picking up the thread, Chef Harsh Kedia, Founder & CEO, A Diabetic Chef, highlighted the rising trend of packaging fresh food for prolonged shelf life, noting the adoption of technologies like Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP) to preserve freshness without chemical preservatives. He emphasized the increasing consumer demand for quick access to diverse culinary options, citing examples like ordering Chole Bhature from Delhi in Mumbai through platforms like Zomato. This seamless integration of technology and convenience reflects the desire for instant access to a variety of fresh and preserved food items. “The convergence of consumer preferences for both immediacy and extended shelf life is shaping the contemporary landscape of the food industry.”

Sudhir Pai, F&B Consultant – Pai & Associates, emphasized the transformative impact of technology on the culinary landscape, highlighting its role in enhancing speed, reducing wastages, and lowering skill requirements. He discussed various kitchen advancements, including automatic kittles, combiovens, cutting machines, and map technology for mithai.

Chef Pai acknowledged a shift in focus towards processed foods, such as Millet chips, unique mayonnaises, ready-to-cook gravies, and innovative namkeens with fusion flavors. He identified packaging and cloud kitchens as rapidly growing segments, signaling a significant shift in the industry towards technology-driven convenience and processed foods.

“In the rapidly evolving food industry, there is an increasing focus on technology-driven solutions for longer shelf life, expansion to new geographical Locations, and rapid scaling. Investors are expressing interest in opening multiple establishments before even launching one,” noted Pai.

Chef Vijayendra Pawaskar, VP – Culinary & Operations, Touch of Class, echoed the evolving role of technology in the culinary world, noting its current share at around 20% in the market alongside traditional cooking methods. He shared involvement in creating an e-commerce portal for the HoReCa segment, saying: “I am currently actively involved in creating an e-commerce portal catering to hotels and restaurants, inspired by successful models like Zepto and blinkit. The aim is to revolutionize the supply chain for the HoReCa segment, emphasizing the pivotal role of technology in ensuring timely and efficient delivery of ingredients.”

Pawaskar commended technological advancements in food processing, citing examples like coconut chutney with a 12-month shelf life and convenient alternatives like potato flakes for mashed potatoes.

Despite significant strides, he emphasized the gap in complete integration of technology, urging chefs to harness it effectively for optimal outcomes. His comprehensive perspective highlighted both the transformative potential and the importance of skillful implementation of technology in the culinary domain.

Chef Ashay Desai,Culinary Director – Catering Collective, a unit of K Hospitality, highlighted the transformative impact of technology in the Indian culinary landscape. Reflecting on the past 30 years, he traced the technological revolution sparked by McDonald’s debut in India, introducing pre-processed frozen ingredients and streamlined processes.

Desai acknowledged the industry’s shift towards the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) model and emphasized the dual nature of technology, offering both advantages and challenges. “In my view, technology plays a crucial role in standardization, but it comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Proper training is essential to adapt to this technological culture. Take McDonald’s or Domino’s, for instance; their strong training culture ensures that even a part-timer can make a pizza seamlessly. However, whether it’s processed gravies or any other element, mishandling can compromise the final result,” noted Desai.

Desai said that despite significant progress in the last few decades, there’s still a considerable distance to cover in fully embracing and optimizing technological advancements in the culinary field, especially in processed food.

Chef Niilesh Llimaye, Chef Culinaire, All Bout Cooking, discussed the evolution of the culinary landscape, divided into pre-Covid and post-Covid phases. In the pre-Covid era, making mayonnaise was a meticulous process, and the industry faced challenges like manpower shortages. In the post-Covid period, the culinary scene transformed significantly, with an increased reliance on processed foods due to manpower shortages. Convenience became a priority, and diverse culinary choices emerged influenced by trends and social media.

“As a chef, my reflection extends to the future and how technology will shape our profession. Despite the changes, our fundamental goal remains serving good food and creating awareness. I recall introducing Khao Suey in the mid-90’s, a dish unfamiliar to many then. Over the years, culinary landscapes have evolved with the availability of ingredients from around the world, ” says Niilesh.

Chef Ritesh Tulsian, Co-founder & Chef, Gourmelange Hospitality, expressed enthusiasm for technology, emphasizing its time-saving and efficiency benefits. He cited examples like induction with sensors and a McDonald’s drive-through with a webcam, showcasing the transformative impact of technology. Tulsian advocated for embracing technology while stressing optimal usage.

He highlighted the cost-cutting benefits of AI in areas like logo development and photography. Reflecting on his experience with a hydroponic farm, he marveled at its ability to grow lettuce in unconventional spaces, underlining the unique possibilities that technology brings to the culinary world. “I couldn’t help but marvel at the astonishing ability to grow lettuce in unconventional spaces, completely eliminating the need for washing. The joy of plucking fresh lettuce right in front of our guests and instantly turning it into a salad is truly something special. It underscores the incredible possibilities that technology brings to the culinary world, making each experience unique and innovative.”

The session’s anchor, chef Supriyo Bose, shared a personal anecdote about lettuce sourcing challenges 15-16 years ago, highlighting the substantial progress in technology and practices over the years.

Chef Rohit Gujral, Corporate Chef, Mr. Truk, highlighted the pivotal role of technology in mayo and packaged foods production, emphasizing the need for proper technology and preservatives to meet QSR demands. He noted the transformative impact of technology on supply chain management, moving from traditional distributors to modern platforms like Porter.

Gujral reflected on his culinary journey, witnessing substantial growth and efficiency improvements due to technology, managing a significant increase in mayo production. “The changes are striking. Back then, I managed a mere 10 liters of olive oil, and now, I oversee the daily production of a whopping 10 tonnes of mayo. The surge in production capacity is a testament to the significant role technology has played in streamlining our processes and enhancing efficiency. It’s truly been an incredible journey of growth and adaptation in the ever-evolving culinary landscape.”

Post-Covid, he observed heightened customer awareness about ingredients, with inquiries about fat percentages, types of oils, and preservatives, indicating a shift towards healthier options. Gujral acknowledged technology’s increasing role in streamlining processes, maintaining quality, and managing food costs across restaurants and manufacturing facilities.

Chef Ishijyot Surri, Executive Chef, SJI Hospitality and Foods, noted the unique impact of technology, including ChatGPT and AI, on the restaurant business. He observed changes in customer interactions, appreciating how technology like ChatGPT and AI allows clients to inquire about dish ingredients.

Chef Surri highlighted the utility of technology in analyzing market trends and sales data, providing chefs valuable insights for menu planning. He also touched on the influence of Instagram on dining, noting a trend where clients prioritize photos for social media over enjoying the meal. “I’ve observed an interesting influence of Instagram on the dining experience. Nowadays, there’s a trend where some clients prioritize taking photos of their food for social media over actually enjoying the meal. It’s fascinating to see how this shift in behavior has made Instagram-worthy dishes a significant aspect of the modern restaurant experience.”

Chef Gujral shared an anecdote about the challenge of recreating Instagram-worthy dishes at scale, emphasizing the difficulty when owners show pictures without understanding the ingredients or process. “I had a similar experience last year when I was working as a corporate chef for a momo’s company. Someone came up to me, showing a picture from a blogger chef, asking me to recreate it. They said, ‘Look at this; you have to make it.’ Now, the challenge was, can they understand the ingredients and the process needed to make 2000 pieces of momos every day? The blogger may have made just six pieces for fun. I have to scale that up.” He further adds, “The difficulty arises when owners or founders see something on Instagram and say, ‘Make this for us.’ They show a picture, but can they tell me what’s inside? There might be a flower on top, but what’s inside is unknown. So, it becomes a big task for many chefs.”

Chef Vivek Kadam, Executive Pastry Chef, Grand Hyatt, highlighted the crucial role of technology in ensuring quality, consistency, and training. During the pandemic, he utilized technology to train individuals from non-hotel industries, successfully launching 18 restaurants within six to seven months. “I used technology to train and launched 18 operational restaurants within six to seven months, serving around 25,000 meals in

Mumbai. Faced challenges during the pandemic, especially in delivering meals to migrant workers. In a startup-like scenario, technology played a vital role. I spent one and a half months at home during the initial pandemic phase, created a Facebook page, sold vegetable chicken, did the cutting myself, and personally handled deliveries.”

Chef Kadam pointed to the success of his biryani outlet in Vasai, Mumbai, where technology facilitated quick adaptation to cooking by individuals from diverse industries. He mentioned how technology has enabled chefs to focus on the commercial aspect of their work, evolving from traditional notions of prolonged hours working in hotels.

Chef Crystal Mendonca, Executive Chef, Hotel Kohinoor Continental, described how in the post-Covid era, he adapted to reduced manpower by fostering multi-skilled individuals in the kitchen. Facing budget constraints, he embraced technology, using pre-packaged ingredients to break away from culinary stereotypes and broaden the team’s skill sets. The focus shifted from specialized departments to a more versatile approach, emphasizing the need for adaptability in the changing culinary landscape.

“In the pre-Covid landscape, hotels hotels maintained clearly defined departments for various cuisines such as South Indian, Indian, Tandoor, and more. Each department had its dedicated team. However, in the post-Covid reality, while the focus on quality and consistency remained, there is a significant shift in manpower dynamics.”

Chef Guntas Sethi Bhasin, Brand Ambassador, More Than Food Campaign by the European Union, delved into the evolving role of technology, particularly Instagram, in the culinary and marketing sphere. “I want to stress the crucial role of technology in marketing and advocate for its intelligent application. Instagram has become my primary platform for communication, serving as the modern equivalent of a newspaper for businesses and individuals alike. Drawing from my experience working with the European Union, I want to highlight the platform’s effectiveness in spreading messages, making it an invaluable tool for marketing, education, and collaboration.”

She also raised concerns about the authenticity of chefs in the digital age, emphasizing the post-Covid shift in culinary education towards platforms like Instagram and YouTube. The session’s anchor, Chef Bose, encouraged further discussion on adapting to Instagram and exploring other platforms beyond it.

Before delving into those details, Chef Bose redirected the focus, inviting Pradeep Rao, Co-Founder and CEO, Evolved Food, to extend a tasting for all participants. He then handed the floor over to Rao for further details on the tasting experience.

Rao discussed the journey of his plant-based meat company and presented a product crafted from coconut, soy, and rice protein. Two dishes from Trippy Goat Cafe showcased the versatility of the product, highlighting its potential in diverse cuisines. Emphasizing nutrition, health, wellness, and sustainability, Rao urged restaurants to be experimental. “Given the evolving preferences of customers, with nutritionists and wellness consultants playing a crucial role in guiding choices, I believe it’s vital for restaurants to be experimental and all-inclusive.”

Bose found this concept intriguing and expressed the desire to hear a chef’s perspective on plant-based proteins. He proposed discussing how chefs perceive and incorporate these proteins into their products while tasting. Bose invited a brief exploration of this topic during the ongoing tasting session. Responding to anchor Bose’s call to initiate a discussion on the topic of plant-based cuisine, Chef Niilesh Llimaye acknowledged that India is unique in having a significant vegetarian community, often driven by religious considerations rather than personal choice.

Chef Tulsian expressed skepticism about the plantbased protein trend, questioning the need for alternatives for hardcore non-vegetarians. He raised concerns about the ultra-processed nature of plant-based products, emphasizing the importance of retaining basic characteristics rather than imitating meat entirely.

Tulsian also highlighted the psychological aspect of red meat consumption and questioned the purpose of creating plantbased proteins when meat eaters may not be interested and vegetarians may not see the need for such alternatives.

Chef Surri highlighted the changing perspective on vegetarianism, emphasizing the global context. He noted that as people become more well-traveled, especially internationally, the term “vegan” is more widely accepted than “vegetarian.” Chef Surri remarked on the increased ease of travel for Indians today compared to five years ago when vegetarian families found it challenging to travel comfortably without their own food. He attributed this shift to the evolution brought about by plant-based proteins.

Surri’s comments prompted chef Bose, the session’s anchor to talk of his venture which, he said was the result of discovering abundant vegetarian options during his travels. “My aim was to assist fellow Indian travelers in navigating global vegetarian options. I documented my experiences, conducting interviews with chefs such as Joan Roca and the Adrià brothers to curate vegetarian tasting menus.”

Addressing the ban on lab-made 3D meat in Italy, Bose clarified that plant-based protein aims to sustainably manage the human-animal ratio on Earth, potentially reducing animal slaughter. He likened this to the historical evolution of cooking mediums, viewing the rise of plant-based proteins as a part of culinary progression.

Chef Kedia provided a nuanced perspective on plant-based meat, considering his experience with diabetes. He discussed challenges related to health conditions limiting red meat consumption and expressed concerns about the high fat content in alternatives like egg replacements, emphasizing the need for a balanced perspective. Kedia called for expert insights into the pros and cons, particularly regarding artificial meats and genetically modified vegetables.

Chef Sudhir Pai emphasized the subjective nature of food choices, asserting that there is no inherent right or wrong. He highlighted the importance of acknowledging diverse preferences based on genetics, culture, and lifestyle. Pai discussed the contemporary challenges of fast-paced lives, evolving palates, and a desire for intense flavors, emphasizing the need for balance between traditional diets and modern food choices. He concluded that in a world of processed foods, evolving tastes, and global influences, there is no absolute right or wrong in food choices.

Chef Guntas Sethi Bhasin discussed the increasing consumer awareness of healthier and greener food options. She emphasized the importance of labels and consumer perception, acknowledging the challenge of navigating marketing strategies.

Bhasin expressed her commitment to seeking healthier alternatives and noted the influence of terms like “healthy” and “protein” in shaping consumer choices. She highlighted the emotional connection people have with food, especially during travel, as they seek to experience the essence of a location through its culinary offerings. Bhasin observed a growing trend of individuals looking for greener products with fewer preservatives, despite the traditional focus on homemade meals in the larger

Indian audience.

Before wrapping up the session, chef Bose, the anchor, addressed the audience and asked if anyone had a question for any of the panelists. A member of the audience inquired: “Sir, we are manufacturers who have introduced specific products. I won’t go into the details of the products, but I’m curious about how, as experienced chefs like yourselves, we can connect with you. Are there platforms where we can present and have you taste our products? As entrepreneurs, we are putting in a lot of effort, and we are eager for insights from seasoned professionals like you.”

Chef Sudhir Pai, also a member of the Western India Chefs Association explained how to connect with chefs. As a WICA-affiliated member, Pai is a part of a group of 350 chefs who organize a yearly conference in October, collaborating with colleges to share knowledge with budding chefs. They conduct chefs’ tables, often on weekdays, providing opportunities for brands to showcase their products.

Pai suggested reaching out through the WICA website, where information about events and collaborations is available. He emphasized the importance of engaging chefs with knowledge-sharing and entertainment, especially during events like culinary competitions.

Pai highlighted the power of chefs as decision-makers in the industry and encouraged understanding their dedicated and emotional approach to their work. He said that connecting with chefs through the right channels, such as WICA, offers a platform to influence their choices and present products effectively.

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