Healthy feedback has helped me progress: Chef Davinder Kumar

Chef Davinder Kumar, President, Indian Culinary Forum and Vice President – F&B (Production), Le Meridien New Delhi shares the story behind his choice of career and the recipe for his success

New Delhi: A connoisseur in the art of cooking, a perfectionist to the core, a strict disciplinarian, and a true leader, Chef Davinder Kumar – Chef DK for close friends, colleagues & associates – has played a key role in bringing the chef’s profession and the artists behind it recognition and rewards.

A winner of several awards and accolades including a national tourism award, he has played a vital role in promoting Indian cuisine globally.

In a candid interview, Chef Davinder Kumar, President, Indian Culinary Forum and Vice President – F&B (Production), Le Meridien New Delhi shares the story behind his choice of career and the recipe for his success.

How did you first become interested in cooking, and what inspired you to pursue a career as a chef?

I didn’t have a great flair for cooking to begin with. But I think destiny has things in store for you and can spring surprises out of the blue. After graduating at a time when medicine, engineering, and law were the most sought-after careers, I got exposure to the hospitality industry through a friend. My very first boss, and the Director of Training, Virender Oberoi, persuaded me to take it up as a career.

Being in training is when the dormant culinary skills that I had imbibed in myself from my mother and my granny came to the surface.

I have always been open-minded, receptive to new thoughts, and possess the aptitude to pick up new skills, which I think pushed me further on this path.

Can you share some highlights from your culinary journey and the experiences that have had the most significant impact on your career?

The first aha moment arrived when I was sponsored by the Oberoi Hotel to undergo intensive training in French cuisine. I also had the opportunity to officiate as an Executive Chef at the Lanka Oberoi.

Participating in the International Cooking Festival in Japan and winning a Gold Award, being the Executive Chef of Intercontinental during the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM – a forum of 120 countries) meet, authoring many cookery books, being the President of Indian Culinary Forum – ICF, to create a platform to hone culinary skills and bring respect to the profession, nurturing this platform, winning the National Tourism Award, from the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, travelling to many parts of the world to promote Indian cuisine, were all high points. But there’s more to come.

What cuisines or culinary traditions have had the most influence on your cooking style, and how have you incorporated them into your own creations?

My very first exposure to cuisines was French cuisine which still has the most influence on me, and the basics of which I adapt to any cuisine.

I like the nuances of French cuisine, which has influenced my overall style. Including those styles and techniques and incorporating them in other cuisines has created a base and differentiated my style. This has been a process of self-discovery, and creating my unique style, which is also my USP.

How do you stay creative and innovative in the kitchen, especially after so many years of cooking?

I try to stay fresh and keep the inner child alive in me. I have that childlike curiosity all the time, and I am ever willing to learn and keep pace with the ever-evolving culinary world.

I stay abreast of the trends and invest a lot of time in research, the power of which I think shouldn’t be undermined. I enjoy reading and am hungry to assimilate and experiment, which I think have been key to freshness, growth and creativity.

What are the key qualities or skills that you believe every aspiring chef should possess to succeed in the industry?

One has to be consistent, however tiring it might get. Then we have innovation, and creativity, the skills that any culinary professional needs to put on the top. Passion, positivity, perseverance, and of course, patience are the cornerstones.

Resilience to be prepared for any kind of googlies that the profession might throw at you and the agility to deal with them. All these begin with flexibility, adaptability, and the readiness to be a lifelong learner.

What current food trends or movements do you find particularly intriguing or influential in the culinary world today?

With convenience having been the buzzword for a few decades now, and people getting more and more aware of labels, the focus now is on health, and healthy foods, which I think is the biggest trend.

Taking it to the next level we have sustainability, zero-waste cooking, farm-to-fork, seasonal, locavorism, forest foods, and foraged foods. I have seen a lot of food festivals being held in these areas. Technology has been dominating the culinary arena, which is again a winner.

Can you share some of your favourite ingredients, kitchen tools, or gadgets that you couldn’t imagine cooking without?

The right knife for the right purpose comes foremost for me. That makes life a lot easier. Then come the right pots and pans. I cannot do without my peppermint which happens to be my favourite kitchen tool. With ingredients fresh herbs, olive oil, and turmeric for Indian cuisine, ace the game.

How do you handle criticism and feedback, and what role has constructive criticism played in your culinary growth?

The ones who criticise you constructively are the ones who help you grow and excel. Positivity acceptance—that’s how I take this feedback. Healthy feedback is a great tool and has helped me progress.  Every bit of criticism has been a learning opportunity. Bring them on, I’d say.

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