Chef Davinder Kumar hails from Delhi, and he was the sole Indian representative in the International Cooking Festival held in Tokyo, Japan, in 1983. He has also authored six books and has even been conferred upon National Tourism Award for “Best Chef of India” by the Ministry of Tourism.
One of the finest chefs in the country, Chef Davinder Kumar believes in cooking from the heart, cooking for the soul, and infusing happiness in all that you cook. This legit master chef has many feathers in his hat and has a career worth applauding. He has been in the industry since 1971 and has received many awards like the Golden Hat Award and Delhi RATAN for excellence in culinary arts and his contribution to the industry. He is currently the President of The Indian Culinary Forum, which is recognizing the efforts and achievements of chefs through its Annual Chef Awards. Mishkaat Imrani was in a candid conversation with Chef Davinder Kumar regarding his journey and much more.
1. Tell us a little about yourself. Can you walk us through your journey of becoming a chef?
I graduated from Delhi University and started my career in 1972 with the Oberoi Group of Hotels. After completing a three-year diploma course in Kitchen Management, the Oberoi Group sponsored my course at the Lychee Technique de Hotelier in Paris, where I worked with selected chefs and specialized in French Cuisine. I have traveled extensively across the globe in a bid to master the intricacies of different cuisines. Over the years, I have received many awards for excellence in culinary arts and my contribution to the industry. These include the Golden Hat Award, Delhi RATAN, and more.
In 1985, I joined Hotel Le Meridien, New Delhi, as an Executive Chef and am currently working as the Hotel’s Vice President (F&B Production) & Executive Chef. I have been conferred upon National Tourism Award for “Best Chef of India” by the Ministry of Tourism.
2. What challenges did you have to face and what are the challenges do you face now?
The entire journey has been full of challenges, which also came with opportunities and rewards. When I joined this profession in 1971, our kitchens were run by international chefs. Taking over from them and managing the show has been a big challenge as well as a fantastic opportunity. Back then, this profession was not much recognized in society and industry, and it has been a tough task to establish this as a mainstream profession and bring glory to it. Learning skills from those master craftsmen was again a challenge as they were not willing to mentor us or share their skills.
Over the years, the chef’s role has evolved, especially in the post-COVID-19 era, it’s all about thinking differently, focusing on food safety and hygiene, sustainability and health, innovation, new concepts, promoting regional cuisines, and farm to fork concepts.
3. Indian Culinary Forum has been giving platform to the chefs to showcase their talent through its Annual Chef Awards, when and how did this begin?
Chefs Awards instituted in 2004 has evolved over the years. The focus remains on recognizing talent, skills, honouring and promoting the fraternity of chefs, more so when it comes to encouraging young talent, enticing youngsters to join this ever-evolving industry, and at the same time raising the overall standards of Culinary Arts in India, to bring it at par with the International standards.
We invite nominations from restaurants, hotels, and catering institutes across the hospitality segment. With predefined criteria in place, we first screen these applications and consider eligible participants for the competitions. We conduct trade tests for 11 categories of Master Chefs, under the able supervision of a jury of chefs. Only the candidates who score over 85 percent in the stringent rating system are considered for the awards.
4. How are they going to be judged?
The remaining categories include top awards of Golden Hat, Silver Hat, Lady Chef of the Year, Pastry Chef of the Year, Best Food Writer, and recognition for Lifetime Achievement. For these categories of awards, the Jury comprising eminent names from the industry, evaluate the credentials and performance of each nominee and take the final call to award the winning participants.
These awards are for a purpose, by chefs, for chefs, that ensures total transparency, stringent selection and evaluation criteria, and WACS certified jury. The organizing committee consists of highly experienced and eminent chefs and industry leaders. These are the only awards that have been sustained for over 18 years.
5. Can you share any of your cherished memory with Indian Culinary Forum?
Managing ICF in the capacity of a President for over 2 decades now I cherish many memories- (i) Raising the membership from 200 to 2000, introducing the Annual Chef Awards in 2004 which has been a success till date, the privilege of having shared dais with several Cabinet Ministers has been a unique memory besides launching ICF Chef–n–Child Foundation.
6. What is it about the Indian culinary culture you like the most?
Indian culinary culture is vast and diverse, and I feel there’s a long way to go even before we get deeper into an exploration mode. There’s still a lot that we can discover, and the findings will never cease to surprise us. A bit of spice here, some sugar there, oils, condiments, core ingredients, we are going to need centuries to unearth all of it. It’s all about creating happiness, surprises, and joy through innovation and experience.
7. Tell us a little about the food culture of your city.
Delhi is a culinary destination where you find diversity in culture and cuisine. It’s a hub of restaurants, food joints offering regional cuisines, international cuisines including famous Delhi cuisine. Street food in Delhi is quite popular. Any new international food outlet makes its debut in Delhi. Being India’s capital city, Delhi is the first choice for all international brands.
8. Tell us about the most challenging recipe you’ve ever cooked?
Spinach and Olive Stuffed Chicken, Masala Quinoa, Bellpepper Makhani.
9. Any Food anecdote you’d like to share with us?
Not one, this happens every time. Young chefs have loads of questions to ask me. Most of them see me as a Chef who specializes in French cuisine, and the first question they ask me is about something in French cuisine, which could be as simple as correctly pronouncing the name of a dish or a component, or something as complex as a classic French recipe, or my favourite French dish. I love it when they get totally zapped when I say that ‘give me my cup of chai and my favourite samosa and I am the happiest person on earth. Their jaws do drop, and I have been busting this myth for a long.
10. Chef Davinder Kumar, what would be your advice to new chefs?
Always follow the 5 senses while cooking: sound, smell, sight, touch & taste and go beyond that, with a bit of your sixth sense, that connects with the soul. After all, we eat more for our soul than for our stomach.
Quick Bites with Chef Davinder Kumar
1. The most unique dish you have tried: In continental, it was an oven-baked fish, Mediterranean style! The Indian would be the Ricotta spinach stuffed morels, pilaf, Chettinad gravy, and parmesan crisp.
2. Your favourite homegrown brands for buying fresh meat and veggies: La Carne, Foodhall, supermarkets, and local markets.
3. Indian chefs you look up to: My mother & Chef Sanjeev Kapoor.
4. Your cooking mantra: So, it has to be Simplicity, Freshness, Quality, Health & Happiness.
5. A cooking advice you always follow: Cook from your heart, cook for the soul. Also, infuse happiness in all that you cook.