Shyam Sunder Longani, Executive Chef at Taj Exotica Resort and Spa
Chef Longani started his career, 24 years ago at Taj in 1995, in Bombay. He joined as a trainee chef and started working in banqueting and in the main kitchen, butchery as well as patisserie and bakery.
Following that he was posted to Tanjore, which was an Indian restaurant serving traditional cuisine of Thanjavur with live dance art performance every day.
Post that they opened Masala Art in Delhi then Masala Craft, Masala Bay and Masala Club. One was in Bangalore, two in Mumbai and one in Delhi. During that period, he conducted a few promotions for Taj, opened Bombay Brasserie in London and went to Germany for Culinary Olympics, as part of a team from Taj in 2008. From there he went to Cape Town, as an executive chef, served there for 8 years and opened another Bombay Brasserie. He came to Goa 2 years ago and has been at the Taj Exotica since.
He grew up in a closely knit family, where food was the main focus of all occasions, as a family tradition they made tandoori kebabs and naans at home and celebration dishes that required 7-8 ladies of the family cooking it to serve one grand meal.
Since then, he always had a curious mind. He believes, in order to be a chef you need to love eating and enjoy all kinds of food.
By final year of Catering College, he decided to be a chef as the food was getting interesting, the opportunities to travel and learn were endless and wines made it all, so fascinating
One of the biggest challenges is unsolicited food critics. He is fine with the well informed critics who are qualified chefs or embrace industry experience, but the ones who try to pull you down without veracity of culinary expertise.
He believes that chefs are artists and cooking a dish in a particular way is an expression of an artist. People may choose not to associate themselves and can dislike it; they have no right to disrespect it. He loves the people who are willing to experiment and see something new on their plates.
Key to his success is patience and persistence. He believes that one need to carry on despite challenges and eventually things will fall in place.
He says that the fundamental mistake most chefs do is to be in a hurry to become kitchen managers without going through the grind. It’s critical for a chef to acquire versatile culinary skills, hone them, believe in them and to do justice to it. They must strive to be better than themselves, no one else. There is so much happening worldwide to inspire and catalyze imaginations.
He compares the situation with guests in India with the guests at the time when he and his wife were in South Africa. He finds the guests in India are not as forgiving as the guests in the restaurant in Cape Town.
In Cape Town the ambience was beautiful, you have a fantastic glass of wine, fresh air in the open area and some amazing company. A few minor glitches such as less salt in the food or over cooked meat hardly bothers the guests as they are having a good time, overall
However the scenario in India is different. After a hectic day at work, the insane traffic, family issues, unfriendly weather etc. if the guest gets anything wrong on his plate, he is absolutely ruthless and all his anger and frustrations, that he cannot vent at work or home or the road, will be expressed on the plate.
Especially in India people have a lot of expectation from a plate of food. At most times it is the only relaxed indulgence for them.
In order to enhance the guest’s experience, the chef needs to engage more with his guests. That gives him a firsthand experience of the expectations his guests have from him. He has 3-4 chefs with him who will go on the floor and speak with the guests. The profession of a chef demands them to keep their energy levels high. Anyone who has been a chef for 2-3 years will only last if they have the energy, else they will quit.
Tips: One should come into this business only if they love it, willing to invest long hours to learn. It is not a 2 minute Maggie noodle; It’s an Osso Bucco that needs to simmer overnight and allow flavours to seep in. A chefs profession is a journey full of excitement, should you have the courage to take the road.
- You can’t be defeated, till you give up
- My cooking is my faith; it only gets stronger as I grow.