Driven by passion towards his work and the quest to learn new things, Chef Montu Saini, executive chef to the President of India, has over 10 years of experience in the hospitality industry. Since 2015 he has been serving at the Rashtraprati Bhavan By Saloni Bhatia
Born in a small village in Haryana, Chef Saini holds five degrees and is currently pursuing a PhD in tourism studies. He has represented India on various international platforms and enhanced his knowledge on several other cuisines. He was offered an executive chef’s position at the Ashok Group of Hotels by Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC) where he had been working for over eight years before being appointed as the executive chef to the President of India. Due to his vast knowledge of the hospitality industry, his area of expertise extends to operations, kitchen management, client servicing and quality assurance. He has also won two awards including Federation of Hotel & Restaurant Association of India (FHRAI) ‘Young Hotel Chef’ and Indian Culinary Forum (ICF) ‘Master Chef’.
Chef Saini worked shortly with Pizza Hut and the Oberoi Group. Sharing about job experiences, he says, “The period might have been short, but it was a good experience. When I got the offer from ITDC, I was hesitant to leave the Oberoi Group, but I followed my father’s advice to join the Ashok Group as a kitchen executive trainee. My international exposure began in 2009 in Madrid, Spain when former President Pratibha Patil hosted a return reception and I was asked to prepare the dinner. We prepared South Indian delicacies and the food was served in a traditional way on banana leaves.”
“Since then, I started representing India in culinary competitions and also presented Indian cuisines worldwide. The international exposure enhanced my knowledge of varied cuisines. I understood the details in culinary that only come through experience. My inspiration has always been our own Indian cuisine, but I strongly feel that Indians are not adventurous when it comes to trying different cuisines,” he adds.
The Club des Chefs des Chefs
This year India will host The Club des Chefs des Chefs (CCC), the world’s most exclusive gastronomic society. This club includes all country chefs who are serving to the highest office, i.e., to the President of the country. Since then, the Chefs des Chefs have come together in a different country every year, where they explore the local gastronomy and participate in various culinary activities that are designed to promote the profession. A press conference was held recently to announce India as the host of CCC this year.
Elaborating on the initiative, Chef Saini explains, “ This is the first time an Indian president is going to host the CCC since their inception in 1977. The day I joined Rashtrapati Bhavan, I wrote a letter to Gilles Bragard inviting him to our country. CCC is a non profit organisation comprising of chefs who serve the to the highest office. It’s a great platform for all chefs to meet once every year in a different country. We would be hosting them in October this year. There will also be a charity dinner at the Imperial attended by over 200 delegates and five presidential chefs from the globe would be preparing this dinner. I will also be in touch with the Ministry of Tourism on how we can promote our country on this platform. This is a great opportunity for the chefs to come together and discuss their passion on such a platform. I look forward to introducing them to the rich cultural heritage of our country. I thank the President to give us the chance to appreciate the work done by the chefs”
Sipping his favourite one expresso shot coffee, Chef Saini spoke about his experience as the President’s chef. He comments, “Serving at the Rashtrapati Bhavan is a different ball game altogether. I used to handle a multi-cuisine restaurant at the Ashok Hotel, but when the head of states visit the Rashtrapati Bhavan, I am supposed to showcase the best Indian cuisine and culture. The role of a chef goes beyond cooking and extends to hotel operations like handling the supply chain management and keeping the finances in check As a chef, I also have to do my share of research in order to introduce new dishes to the menu. But at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, I don’t have to be in check with the finances or introduce menus. I can’t apologise to the guest if they do not like my dish because it is not a restaurant. My guests are delegates from all around the world. You have to serve the best dishes to the guests of the country, so there is no room for error.”
“The reason I became a chef is because I was never good in speaking English. But once I entered the industry, I put my heart and soul into it. The biggest delegation I handled was the Indo-Africa Summit conducted last year. I have also served to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several other state delegates at the Hyderabad House. I am thankful to all the opportunities that came my way and I look forward to sharing my knowledge with my juniors,” he shares.