A specialist in Mediterranean and Arabic cuisine, Chef Anshuman Bali, executive sous chef, Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai believes in constantly reinventing to toss up new culinary experiences for guests and maintaining a work-life balance even in the kitchen By Rituparna Chatterjee
During the course of his three year graduation programme at the Institute of Hotel Management Catering & Nutrition, Lucknow (IHM Lucknow), Chef Anshuman Bali, now the executive sous chef of Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai, discovered his flair for cooking when he started receiving words of appreciation from his college faculty members. “At IHM Lucknow, I got trained in different aspects of hotel management from front office to housekeeping. But it was during the practical sessions at the kitchen that I realised my flair for cooking as I received words of appreciation from my faculty. It was then that I decided to make this the focus for my future growth,” reminisces Chef Bali, a specialist in Mediterranean and Arabic cuisine. After graduating from IHM Lucknow in 1999, Chef Bali went on to pursue the Taj Management Training Programme (TMTP) in Operations/ Food Production. Under this programme, each year Taj fortifies its operations functions with raw talent from the best hotel and graduate schools in the country to mould aspiring hotel professionals into future business managers. This programme was the beginning of the aspiring chef’s culinary journey. Post the programme completion, he went on to work with the Taj Palace New Delhi and the Taj Mahal New Delhi as a management trainee and chef de partie. Following this, he had his first experience of working abroad with expat chefs during his stint at Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai. “It was a new experience for me during my two years there. When I went abroad, my focus was to learn new styles of cooking, and experience a bigger world of cuisine. But I didn’t notice much of a difference, for the products and cuisines that you get in India is almost at par with what is available abroad. The only difference is that the hotels abroad aren’t as stringent with costs as they are in India,” explains the chef. Soon after, Chef Bali returned to India and joined The Imperial New Delhi in 2005, followed by a short stint at the Radisson Blu Hotel Noida and seven years at The Oberoi, New Delhi before joining Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai in 2014.
Throughout his decade old journey, he has encountered several obstructions ranging from creative blocks to operational challenges. “When you are at the learning stage, there are no challenges as there is no dearth of knowledge which you can amass from people. But after a certain point, you reach stagnancy and have an urge to learn more. Furthermore, there are days when you black out, sit in one corner and think, and suddenly an idea strikes in your mind, you do Google research and start building on that. Apart from these you sometimes also face operational challenges like unavailability of ingredients, talent drain, etc,” rues Chef Bali, adding that, team mentoring is an equally challenging task in the kitchen. “You have to do what you preach, you need to walk the talk. The more you ensure that your staff has a work-life balance, the more they will be happy with their work. We also need to be hands on with them during times of crisis and that is how you gain respect,” he believes.
Cuisines of the future
Today, Indians are avid travellers well-acquainted with the food available globally. Hence, when they return after their travels to the country, they expect a familiar taste that they have experienced during their travels. “This proves challenging for chefs as they try to match up to their guests’ expectations but at the same time enables them to get their skills up to the mark,” avers Chef Bali, adding that, chefs need to constantly experiment and innovate to offer new culinary experiences to their guests. “A recent trend is the increasing use of local ingredients and the growing popularity of fusion food. For instance, if you are preparing a risotto with khichdi, it creates a ‘wow’ factor among guests,” mentions Chef Bali.
Over the years, many innovations have taken place in the foodscape of India including the introduction of fusion and molecular cuisines. However, today regional cuisine seems to be coming into the limelight. “Garhwali cuisine and cuisines from the hilly regions of India are coming to the forefront. Furthermore, organic food is gaining momentum and chefs are promoting it. Once we have tapped into deep-rooted regional cuisine, there could be a fusion between north Indian and regional cuisine as well. For instance, Garhwali cuisine doesn’t have biryani, but preparing biryani in that style will give newness to the cuisine,” suggests Chef Bali.
Despite the rapid evolution of the cuisine culture in the country, the F&B sector continues to grapple with many constrictions. “There is a challenge from the supply chain all over India in terms of getting the best product. All the good products get exported from India, and what we are left with is what we have to choose from. We are one of the biggest suppliers of sea food to Europe with south India being one of the major exporters. If we can tap that market and prevent the best of ingredients from going out of the country, then it will help this industry,” points out Chef Bali.
- Favourite cuisine: Mediterranean and Arabic
- Favourite book: ‘Yes, chef’ by Anthony Bourdain
- Favourite destination: Kerala
- Favourite restaurant: threesixtyone° at The Oberoi, Gurgaon