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IN CONVERSATION WITH CHEF BAKSHISH DEAN

Jasmeen Dugal  (click here to know more about this blogger)

Alumnus of IHM Ahmedabad, Chef Bakshish Dean honed his skill set at The Oberoi Mumbai, Taj Mahal Mumbai, Taj Palace New Delhi, The Park New Delhi and restaurant chains Lite Bite Foods and Johnny Rockets to name a few. Having travelled extensively, his understanding of diverse cuisines and cooking techniques is par excellence. So, it is no wonder he was honoured with the title "Chef of the Year" 2007 by Indian Culinary Forum and PHD Chambers of Commerce. Today, he is co- owner of Culinary Quotient, which helps restaurants run a profitable business, designs efficient kitchens, develops and enhances menus, trains and builds teams, does food photography and social media. In conversation with him.

 

Chef I've been following your posts on Instagram and see that you've been cooking up a storm! Tell me about some of your favourites!! Do you find cooking therapeutic during lockdown?

 

Well I have never had the opportunity to cook Indian food so this has been a blessing in disguise! I volunteered to take charge of the home kitchen and have managed to do a decent job; I am sure you are familiar with the phrase "ghar ki murgi, daal barabar" so that is where I currently dwell. Initially it was tough but now I am quite comfortable and I can say with confidence that I can cook all the dals that one comes across in a Punjabi family, palak in different forms, methi, paneer, all kinds of baingan, potato dishes, lauki, tori, kaddu… you name it and I have cooked it during lockdown! Oh, and not to forget, rice dishes and Kathi rolls — I have mastered the art of cooking brown rice, chapati, and paranthas…. I am really happy with the list of dishes I have learnt! Cooking all the meals is not therapeutic for sure though; the demands the family makes and the amount of ruckus they create when food is not on time can be stressful but yes on days I cook what I enjoy, it is therapeutic!

 

You've been instrumental in transforming the F&B of key restaurants. What challenges do you foresee when restaurants open after lockdown and how do you plan to strategise with them?

 

We could never fathom the intensity of the blow this pandemic could hit us with; it has crippled the economy and has brought the country down on its knees. I can only see hope we all understand the gravity of the situation and devise a well thought out plan to collaborate. We need to create a close looped ecosystem and then "only" can we think of witnessing a quick revival, and that means, government, businesses, work force, landlords and consumers — they need to collaborate with each other in a way that it is a win-win for all. "Safety First" is the mantra and the need of the hour; if we all can take this seriously we can look at an early recovery. At this critical juncture where a lot is at stake I sensed the need to update and upgrade so that I can help businesses get back on its feet therefore I have formally upgraded my learning on the subject by attending multiple training programmes which also includes the ones conducted by the apex body FoSTac and FSSAI and for the businesses I am associated with there is a good plan in place.

 

How do you feel the lockdown will impact the industry, long term? Judging by culinary posts on instagram, by the time things return to normal, would people have built a love for eating in?

 

The lockdown will push the industry back by a decade, if not more. With limited disposable income, eating out will reduce substantially; this is the key revenue contributor and if this is compromised, what is left is not good enough to make the wheels turn. It is a very serious matter that needs immediate deliberation; win-win collaboration is the only way forward that I can foresee and delays here can lead this to be a long drawn painful trudge. Interest in cooking and baking has taken wings and it is visible all over social media; it is indeed a delight to watch as amateurs and enthusiasts try to recreate recipes that were considered daunting for professionals. With ample time on hand and a number of high quality tutorials available online, the fear of failure has gone out of the window and the success rate has skyrocketed, creating an environment that is thriving with culinary confidence. I do see a gradual drop after four months of culinary craze, which I guess is natural, but what this has led to is a lot of people getting confident about cooking and this will lead to food being cooked more often at home; we shall also see the segment of "Home Cooked Food" business growing exponentially as people will be more comfortable and confident ordering food from a home than a restaurant.

 

In hospitality you have to maintain a consistent guest experience. How would you advise restaurants to maintain the dining experience while adapting to the post- pandemic "new normal"?

 

Training and marketing would be key in creating confidence in the guests to come back; effective training on communication  and safe serve processes will deliver a consistent guest experience.

 

Restaurants have a cultural imprint and are a place of connection and community. To have them shut now and later shackled with prior reservations, fewer tables, screening, sanitising stations, guests' face shields, disposable menus, contact-less payment and social distancing, will it mar guest experience?

 

I would say this is the next level of personalisation; it can't get better than this. It will be a downer for people who are highly social and love a club environment but for serious gourmets it is going to be an experience par excellence.

 

How would you advise restaurants to sustain revenues now that they can only produce a fraction of their profits? Should they plan takeaway, home deliveries, food trucks and pop-ups now that social distancing demands fewer tables?

 

Like I said, collaboration is key; work on getting your rentals and operating costs into a bracket that will sustain the business, re-negotiate, get all stake holders on the table and work out a business proposition where each one gets a fair share. I will not recommend getting into take-away, home deliveries, food trucks etc if you are confident of filling up your seats and have re-negotiated properly; you need to remember your facility is not designed for that and it would eventually hurt the primary business that you have set up your restaurant for. Delivery, Take-away and Food Truck strategy can be recommended if you are unable to get the desired footfall and revenue and that too needs to be evaluated for infrastructure before you put it into action. The menu too needs to be adapted; only those dishes should feature on the delivery menu which travel well so that the experience is not compromised.

 

For those providing home delivery, how should they ensure delivery partners maintain a high standard of hygiene and sanitation?

 

They definitely should tie up with an established trustworthy partner for contact-less delivery, have a SOP in place and make sure everyone follows the protocol. It is imperative that all protective gear is provided and temperature of the delivery person is taken before each order is handed over to him for delivery; a proper record which should include the name of the delivery person needs to be maintained.

 

As restaurants go into perilous hibernation and new ones do not open for some time, this is no time to stick to the tried-and-true. Would you be open to launching your cookbook, retailing gourmet breakfast pouches and Michelin-caliber meal kits or hosting gourmet workshops? What comes to mind?

 

I have been working on some interesting projects like DIY Kits, base sauces, table condiments and marinades, Gourmet meals and webinar sessions, and would love to work on a book or interesting workshops for enthusiasts and professionals once I am done with what I currently have on my plate.

 

Lastly how do you feel the government should motivate and support independent restaurateurs?

 

An industry that is estimated to be 4.5 lac crores and employs over 4.2 crores people needs to be taken very seriously; it was very disheartening to see how appeal for assistance was brushed aside by the Finance Minister. With hotels and restaurants shut, nearly seventy per cent workers have been given the pink slip making the situation grim; what we need from the government is an infusion to get the wheels moving and that could be::

- statutory levies deferred till the industry is up and running.

- EMI's on loans that were taken for business deferred and interest rate reduced to a bare minimum.

- licence fee waived for the period hotels and restaurants are shut and the same to be accommodated in the fee for the next financial year.

- licence fee to be reduced to forty per cent as business is expected to go down by forty per cent and below.

- relief package for salaried employees needs to be provided where at least forty- fifty per cent salary comes from the government; with no income since four months, restaurants are taking drastic measures to survive and this includes laying off a lot of staff. How will they survive without any relief… is the big question?

- easy loans need to be provide to all business owners so that they can survive this unfortunate time.

- directive to waive off rent for the period business is shut down plus reduce rental in the same proportion as the fall in revenue. These, if initiated asap, can make all the difference.
 

CHEF BAKSHISH DEAN
Chef Bakshish Dean
 
18-JULY-2020
 
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