or A young chef, life is more than truffles and rosés. Long hours of slogging, a profession that demands creativity on the go, and who knows, your boss could be like Gordon Ramsay.
But for a few who push through that extra mile, the rewards can be worth it. Especially if you win a competition like the Concours de L’Inde des Jeunes Chefs Rôtisseurs (JCR in brief) instituted by the international gastronomic society La Chaine des Rotisseurs. Here, young chefs under age 27 get to compete for top prizes and accolades from gastronomes the world over.
Last weekend at the second JCR India, conducted by the Bangalore chapter of the Chaine, 10 young chefs spent an entire day preparing, conceptualising and cooking a three-course menu from scratch under demanding conditions in the leafy gardens of the The Lalit Ashok. Being on the Chaine board, I got to see the youngsters in action and as ever, it made wonderful watching. Later that evening, the exhausted but upbeat young bunch awaited the results, put together by a star-studded judging team including Abhijit Saha, Jean Michel Jasserand, Nimish Bhatia and vice president from the Chaine’s Paris HQ, Marie Jones. It was Ritz Carlton’s pint-sized chef de partie Sathya Raj who nailed the top spot. What caught the judges’ eye was his efficiency and confidence. It also helped that his food was excellent.
Sathya’s is the ultimate feel-good tale. Born in Ooty, he’d watch chefs on local TV reality shows. His father would tell him, “Learn to cook, one
day you’ll be on TV.” Inspired, he’d whip up eggs and parathas for breakfast with his father. But life had other plans: his father died when Sathya was 13, his mother fell gravely ill, putting plans to attend cooking school on a back burner. Years of dogged persistence later, Sathya managed his diploma from the Institute of Hotel Management Chennai and moved quickly up the kitchen ladder. Fascinated by Western cuisines, he’d practise relentlessly until he got dishes right.
It paid off. At the JCR, Sathya finished well within the 3.5-hour time limit. “Initially, I didn’t think I’d win. But watching the judges’ faces, I got hopeful,” he flashes a smile. By dessert plating time, he was abuzz with excitement.
When his name was called out as winner, the emotions trickled out with some tears. “I tried not to cry, but in my room that night I couldn’t stop. My mother doesn’t know what I’ve achieved. But I’ll go see her soon.”
Sathya is already dreaming of the international competition in September, aware of the odds he’s up against. For the young village boy who’s never travelled abroad, competing for top honours among experienced young chefs in the world’s foremost gastronomic society seems unbelievable. “My mentor, chef Anupam (Banerjee) said, ‘The door’s been opened…now walk through it yourself.’ I will.”
Sathya Raj represents India in the International JCR on September 11, 2015 in Budapest.