Memoirs of the traveling chef – My Food Journey

Ever since I can remember my most favorite room in the house has been the kitchen. My love for food started really early. According to a family story that goes around our dinner table, I was often found happily playing with pots and pans in the kitchen while the grownups turned the house upside down looking for me. Maybe that was a start for things to come. As a young boy I would enter the kitchen drawn by the amazing sounds and smells that came out of that lovely place. I definitely learnt early where to go if I was ever hungry. Who knew that place was to become an important part of my life and would take me places I never knew existed.As soon as I could reach over the kitchen counter I used to start fiddling around with spices, ingredients and every other thing that was there in the kitchen. I used to sneak into that place I called the ‘food factory’ and experiment with stuff I didn’t even know what to call, till I heard one of my sisters shouting ‘look he’s in the kitchen again and he’s playing with sugar’, and then came the ‘I told you not to play in the kitchen!’, half an hour of sulking and I was back to business again – ‘playing’ with a different ingredient now of course. That’s how I remember growing up, trying out new and colorful ingredients, learning from my mistakes(yes I got to know it really early that chilly powder hurts like crazy when you rub it all over your face) and getting a scolding or two in the middle of all the mad experiments that I carried out.Paratha IngredientsSundays were always special around the house. My father’s special chicken curry and bread pudding were always the focal point of this wonderful day. It was a carnival at home, having a huge family meant that most of the cousins would be sous chefs and my dad would be the one giving the instructions. “Browning the onions is the key”, he would say. When I and my sisters were of the right age, the chicken curry often had a secret ingredient featuring in it, whiskey of course. Every thing tastes better with whiskey!Chicken Vindaloo

Following the family tradition I was soon packed off to boarding school. My food adventures carried on at school as well. The first time I saw the school kitchen my jaw dropped. I thought to myself, now here is place where I can go crazy. To my disappointment I soon figured out that the school kitchen was strictly out of bounds and I would be in real trouble if I was ever caught there. But some friendly conversations and gifts can work wonders if you want to get things done. Soon enough I found myself inside the humongous school kitchen. The friendly kitchen staff thought I was just being in the kitchen to avoid a teacher who was looking for me to remind me of my low grades. But little did they know that I would pester them with my endless questions, ’why do you add the tomatoes now?’ ‘What happens if I add too much water?’ and so on. When the head cook couldn’t take anymore of my questions he would say just watch and learn, and learn I did.
Seeing my enthusiasm, one day I was handed over a mammoth spatula and the head cook firmly said ‘I want it to taste nice!’ To my surprise I was in charge of the mashed potato. That’s when I realized seeing things’ getting cooked was far easier. Two hours and a huge pot full of bland mashed potatoes later I was sure the kitchen I where I wanted to be, even though I barely managed to finish the potatoes in time, with a lot of help of course. To this day the school reunion is something I really look forward to, it gives me a chance to go back into the same humongous kitchen where my love for food took shape. The head cook is now of a ripe old age and is about to hang his boots, but he still remembers the mashed potatoes.
After getting out of school I was one of the few guys in my class who knew what I wanted to do in life. So I was off to culinary school where I learnt that life can be tough. Books were never my thing; the kitchen was where I was truly in my element. I could barely manage to scrape through in the exams, but the cooking tests were where I showed my true colors. Spending all those extra hours in the test kitchens paid off after all. I was picked up by a big hotel chain soon after college and in my mind the chef in me had arrived. But the reality of a professional kitchen soon hit me, the long hours of non stop work, and a boss who flips a switch at free will were just some of the perks of the job. After laboring through some hard years in a hotel kitchen I decided to move on. That’s when I was introduced to the glitz of a cruise line kitchen, same kind of work but in more exotic locations, who was I to complain. A little sea sickness later I was ready to travel and cook my way through the world. Ahoy there chef!

Paper Boat in a frying pan

Through my travels I was lucky enough to taste some of the best food from world over and make some fabulous friends in the process. All thanks to my adventures in the kitchen. So don’t let anybody tell you that cooking doesn’t do any thing for you. For all you know it might take you places too.

This entry was posted by Quick Asian Recipes - Ashish Negi.

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