Simply put, Executive Chef Arzooman Irani loves to cook and believes that magic happens in his kitchen. “Wild at heart, deep in soul”. These words aptly describe the food as well as the Chef behind them. There is definitely an inventive streak to taste, to mix and match new ingredients and create food that people enjoy and take home the very essence of it.
Born and raised in Pune, Arzooman has a Diploma in Hospitality from Australia, a degree in Professional Cooking from the Baltimore International Culinary College, USA and has a Diploma in Management studies from the Swiss Hotel Association – Les Roches, Switzerland. Whilst gaining theoretical and technical knowledge, Arzooman has also been hands on, hence making him very versatile in his trade. Since then, his career has taken him to hotels and restaurants from Australia to the United States to back home to his native country- India. With his extensive knowledge of the hospitality industry and global culinary experience of luxury hotels and restaurants, Executive Chef Arzooman is now with The Hilton, Jaipur.
You’ve been in the industry for quite some time. Would you have done anything differently
when first starting out?
While I started my journey, like many other professionals in their respective fields, I was prone to a variety of mishaps which today I acknowledge, learn from and sometimes laugh over. When I think about it, I realise that a decent number of them could have been avoided if I had someone to guide me. I was the first member of my family to take up Hotel Management at a time where I didn’t know anybody who could help me, nor was I able to receive guidance about the way I was to go about this journey. In conclusion, the only part of my journey that I would change would be to seek guidance at an early enough stage so I could avoid certain unnecessary mistakes.
You’ve cooked in some really intimidating kitchens. Was there anything you did to build your confidence and ensure you always maintained the drive?
While having worked in many intimidating kitchens during my time in the industry, I find it easier to maintain my confidence by being ahead in the game. My method of achieving this is to research, to engage and to inspire.
Before arriving on the set of my new property, I make it my duty to know everything about it. From the property’s business to the reviews, all their highs and lows in the recent past as well as their customer relationship. I don’t want to spend time catching up once I arrive, I just want to go ahead.
I am nothing without my team. I strongly believe in engaging with my co- workers and my staff. They are already a family, and they are taking you in as their new baby. The baby has to adapt to them and they will adapt to the baby. This stage is vitally important because there will always be people who are rigid to change because they have been there longer and they are used to a certain way of functioning. The way to overcome this rigidity is to engage with everyone, thus building their trust in you so the whole family can move forward.
Once you have won your teammates trust, you can inspire them to do anything. To risk anything. They will follow you loyally. After reaching this stage, you are no longer in an intimidating kitchen, in fact you are home!
Tell us the unique aspects about your cuisine.
While my strongest point remains Mediterranean Cuisine, I also have a fair knowledge of Italian cuisine. Although, these days, knowing this much isn’t enough and I always want to learn more. I also have a certain soft spot towards the local cuisine of any place I have been transferred to and I find it vital to have a part of it in my menus because it is something the customer is comfortable with rather than experimenting while ordering food. Therefore, not only am I skilled in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, but, as a result of my travelling and absorbing the cuisines of different places, I have picked up a lot of cooking techniques, ingredients from each and every place that I have worked at and brought about some element of my own creativity to that cuisine.
What is your cooking style and the philosophy behind it?
Cuisine is experimentation, research, imagination and most importantly, guest’s appreciation and I have built my food philosophy on the harmony of all these aspects.
What’s your favourite comfort food?
Home cooked food. My profession demands that I taste every meal before it reaches the guest, but at the end of the day, I most definitely enjoy eating a pleasant meal at home, which doesn’t have to be tasted but simply devoured!
Who or what was your inspiration to become a chef?
Having grown up in a joint family my love for food was instilled in me by my grand-mother. When I watched her cook different kind of dishes using the same basic ingredients to suit, or, should I say pamper us, it created a kind of storm in my little head. For me, at that time it was more like magic rather than cooking. It was amazing how one could be so creative. For example, a mango. We could have it raw, or she could make anything from it. Right from juice and syrups to a mango sabji to pickles. She would in those days even make a special mango liquor at home, which all my neighbours would swear by. That’s what totally intrigued me and then curiosity got the better of me and led me to where I am now.
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
In my opinion, your menu is basically a reflection of your understanding of your customer. Keeping your customer’s needs and expectations in mind while curating a menu is the most important part of menu planning. Whilst a menu is a showcase for a chef there should always be a comfort factor to it. There is no point of adding a fancy dish if it is not going to sell. In this industry, success is determined by customer satisfaction. If your menu can’t achieve that then there is no point in having those dishes in it. You have to be able to give an Englishman his Fish n Chips as well as a North Indian his Dal Makhani and Butter Chicken. Other important considerations would be seasonality of the fresh produce and skill level of the associates.
Have you ever considered being a vegan chef?
While I am comfortable cooking vegan food, I find it unnecessary to convert to a completely vegan chef and wouldn’t do it unless my job description required me to do so. I appreciate the versatility and elasticity of creativity I can obtain by having all elements available to me and I wouldn’t want to give it up unless absolutely necessary.
How can restaurants/ hotels/ chefs communicate the approach of innovative sustainable plant-based food/ food chains to others?
To begin with, an effective way is to change the menu about 3-4 times a year based on seasonality of local produce. Another way of communicating is by giving a description of the dish including the taste, features and nutritional values and properties of the dish. When a guest is interested or curious about a particular dish the chef should come out and educate him on the same.
Which is the dish you’ve created that you are most proud of and why?
Out of the many dishes I am proud of, I will tell you the story of when I was challenged by a reporter to make a dish based on the movie DJango Unchained and I created a dish called Jhinga Unchained. After watching the movie a couple of times, I successfully managed to incorporate elements from the movie into the dish. The dish comprised a Scampy with its two claws out – DJango. Because the movie had been shot in Mississippi, and there was a lot of bloodshed, I created a white foam covered with red sauce indicating that the cotton fields that had been stained with blood. I think I certainly did justice in incorporating the general idea of the movie as the dish contained most of the movies’ elements. The reporter and the audience was quite pleased with the outcome of the dish.