Chef Damanraj : bringing Soul to the Recipe
Damanraj was born and bought up in Kolkata, a city consisting of great food, in a family where his father was already a chef. So, cooking came naturally to him. For the last four years, Damanraj has been living in Mauritius, working as Head Chef of Indian Food at The Oberoi Hotel, along with learning about Mauritian cuisine and culture. For him, getting time for himself is the best part of being in Mauritius, along with lots of fresh food available for cooking and experimenting. He is happy that Mauritians use lots of fine herbs in their cooking. He is exploring his journey as a chef in Mauritius.
Narrating his journey as a Chef, Damanraj Singh Dhindsa elucidates, “I decided to become a Chef from a very early age, as my father was also in this cooking business and by observing him, cooking came very naturally to me.” When there was nobody at home, he took the opportunity to cook for himself and then eventually, for family members followed by guests. Praises kept heaping for the foods he cooked, which later motivated him to move forward as a professional in this field.
When the time came to attend culinary school, there were lots of persons who disheartened him by saying something along such lines, “Hotel management is a very hard job, he won’t be able to handle the pressure.” But his mother, Harvinder Kaur, always stood by his side. She not only supported his decision but also kept encouraging him by providing him with useful ideas and her recipes, which kept him motivated throughout his journey of becoming a Chef.
Damanraj studied at the Indian Institute of Hotel Management and later, he attended the International Hospitality Management School, Scotland, to pursue further studies. Culinary school taught him all the basics of cooking: The skills he needed as a chef along with basics of how a hotel and its kitchen work. Damanraj says, “There were many students who had never even peeled an onion in their life, so I was made their leader to guide them. The environment I got at home was very helpful in my career.”
After completing his studies, Damanraj joined The Oberoi Mumbai in 2011. He met many great chefs along with food critics. One such personality was Master Chef Vikas Khanna, who was hosting cooking Show MasterChef India. When Khanna used to come back to hotel late at night after the shooting, Damanraj was the only Chef present in the Indian kitchen due to his night shift. Khanna would come directly to the kitchen every night, he would eat ‘palak paneer’ and ‘daal makhni’ along with two chapattis. With this routine, they both created a bond. Every day, Khanna would give Damnraj some new tips about cooking and along with few suggestions on good food books to further his career. Damnraj avows, “He is such a big star chef and still, he was so down to earth. I was very inspired by him. None of my colleagues believed that my night shifts helped both of us to bond. They all said I was bluffing. So, just to show them, I went to his table when he was having his lunch and as soon as he saw me, he stood up, hugged me and talked to me. All my friends were so stunned and envious. That was an experience I cherish till date.”
Damnraj specialty is Indian food but he is also very good with other cuisines. Due to his stay in Kolkata, he is also very comfortable with Bengali cuisine. After Mumbai, he worked in Doha where he learned Arabic cuisine. He comes from a Punjabi family, so Punjabi cuisine comes naturally to him. As he sees it, the way to growth and success in any career is to constantly learn new things constantly, which also guarantees satisfaction.
I decided to become a Chef from a very early age, as my father was also in this cooking business and by observing him, cooking came very naturally to me."
Coming to Mauritius
When Damanraj was working in Doha, he got a call to join The Oberoi in Mauritius; the hotel wanted to start a franchise here. “As there were many Indian tourists in the hotel, the demand for Indian foodstuff was growing, so I came here to work and satisfy these demands,” he declares.
“Actually, I had few friends who were already working in Mauritius before I came, so I inquired about the place. They said it is very dull, everything closes at 6 pm and there is no social life. So, I was bit nervous before coming. Still I decided to give it a try. However, my first impression was very good, everyone was speaking in Hindi and I easily became friends with some people. They gave me a tour of the island in the first month. I was very happy and I was living in Grand Baie, a place that remains open until 8pm. So I am not complaining or facing any issues. In fact, I have more time for myself here.”
“‘Tawa gosht, kadhai paneer, chiken tikka masala’ are my favorite dishes when it comes to cooking. My guests, especially those who know me, always ask for these dishes,” he asserts. However, when it comes to eating, Damanraj prefers vegetarian food and simple dishes, for instance, he likes to eat ‘bindhi’ and he can even eat ‘daal’ every day.
Favorite food memory
“I was in Four Seasons Hotel Doha when the final of IPL cricket Match was organized there. Our hotel had 450 Indian guests and I was the only Indian Chef, all others were Arabic who could only cut vegetables. So, I planned the whole menu and instructed them to prepare the ingredients. For ‘pani puri’, I instructed them to arrange all required items, I prepared the filling myself and taught them how to fill the ‘puri’. I worked more than 14 hours continuously to prepare food that day. But at last, I got lots of appreciation from guests and my seniors. So it was all worth it.” Damanraj explains that for a chef, planning is very important. 70 percent is planning and 30 percent is cooking when it comes to successful cooking.
Best part of work
“The best part is when someone smiles and looks satisfied after consuming my cooking, then I know that I had a successful day. A few days back, we had a guest from Mumbai who had no intention of eating Indian food during his 7-day stay, but when he tasted my cooking, he decided to eat Indian food every day and said he had never eaten such delicious Indian food in Mumbai. That was a huge compliment for me. And that’s the best part of my job. I am always happy when some guests demand anything new, I love to prepare new food,” he affirms.
“The hospitality industry keeps changing every day, especially the cuisines. I keep myself updated with the help of websites, books and other digital means. For example, today there is the trend of fusion food. Like we make ‘daal makhni’ with the procedure of ‘daal tadka’ or we use beetroot juice in ‘dahi vada’ to give it a new color and taste. We Chefs keep in touch with other Chef friends so we keep learning from everyone,” he confides.
Benefits of Chef husband
Damanraj’s wife, Harmanjeet Kaur, along with their 9-month-old son Jabjeet also accompanied him during this interview, so I asked the beautiful lady if there are any benefits of having a Chef husband. She replied instantly with a happy face, “many” and went on to declare, “I can demand any cuisine of the world, whatever I want to eat. That is the best part and other benefits are that he always cooks when he is at home.”
Harman also says that Damanraj can tell every single ingredient used in the dish just by tasting one bite. Damanraj explains, “The palate of our mouth has been flavored thoroughly. We know on which part of our tongue which taste will come. For example, if we used black pepper and its sensation is reaching till throat, then we lessen its quantity,” acknowledges the food expert.
Cookbooks in Mauritian market
“’Cooking Ingredients’ a is very good book I found in Mauritian market. This book is also very good for aspiring Chefs to make their base strong. If your base is strong, then you can stand tall anywhere. So this book deals with more basic things of cooking world,” he advises.
Why only men are Master Chefs
In response to the query “why most of the Master Chefs are men,” Damanraj offered many reasons that did not appear rational. Damanraj’s wife Harman came to his rescue and said, “Maybe because we women think that at home, cooking food will always be our responsibility so why should we choose such careers where we have to cook at work also?” I was happy with her answer and added that “maybe women are too sensitive to sell food professionally.” It was fun sharing same thoughts with the wife of a Chef, as I too think that there is a point in life when women sometimes feel fed-up of cooking every day.
“Being around tasty food all day doesn’t mean a Chef’s job is easy. We and our families have to prepare ourselves that we have to work hard when the whole world is holidaying. As far as my work is concerned, I go with the famous saying that ‘A Chef must think like a scientist, organize like an accountant, plate like an artist and cook like a mother’,” concludes Damanraj.