Home cooked food better: Indian chef in Manila
By Santosh Digal
Manila: Kiran Kumar Singh, an Indian, heads the Indian section at the Manila Hotel, a five-star hotel in the capital of the Philippines. He shared with Matters India about his journey, life, and work.
MATTERS INDIA: Please tell us something about yourself?
KIRAN KUMAR SINGH: I hail from Alanjuri village of Kandhamal district in Odisha, eastern India. A few years ago, I came to the Philippines to study in Manila. Later I started working in Indian restaurants in 1999. In 2010, I became the head chef of the Indian section at the Manila Hotel.
Can you please say something about the Manila Hotel briefly?
It is a 570-room, historic five-star hotel located along Manila Bay. It has hosted many historical persons and celebrities including authors Ernest Hemingway and James A. Michener; actors Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and John Wayne; publisher Henry Luce; entertainers Sammy Davis, Jr., Michael Jackson and The Beatles; U.S. President John F. Kennedy, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, and other world leaders.
Have you become a Filipino citizen?
No, I am still Indian. And I am proud to be an Indian and wish to remain so.
What has been your culinary journey?
Frankly speaking, I did not study culinary arts. I am a law graduate. I love to cook and it was a childhood passion. Yes, I learned basic things from my mother.
When people cook chicken curry, they buy curry powder. But my mother taught me the basic ingredients of a curry powder.
My father passed away when was I small. What I am today and I am here because of my mother. I used to observe her when she taught me the basics of cooking. My actual cooking skills developed when I was 12 or 13 years old. Over the years, I developed the passion for cooking. During that period, I learned many things about cooking from my elder brother who is also a good cook. The difference between my mom and brother was that I learned from my mother the basics of cooking and from brother different kinds of food. Now I can cook Indian, Filipino and some of the Malaysian food.
Did you ever think that you will land up as a cook in a big hotel?
A big No.
How does it feel to work in Manila Hotel?
It feels great. I do help other chefs if I have nothing to do in my kitchen. I work with people from different cultures and countries. I have to adjust myself and feel as one of them. Some difficulties and challenges I face as a cook are about language and try to satisfy everybody.
When people are satisfied with our food, they come back to the restaurant with their friends. That is a great sign of encouragement.
Can you please say a word about your family?
My wife is a cosmetic surgeon from the Philippines. We have three kids—two boys and a girl.
Would you encourage your children to take up cooking?
It is up to them. If they want, why not? They may pursue their own passion. Everybody has a different choice. As parents, we will give them the freedom to select. Our job is to provide their needs for life and education.
What has been the happiest moment as a cook so far?
I have cooked for dignitaries such as presidents and prime ministers of various countries. I was privileged to cook twice for former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and the present president Rodrigo Roa Duterte and for Srichand Parmanand Hinduja, an India-born British billionaire business magnate, investor, philanthropist and chairman of Hinduja Group of companies.
I think they don’t have time to comment on my food personally. But I see them wanting to be served my dishes again, it is a good sign of appreciation.
What are the qualities needed in a good cook?
You have to know what your guest wants to eat. Yes, it’s very hard to be a professional cook today because you have to satisfy all. Otherwise, people will not come back. To be a good cook you have to use your heart and mind to cook food, besides the study culinary arts study.
Is home-cooked food better than dishes served in hotels?
First of all, it is always good to have “healthy food.” It depends on how you cook, how clean is your kitchen and how good your product, from where you get them and how they are grown. If you get a good product in your house then home cooked food is better.
You may be the first one hailing from Kandhamal to be an international chef so far?
I think so. It is a humble experience.
Are you planning to go back to India and become a chef there or any other country?
If I get a better opportunity then I love to go anywhere in the world. You know human wants never end.
Do have any idea how many Indian chefs are in Manila or the Philippines?
There might be about 10 of them and most of them are from northern India. I don’t have much contact with them because of lack of time.
Is Indian food popular in the Philippines?
Yes, it is. The reason is the spices used in in our dishes. It was the spices that Europeans came to India and they ruled over us. Indian food is actually popular everywhere in the world.
Do you cook at home?
Yes, sometimes. My wife is one of my best chefs. I love her food. When we cook our children observe us. Our children love Indian food.
Do you read books or magazines related food?
I used to do earlier. Now I don’t have time. I wish I could fine time to do that.
What do you say, should we eat to survive or survive to eat?
If one day you don’t eat, you can survive. But if you do not survive, you can’t eat. It is obvious.
Do you think the food served in hotels or restaurant is healthy, though it might be tasty to the mouth?
Not all tasty food is healthy. The food industry is growing in the world today because people are getting lazy to cook in their homes. If you cook at home, it is expensive than a restaurant. For example, if both wife and husband are working, they feel tired to cook after their working hours, so they prefer to eat outside. One has to respect their choice and decision. Who am I to decide for them?