July 2020 | 971 words | 3-minute read
From the kitchens of The Indian Hotels Company's (IHCL) various hotels and TajSATS, a leading player in airline catering and institutional catering, more than 1.65 million free meals have been provided so far to medical personnel, police personnel and those deeply impacted in the lockdown.
Working through the pandemic though had its own share of challenges. Says chef Paramjeet Singh Arora, from Taj West End, Bengaluru — among the hotel’s skeletal staff, catering to guests and providing meals to Covid-19 frontline warriors and migrant workers in the lockdown — “The main challenge during the lockdown was sourcing items from the local market, and the other was limited human resources. It took detailed planning and hard work to ensure all the daily preparations were not only ready on time but also of excellent quality.”
Chef Atanu Debinath from Taj Lands End, Mumbai, concurs, “We received food supplies only once or twice a week and had to manage with them. This, however, had its positive side, because we learnt to adapt and innovate and plan weekly menus.”
The culinary artists thus started dishing out multiple dishes with minimal ingredients to suit every palate. Taj Palace, New Delhi, primarily provided meals to medical personnel and guests who were staying in the hotel before the lockdown.
Rajesh Wadhwa, executive chef at Taj Palace, who has been with the Taj Hotels for close to four decades, says, “Using the available ingredients smartly and often with a twist in preparation, we ended up preparing deliciously different dishes. A simple bean like rajma (red kidney bean) if served as a curry with rice becomes a comfort food on a medical professional’s food tray. For our guests, however, who’d been with us for 60-odd days, we needed to offer some variety. So, with the same bean, we prepared a rajma croquet. Similarly, with chickpeas (chole), we boiled and tossed them in a salad for the medical professional, prepared a traditional Indian chole curry for our room service guests, and used the aquafaba to make a soup.”
Things were slightly different at Taj West end Bangalore. Chef Paramjeet says, “We made the same meals for everyone. The simple but nutritious food was prepared with a lot of care and only the best quality ingredients were used.”
The chefs and their teams planned home-style nutritious vegetarian meals for medical professionals. Chef Wadhwa says, “We ensured that the meals had proteins, carbohydrates, fibre, starch and fat. Though the menu changed regularly, it comprised a salad, lentils or other sources of vegetarian protein, rice or roti, and a simple dessert or fruit which was packed in a bento box. Chef Debinath says, “A citrus fruit, which has vitamin C, remained a daily feature in the menu to build natural immunity.”
Every IHCL hotel has standard procedures for hygiene and cleanliness. In the wake of the Covid-19 crisis, employees have been provided personal protective equipment like masks and gloves, with hand sanitisers and stations for washing hands and face,” says chef Wadhwa, adding, “In fact, sometimes we feel we are safer in the hotel than outside.”
“We have been using vegetable washing machines as before, and our standards for procuring meat as well as any other produce remains as high as before,” he says.
The new normal situation has had its upside too. “To a large extent, our kitchens are compartmentalised with staff largely doing work in their own sections. With limited staff during the lockdown, everybody is helping out with everything, and it is a great learning opportunity. I have a chef who specialises in cooking Chinese food; now, when he has some time, he helps in the tandoor and vice versa. Such interactions foster bonding and skill enhancement; in fact, even latent leadership potential comes to the fore in such times,” says chef Wadhwa. Chef Debinath: “Our chefs and their teams have been passionate about cooking meals for our doctors and police personnel who are bravely fighting the pandemic. We feel honoured and privileged to be able to contribute in our little way to society,”
“Our chefs and their teams have been passionate about cooking meals for our doctors and police personnel who are bravely fighting the pandemic. We feel honoured and privileged to be able to contribute in our little way to society,” chef Debinath concludes.
A typical day in a chef’s life during the lockdown, according to Chef Atanu Debinath
My eight-member core team and I were staying in our hotel, The Taj Lands End, Mumbai, in the lockdown. From 6am, we were busy cooking and packing a nutritious breakfast for 200 doctors, before they left for work. Then, we started prepping and cooking the a la carte menu as well as the takeaway orders. Post lunch, we took a short break. From 3:30pm onwards, dinner preparations began; given the large number of orders, we would wind up the kitchen close to midnight.
TajSATS has delivered more than a million meals to the medical fraternity and migrant workers in India. Chef Rajendra Nayal, executive chef, TajSATS Mumbai, says, “The healthcare professionals are the main warriors in the fight against Covid-19. We wanted to show our support by serving them a healthy, nutritious and balanced meal.”
Towards this, we planned a weekly menu for providing energy-dense and protein rich foods that are also comforting. In the wholesome meal box for the medical fraternity, we provided high carbohydrate foods that are healthy along with add-ons like bread, tea cake or muffin, juice/water, yogurt, dry snacks, chocolate and a fruit. For our migrant workers, it was a nourishing full meal, says chef Nayal.
The medical fraternity had the following menu choice:
- Vegetable biryani with mirch salan, or
- Lemon rice with veg stew, or
- Kadhai pulao with rajma masala, or
- Jeera pulao with dal makhani, or
- Vegetable makhanwala with dhania pulao
For the workers’ fraternity, it was a nourishing meal like aloo paratha with pickle, vegetable pulao among other choices.
“We were working round the clock, with only one-third of the workforce, to fulfil the daily meal orders that had to be sent. Abiding by the government regulations, we were managing with reduced staff who were issued e-passes. Special pick up and drop services were arranged by TajSATS to ensure employees’ health and safety, says chef Nayal.
“As our kitchens are equipped for bulk production, we took up the challenge to serve the communities, despite being short-staffed. In fact, there were days in the lockdown when we surpassed the flight kitchen’s regular meal-preparation capacity,” he adds.
Chef Rajendra Nayal: “The healthcare professionals are the main warriors in the fight against Covid-19. We wanted to show our support by serving them a healthy, nutritious and balanced meal."
“Hygiene is something that TajSATS is known for,” says the chef, adding, “All TajSATS facilities are certified by internationally recognised food safety standards such as British Standards Institution, QSAI and ISO 22000.”
“Expectedly, our families were anxious about our health, but they were also proud that we were making a small but important contribution in serving those who are battling this pandemic on the frontline,” says chef Nayal, adding, “The team was often exhausted at the end of a long and hard day, but it has been a privilege and our way of showing gratitude to the medical fraternity.”