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Exclusive Interview | Sriram Hariharan, Executive Chef, The Ritz-Carlton Pentagon City

Editor: Tell us about your journey. How did it all start? 
The true food journey started at home under the expert supervision of my mother. I attribute my Passion to professionally cook to my uncle who is a successful restaurateur in Australia. IIHM ( now IHM ), Aurangabad instilled in me the foundation for the hospitality industry. Cooking skills were further strengthened by working in the kitchens of the Taj group of hotels in Mumbai, Lucknow, Goa & Hyderabad. During my initial years, I would always dream of studying at the Culinary Institute of America - widely regarded as the Harvard of the culinary world.

This became a reality in 2002, which also gave me the opportunity to intern and subsequently work with the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. I have been with the company for 15 years, having worked at the Resorts of Naples ( Florida ), Bahrain, Washington DC & now as the Executive Chef of the Ritz Carlton Pentagon City.

Editor: What do you think it takes to succeed in this industry? 
Immense dedication and hard work. Looking back, when the rest of the world is enjoying every public & festive holiday, you are working very hard ( and enjoying ) in your respective kitchens!!

Editor: What are the attributes you look for while selecting or hiring? 
Passion toward the craft & dedication to learn & grow everyday are the most important traits that I look for while selecting for my kitchens. Even for entry level positions, the applicant is required to cook a 3 course meal which helps me analyse some of the basic culinary skills, organization, cleanliness & their attention to detail.

Editor: What according to you can trainees do while they are training at hotels to make it a win-win for them & the hotel/unit? 
Learn and understand the culture of the work place, be enthusiastic and willing to work hard and constantly challenge yourself to better your skills. Strive to learn your tasks quickly and work consistently. Then learn and do the job of your senior colleagues.
When you are the supervisor, learn to do the chefs job. When you are the chef, learn to emulate and take over more responsibilities from your Executive Chef. You will not only learn and better your skills, but will set yourself up for success on your next role.

Editor: Tell us a little about your average day 
Average days are long!! - about 14 hr days, its a blend of cooking with the team, managerial and financial responsibilities, meeting with guests and constantly analyzing and taking decisions beneficial to the hotel operations.

Editor: What does it take for someone to succeed in a foreign country?  How was the experience? 
To succeed in a foreign country you have to be okay with the idea of risk taking. The risk from moving out of your comfort zone and working in a brand new, foreign environment can be taxing and make you doubt some of the decisions you have taken towards your career. My experience has been an exhilarating experience; it has required a lot of hard work, sacrifices and dedication, but has been a great learning experience.

Editor: What are some of the things you find better there than when you were working in India and also what do you miss about India? 
Labor in the united states ( especially hotels ) is very expensive and contributes almost 40-50% of the financial expenses. Hence the teams are smaller and labor management becomes a crucial part in the success of the kitchen operation. In India, the work force is much larger than the US, hence the style of managing a kitchen is much different as a chef.
In the United States, there is a greater exposure to different ethnic foods & cultures, ingredients & world class restaurants. The food trends are changing constantly and you have to stay on top of these trends to be relevant. It's been over 15 years since I last worked in India. More Indians are travelling around the world than ever before, and India is attracting more world class hotels and restaurants than ever before.
Indian chefs are being recognised in India and across the world. I am sure the work culture has changed tremendously from the time I used to work in India.