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Exclusive Interview | Anand Mittal, Director, IET Bhaddal & Author of Simply Cooking




Editor: Tell us about your journey. How did it all start?

Looking back, everything appears to have been predestined. Everything relates to one another. One thing lead to the other. The journey of my past life looks like a dream to me now. It is because of this journey that I have finally come to realize my purpose on earth. God works in mysterious ways, I was directionless, rudderless for all of my past life, a puppet in the hands of God- going from one day to the other, trying to figure my purpose in life.

After class XII, I joined B.Sc. but got caught with the previous exam's question paper carelessly left in my pocket, by the flying squad. While I was disallowed from appearing in further exams, I found a letter waiting for me at home, announcing my admission to the new UP State Government run Hotel Management diploma course, to which I had casually applied a few months ago. I was allowed to pursue professional education in my hometown at a time when only metros or important cities did that. Technical education in 1983 was purely managed by the government as it had not been privatised at all.

After just an year of training as a Chef in my first job, I was officiating as Executive Chef of Holiday Inn, Mumbai, as our sous chef had gone abroad and the Chef was caught misappropriating. Senior cooks accepted me as their leader just because I was literate. They did not even know the meaning of education, forget expecting to be recognised for my professional education. As a trainee, I was a Chef more because I could read KOTs and Function prospectus, and speak in English fluently, than doing the administrative tasks of the Chefs office. One miracle in life followed another until I found myself sitting at the helm of nationally renowned hotel management schools of the country. I was a chef until then, with no training or inclination about the field of educating young minds. But I did a wonderful job here too, thanks to divine guidance. I truly am glad about all that happened during the course of my journey.

My arranged marriage lead to two sons who were in the Delhi University's North campus doing Honours courses (with a gap of seven years between them) by the time I noticed. My deep resolve to share my knowledge with the world gave birth to my two cookery books, which took two years of single minded concentrated effort, to write. All in all, life to me is a journey towards knowing your purpose of existence. The lucky ones realize it sooner than after 50 years, as was the case with me.

Editor: What do you think it takes to succeed in this industry?

That is a good question. The answer to this question came to me from a wrestler, who was my supervisor during my formative years in the hotel kitchen. The first 3 or 4 months in a five star hotel's kitchen are usually very glamorous and fulfilling. Unlimited supply of best of the food in the world and limited responsibility. But after this honeymoon period, when reality sets in (repeatedly doing the same task with no scope for innovation, laborious nature of the job, intensive cleaning requirements and long working hours), most of the budding professionals are forced to make a choice. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It is only the very determined people who stay behind, clinging to the ropes, desperately hoping for a more humane tomorrow. Tomorrow does come, but with roles reserved. The perpetrated become the perpetrators to the new employees.

Coming back to your question, the answer I got from my wrestler chef de partie when he found me sobbing in one corner of the kitchen as I was fed up of being jostled around by unkempt, uneducated, intoxicated and extremely secretive cooks, was to begin to consider that EVERYTHING IS A CHALLENGE. He said that if you are asked to peel a sack of onion in two hours, try to do it in one. If someone asks you to 100 baskets of sweet lime from one place to the other, run and do it happily. Not only will the job get done, but I would also build in strength and stamina. This was the turning point in my life. I remember this till date and am happy to share this as the secret of success in my life.

When my faculty were struggling to check 100 answer sheets in four days recently, I corrected mine in one. Instead of checking them during college hours, I chose to stay in office till midnight and the job got done. I was ready for more the next day. I am not bragging or boasting. Just trying to make a point.

In a nutshell, I believe that the hotel industry is cleaning intensive, labor intensive, time intensive and attitude intensive. But it is very generous to you when you get trained properly. So give yourself time. Be very patient and enduring. Dusk will definitely lead to dawn.

Editor: You are an academic, a writer too.  Tell us about the books, what inspired you.

By my 50th birthday, I had witnessed quite a few of my friends and people of my age depart to the nether. Today you are preparing the menu for your birthday and on the day, you fail to even welcome the guests, as your time on earth was over. This was not only depressing, but also strange. All these wise men leave us just like that. Suddenly, without a goodbye. And they take with them all the knowledge and wisdom that the society granted them, to their grave. I believe it is not fair. I thought to myself that I must not die without first giving the society back what it had so generously provided to me. I then gave up all active work and set down in writing all that I knew about the kitchen on a full time basis. Running against time, praying to God desperately to allow me to finish them. 

My first book "Simply Cooking, Theory and Principles" was about theoretical concepts of cooking explained in an easy language. For hotel management students, theory is far more difficult than practical. But during the course of writing my first book, I realised that unless theory is supported with practical, it is meaningless and incomplete. So I wrote "Simply Cooking, Practical". The aim of both these books was to provide all the syllabus generally found in all catering colleges, in one cover, at affordable prices. The modus operandi while writing was to provide M. O. R. E. to the students, which stands for Modern, Operational, Relevant and Experiential. The other inspiration of course was my attitude which refuses to let me not take anything as a challenge.I sincerely feel that all wise and experienced people must share their wisdom with the world in their later years, one way or the other, without expecting to get paid for it.

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?

Aspirants of the hotel trade must learn to stay happy, despite everything. They must be self motivated to serve. A deep desire to be successful is a must. All successful people are very high in their levels of integrity. Integrity is determined by the value of one's spoken word. One should be very careful about what he or she speaks. The trainees must understand that it is their spoken word, that will determine their future. Everything else will automatically follow.

They must look very neat and tidy, smell pleasant and be physically fit. Good personality traits include honesty, earnestness, taking pride in work, punctuality, positive attitude, good behavior, faith in God and sincerity.Hotels will win if they are able to provide competent product, clean environment and happy, efficient service. Trainees should put in all their might in facilitating that. They will win if the hotel is successful. T. E. A. M. stands for Together Everyone Achieves More.

Editor: Tell us a little about your average day
I live in Punjab during the working days and am a workaholic. I devote over 14 hours a day working. I work from home in Dehradun for 8 hours a day, while enjoying my weekends. My aim in life is to provide an environment for all students in my place of work which is very conducive to their professional career. Efforts are not limited only the students of my institute, but to all pursuing any of the twelve professional courses being offered here. I have miles to go before I sleep, like Robert Frost once said.

I derive enjoyment from work. Teaching, training, motivating, inspiring, reading, writing and coaching students. There is no room for movies, television or social get-togethers. Only for physical exercise, personal hygiene and working. Weekdays are meant for work and weekends mostly for family, as far as my average day is concerned.

Editor: What would you like to change in the Industry?

If the industry would increase salaries at the entry level, it would encourage a more intellectual selection. Also, a well equipped training cell must be made compulsory for all hotels. This is just a wishlist. I am quite happy with the way things are at present. The industry is developing at a very rapid rate and moving in the right direction. I foresee a great future for all aspirants of the magnificent hotel trade.

Editor: So what have you discovered to be the mission of your life?

My life's mission, that I recently discovered is far beyond writing down all that I learnt. I think that I have been chosen to revolutionsze professional education. I pray that God gives me the strength and perseverance to do so, or motivate someone else to carry the Olympic torch to its rightful destination.
If you look at the changes to our classrooms in the past 500 years, you would observe that not much has changed, except for the printing press which enabled providing text books to the students. It is now time to bring about a change now. The direction of the change will be in providing education online. Anytime, anywhere. The student would be allowed to choose his / her pace. The lectures would be directly from teacher to student, by way of video conferencing or recorded videos. Teachers will reach out to a far greater number of students than imaginable. The number of teachers would diminish to 0.1% of those today and their quality would rise at least a hundred fold. The change has started already. We have covered a lot of ground, but there still is a lot to be done.

I am grateful that you gave me this opportunity to speak my mind. I am sorry if I offended anyone. It was not intended or meditated. These are my opinions and they are not meant to initiate a debate with me. It is unwise to try train an old horse, you see!

Anand Mittal
www.simplycooking.in