The immensely talented Chef Neeraj Tyagi speaks about coping with the current crisis
With excellence every day as his motto, Chef Neeraj Tyagi, Director of Culinary, Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity believes in working to excel. “One should chase their personal greatness, and celebrate the progress achieved every day. At Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity, I lead the entire culinary operations across the 6 Restaurants & Bars of the dual property which includes Pluck, Honk, Food Exchange, Pling, Café Pluck and Quoin,” he says.
His vision is to cultivate and maintain the finest of culinary operations, establish and enhance the dining standards, increasing quality, productivity and ultimately guest satisfaction. He is majorly focused on hygiene and sanitation requirements and very passionate about training and development. At this upscale hotel, the talented chef is responsible for curating and presenting innovative dishes with a distinctive twist, offering exquisite and modern gastronomy to guests. “Throughout my career, I have received several accolades in the hospitality fraternity such as Chef of the year award by BBC Good Food, Best Executive Chef of the Year by BW Hotelier, Runner up by Hotelier India and many more. Being a travel enthusiast and explorer, I have exposure across international markets of Europe, Singapore, China, Maldives, and the Middle East; I enjoy experimenting and improvising with varied flavours and cooking styles to suit the modern-day palate. Being an alumnus of IHM Meerut, my skill set includes menu planning and engineering, budgeting and resourcing, vendor management, food safety and hygiene, forecasting, cost control, and quality control, “he informs us.
How has the virus outbreak affected your work?
For the hospitality industry globally, Covid 19 has been a big hit financially. At Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity, there is limited staff at the hotel and all restaurants are closed to ensure safety of our guests. However, once this is over, we see an opportunity to revive our offerings and introduce new concepts with many exciting promotions.
Tell us about your coping mechanism personally and professionally.
Professionally this is a tough time for everyone in the hospitality industry. The revenues have gone down in hotels and restaurants in India and there has been an impact on various projects which have been put on hold. However, we are keeping our spirits high and spending time on research and evaluating innovative culinary solutions for the future. On the personal side, it’s a great time to rejuvenate as I usually don’t get much time with my family. I am also focussing on building my immunity and fitness.
How do you plan to reinvent how you work?
We expect that there maybe new government guidelines that we will have to adhere too. Also, we will make our offerings more attractive for the remaining year to ensure a higher footfall to all the 6 restaurants and Bars at Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity.
For a long time India had more vegetarians as compared to those who ate non-vegetarian food, do you think we are going back to the previous times where more people are now advocating vegetarianism? What is the reason for this change and how will it impact the food that we eat and you serve in hotels?
After this pandemic, eating habits will definitely change. Veganism and vegetarian demands will go up. We already focus on localization, seasonal produce and authentic fresh ingredients at Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity hence there will not be much of a change in our offering. Takeaway menu will be in trend for some time which we are also offering.
Are you active on social media? How are you advising your fans to stay indoors and what kind of recipes are you recommending they try at home?
Yes, I have been active on social media platforms. To all my fans, I have been sharing cooking tips and recipes that are easy to make, use seasonal ingredients are is healthy and work as immunity boosters.
Do you recommend any foods to increase immunity?
We at Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity, emphasize on designing a menu that is rich in immunity boosting ingredients. In fact, many of them are grown in our in-house farm, spanning 5000 sq.ft.. We also are very careful and prompt about the maintenance of our farm and produce, and ensure the highest standards of safety and health at the hotel. Our recommendation of such ingredients would be to use gooseberry, a power house of nutrition, which can be used in dishes like Sweet Potato Fries with Gooseberry, Raw Mango and Gooseberry rice. Also, herbs like Oregano and Tulsi are great for boosting immunity and can be used in making different varieties of teas and curries to prevent respiratory health problems. Further, citrus fruits contain vitamin C that is known to increase the production of white blood cells which are essential to fight infections. We, therefore, use a lot of citrus fruits like oranges, tangerines, limes, etc. Turmeric is a staple in a lot of Asian cuisines, as well as an integral part of traditional medicine practices. Due to its high content of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties, it is a very popular ingredient in all the cuisines we offer.
Are there any homemade drinks that the common man can create at home?
Any drink made of citrus fruits or amla can be curated at home and anything with turmeric is good for immunity building.
Being a popular chef how are you reaching out to your fan following to keep them entertained and keep their morale high during these times?
I have been engaging with them on Social Media through recipes and tips for cooking.
What do you recommend for households with children; do you have any plans to teach budding chefs how to cook to keep them engaged these days?
Awareness levels have been going up for parents and they are educating their children on safety and hygiene standards that should be maintained at home. At this time, adults including children should avoid any frozen food or junk items. At this time, I’m also offering mentorship and coaching on a one-on-one basis to budding chefs and plan to continue doing the same.
What about the supplies to enjoy great cooking at home? What are your recommendations so that people can stock up ingredients with a larger shelf life during these unpredictable times?
Dried lentils, pulses and grains are the best as they are easy to cook, take less storage space, and have a long shelf life of 2-3 years. Any form of cooking has some common ingredients that can be stocked at every household, such as salt, turmeric powder, asafoetida, ghee, oil, dry red chillies, fruit purees, pulp, cumin seeds, bay leaves, flour and rice. Also, for making beverages one can keep milk powder, sugar, tea and coffee. If one wants to keep some vegetables, then the best option is to go for mushrooms, potatoes and onions. Amongst dairy products, you can store butter and cheese.
We maintain a par stock at the hotel, and this can similarly be planned for the household. This way, it will be easier to gauge how much food you should stock up on to reduce the frequency of your trips to the supermarket, as well as prevent food wastage.
Is giving a demo on social media the same as a live demo? What is your experience?
Live cooking demo is different because of the access to gadgets and ingredients. At home, to create content for social media we have to manage with basic ingredients and domestic equipment. But at home, fun elements can be added to prepare something basic and quick.
Tell us about your two most popular preparations which people can try these days while at home.
My first most popular dish would be an Innovative Pasta with progressive cooking. The second one would be salad with the right amount of nutrition to boost the immunity system. Also, i like anything that is simple and easy to cook at home.
How do you think chefs can create awareness amongst the common man about being home to stay safe when the lockdown is not being adhered to 100% by several people?
Prominent chefs at this time are being approached for recommendations on safe & healthy cooking methods. Due to the onset of Covid 19, there is an increased awareness amongst the consumers to ensure safety standards for the food they eat with every meal. Engaging with customers on social media platforms to educate on maintaining hygiene levels is important. Emphasis should be laid on the importance of washing and disinfecting vegetables and fruits.
Tell us your views about working from home and how viable it is for the chef community.
I am using this time to rejuvenate and do research related to my culinary creations for Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity. Also, I spend time reading books on culture and cuisine. As such, there is no concept of working from home for Chefs.