William Jose – Executive Chef in Saudi Arabia
William Jose is an executive chef in Saudi Arabia. Stories like 1000 and one night? Continue reading here.
You currently work as Executive Chef in Saudi Arabia, with years of experience in some of the finest luxury hotels and resorts around India, Cruise liner and Middle East. Tell us about how you got started as a chef. Why did you decide on cooking professionally?
Since I was a kid, I always enjoyed watching my mother cook for us and sometimes I helped her. Even before realizing it, I learnt a lot from her. After my high school, I wanted to do something different. That’s how I got into a hotel management institute and chose Culinary as my major subject.
Which culinary school did you attend?
I did my graduation in Hotel Management from RVS College, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu India and completed my Diploma in Restaurant Management from Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, France.
What will you never forget about your first year as a chef?
It was my decision to be a Chef and I wanted to do everything to prove myself right. It was harsh in the beginning, as you need to train under other cooks who are there for past 30 years. What I can’t forget is when I was asked to chop 50 kg onion for gravy base to be used in an Indian wedding dinner. I spent almost a day doing that, I wasn’t trained for such a huge quantity.
Every career starts with hard moments when you think about giving up. Were there such moments in your career, and how did you overcome them?
Yes there were quite a few. But the one moment which I was absolutely sure was when I joined a new job just 2 days before my only brother’s wedding. After joining there only I realized that I had an option to extend the joining by 10 days. The Human recourses manager, who was my point of contact before joining, never told me that. It was major blow for me. I failed there as a son and a brother. I couldn’t perform well at work. After few months, I spoke to my brother regarding this. He advised me to take a break from work and relax for a bit. And it worked.
What is the best part of being a chef?
The food obviously. I get to try things which most people have not even heard of. I have even tried the future of food in Paris. A steak and mushroom that taste and look like Steak and mushroom but are not steak and mushroom. I volunteered to be the lab rat for the experiment.
What is the most difficult aspect to be a professional chef?
In the current scenario, I would say it is the Commitment. Most of the young chefs don’t realize the actual effort involved in running a kitchen. Food needs a lot of commitment sometimes you lose friends and family because of that.
The Work-life balance gets severely disturbed.
You visited as well the famous Le Cordon Bleu in Fence. What did you experienced that time and what was your greatest learning out of it?
It was a life changing experience. Best part of it was meeting the Chefs whom you have only read about or have seen them on TV and then you taste their exotic food. Greatest learning was definitely respecting fresh produce. And giving similar importance to every component that’s present in the plate.
How are chefs considered in Indians society in the past and how does it differ to the current situation?
It has changed a lot. We are more respected I the current situation. People have started considering it as a profession now. A lot of youngsters want to follow us, learn from the chefs and admire us.
– When I started it was considered more like a hobby and in my part of the country they referred to me as Bawarchi that translate to Domestic cook.
How would you describe the soul of Indians cuisine best?
Indian food revolves around spices. The timing to introduce spices to the pot, is the art you need to perfect, to get the food right.
What are the constant and varying elements of the Indian cuisine?
Constant elements must be the ingredients and the way of cooking them. Varying elements is the final execution, which elevates the whole experience.
As India is soo… Huge, how many different major Indian regional cuisine you see?
- To be very honest, even I wonder regarding the regional cuisines. If I miss a single one, I will offend a lot of people.
- Majorly you can divide India in 4 regions – East, West, North and South.
- East: Strong influence from Chinese & Mongolian cuisines. Exotic Ingredients.
- West: Excessive use of milk and milk products. A beautiful mélange of Sweet and extra hot dishes. In fact the hottest curry (The Laal Maas, 32 red chilies for each kilo of lamb) is from Rajasthan – My home state.
- North: Milk and Milk Products. Lot of Nuts and seeds being used in cooking.
- South: Spices, mostly Black pepper. Home for spices like Cardamom, Black Pepper, Vanilla, Nutmeg-mace etc. Seafood is available in abundance.
Which Indian regional cuisine you master best?
That’s a difficult one, I don’t master in any region of India. I know few dishes from each region and I can do those better than most.
Modern Indian fine dining; what does it mean/ what are good examples for it?
My thoughts for modern Indian food is adding finesse, usage of exotic ingredients , being more precise towards the total procedure and very important is the presentation. I want people to overcome the fact that Indian food can only be served in a Bowl with Rice or Naan.
What are the current trends / developments you see in India’s culinary world?
A lot has changed in the past decade, for good. There are many chefs who are adding the missing piece to the puzzle. I am a constant customer for The restaurant Indian Accent in New Delhi by Chef Manish, his food looks totally different from what you expect in an Indian restaurant but taste more Indian than most.
The country cuisines evolve over the years and centuries, mainly due to influences from other cultures. Which sustainable external influences have the greatest influence on the Indian cuisine?
For Centuries, India was ruled by the British, Portuguese, Persians and Turks. The greatest influence is definitely the Mughals in 15th to 18th Centuries. Traces of their food can be seen in every cuisine in India. From Kebabs to Biryanis to our desserts.
In addition to influences from other cultures, other/new ingredients also influence the country’s cuisine. Which new ingredients have a formative influence on the Indian cuisine?
Naming ingredients won’t be right, as the world is an open market now. You can get anything from anywhere delivered to your door step. The good thing is that nowadays chefs travel across the country in search of new ingredients- Who knew India had Finger limes being grown in the east and Spruce in North.
Healthy nutrition and an understanding of our food; should start at a young age and be established as a school subject. Are there any initial tendencies/approaches in India?
Yes, definitely. Government schools in India are providing the students with a proper mid-day meal, cooked in a way to provide nutrition in every aspect. Good thing in India is that junk food is limited to the major cities only. The remote areas in India are still un-touched by the factory processed food. Food co-operation of India has taken major measures against Unhygienic practices in food industry.
While your culinary strength lies in European fine dining and modern French & Italian, you also have a deep understanding of Indian regional cuisine along with more modern Indian fine dining. Out of these different styles; can you create some fusion dishes?
Of course, I believe in creating an impression of a European dish but it tastes Indian. For Example: My Indian version of an Osso Buco, will have Lamb Shank Braised slowly with Rogan Josh Spices and served on a Cumin hinted Khichdi. It would resemble in looks to a Osso Buco served on Risotto alla Milanese.
As you master modern French & Italian cuisine; which major similarities you see at both?
The Modern versions of both are very similar in terms of cooking techniques, flavors and Presentation. Most of their ingredients are of the same standard, as neighboring countries, they have access to the same products.
How would you describe your own culinary style today?
I believe Haute Cuisine is my culinary style. I depend a lot upon local seasonal produce and trust in a seasonal menu.
As Executive Chef in Saudi Arabia today, what is the culinary direction/ set up there?
Saudi Arabia has a massive food culture. The FnB industry is one of most successful industries here.
What is your culinary impression of Saudi Arabia so far?
The food industry here needs a major development. Every street has places where you get freshly prepared food which includes healthy dishes like Hummus, Tabuleh etc, but major percentage of people incline towards the junk food. Unlike UAE, Saudi has a very poor supplier’s database. The crowd in general don’t bother about Quality ingredients. But there is an appetite for change, Lots of people want to trace the source of ingredients, they watch their calorie count etc.
Can you share a signature dish with us?
My Beetroot-Feta mille feuille is my current favorite.
Can you share one of your last creations with us?
It will be: Honey-Fennel Glazed Chicken, Panko Drumstick, Butter Roasted Carrots.
What are some of the lesser known spices and vegetables you use?
- Jereesh Wheat
- Sidr Honey (Yemen)
- Naimi/Awassi Lamb
- Al Hasi Rice
Which unique cooking technique have you mastered?
It is difficult to name one. I prefer slow cooking techniques. Hot & Cold smoking, Braising, Sous vide etc are few of the favorites.
As a chef, you never stop learning: Curse or blessing?
A blessing for sure, every time you or your associate make a mistake or change the procedure and you end up in a totally different final dish. You don’t realize it but its Innovation in disguise. It is mostly fun to learn new things.
The Slow Food Movement is a very good idea, but it can often not be implemented in larger restaurants/hotels, because time is always pressing for the guests, or there are simply too many guests. Do you see a “solution” in the middle?
My personal thoughts on this is:
- To have a balance in the menu of both Slow cooked dishes and fast dishes.
- Use Amuse bouche and Shots of soup to get the guest entertained.
- Have a set menu. Short and crisp.
- Constantly change the menu with seasonal produce.
- For Kitchen, plan the operation. Mise-en-place can solve a lot of issues.
The kitchen has become so international and is always bringing new trends, themes… to the fore. Hand on heart; how do you always get along as a chef with this?
Change is good. It brings challenges and opportunities with it. The frustrating part for me is that everyone out there thinks that they know more than you, because of the accessibility to know about anything and everything.
What motto do you have for your work as a chef?
Work Hard and be nice to others.
What situations have helped you the most in your development as a chef?
There were many instances that motivate me to go a step further. Many from my friends list and family thought that I made a mistake by choosing this field, to prove them wrong I worked harder. The hunger to learn more and something new. Learning other culture and languages. It pleasures me. Food being the major part of culture, it motivates me to learn how to cook dishes from where I live then.
What is one of your favourite local street food/ simple outside eat dish in Saudi Arabia?
I love eating Shawrmas and Falafel Sandwich.
There are lots of trends in the international culinary world. What are the real important developments you see and would like to become more important?
- Zero waste movement.
- Slow food movement.
Did your career as a chef change you as a person and if so, how?
Yes, drastic changes as a person. I have started caring for details, for others feelings. I am more planned, smallest and most unworthy tasks are planned now automatically. I have started respecting time. Learnt it from: Perfectly caramelized and Burnt has difference of few seconds.
What do people often misunderstand about the job of a chef?
Most people think that it is a very Glamorous job where you get to talk to celebrities, people click pictures with you, you travel a lot and you can scream a swear word at anyone. It is true to certain extent but they don’t see the actual struggle that person goes through in his life to become what he is then.
Any place in the world you would like to work as chef one day?
Minaret Station and New Zealand South Island.
If you would have the time to write a cookbook, what would it be about?
It would definitely be about Tips and tricks in Kitchen. Recipes from the remote areas of India with pictures of real Home cooks and Actual Chefs getting it right. It will not include the ones who take other’s credit and defiantly not the social media Chefs.
Is there anything we haven’t talked about that you want to mention?
I just want to share a life changing part from my Culinary Journey: I gained my progress really quick, obviously there was a lot of hard work involved. It turned me into a Snob, I was very arrogant. And I knew deep inside that I am heading to a wrong direction. One day, I was talking to my brother over the phone and I told him about my situation. He told me “ No one will remember you for Who you are or how you look or how much you know, They will remember you for How you treat them”. While mentioning it here, still gives me goose-bums. It was so true and it does work.
Thank you William.
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