As the fire slowly burns…

By: Sheryl Gonsalves

“Do you know how I come to know that the guests are happy? When I see their empty plates!” says Shibiraj Saha, Executive Chef of Holiday Inn Goa.

The journey of this well-seasoned chef with 24-25 years’ experience started as a child cooking with his mother. Whenever she cooked up a dish, he would rush to her side and ask her how to prepare it, even simple dishes like chutney. Years later, he is extremely glad that he chose to be a chef and has worked in reputed places like IHG, Hyatt, ITC, Sheraton, Taj Group of Hotels, The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, Radisson, and Sarovar Group. 

So what is the cooking style of this consummate chef who has cooked in multiple large hotels? Very simple, homely food! He acknowledges that presentation is an important part of the eating experience but is proud of the fact that the taste of his dishes is very homely. Shibiraj says there are 2 words that embody being a chef – passion and creativity.

Caring, friendly, with a smile in his voice – This is what came to mind when I interacted with Chef Shibiraj. He loves meeting people and learning new things from everybody, even from his daughter. When he wakes up in the morning and puts on his chef coat and apron, he knows that being a chef is in his blood.  His inspiration? Happy guests! “When the guests give feedback saying ‘Chef that was excellent food’, it touches my heart and makes my day,” he reveals. When they have licked their plates clean, it tells him that they savoured the food which is super important to him. This makes his job satisfaction levels go through the roof.

The mouthwatering DumPukht & Awadhi cuisines of India are his specializations. DumPukht cuisine involves very slow cooking with meat, vegetables, and other ingredients. Chef Shibiraj loves the idea of slow cooking as it traps and enhances the rich flavour and aroma of the dish to tantalize people’s taste buds to the maximum. He enthusiastically told me that his favourite dish is mutton biryani which got me excited as it is one of my go-to dishes too! I was craving it for the rest of the day after our conversation.

As someone who appreciates slow cooking, it disheartens him when younger chefs just want to speed up everything and don’t want to follow the original recipe. “If a particular dish takes 2 hours to make, you have to spend the 2 hours,” he says. For example, in one of his previous jobs, they had Dal Bukhara on the menu which takes 48 hours to make. The dish has to be slowly cooked, one thing after another has to be maintained – it’s a long process. His wish is that young chefs learn how dishes have been originally made and follow those recipes.

At any hotel, demanding guests can’t be escaped. That’s when a chef has to rise to the occasion. It’s hard to satisfy everyone’s palettes. Some want more spice, some want less spice, and the list goes on… “The most important part of being a chef is to make everyone happy. That is the main challenge; it is a very challenging job. You’ve to understand the palette also,” says Chef Shibiraj.

Occasionally, people come to him and ask why he doesn’t try to become a GM or something else because of his years of experience. This is his answer: “I want to carry my journey as a chef only. As a chef, you’re innovative, you’re creative. A painter expresses on a canvas what is on his mind. For me, my white plate is my canvas where I can display the food.”

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Author: Sheryl
Goa is a special place for Content Writer, Sheryl Gonsalves, with its picturesque beaches, gorgeous sunsets, rich heritage, and delicious food.

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