The kitchen of the Presidential Palace of India

Montu Saini. Made the first pressure as a teenager. It wasn’t around, and it wasn’t like eating. Saini made 12 chapatis that day. From there, somehow, he served three. And that Montu Saini later became the primary servant of the President’s kitchen. In whose hands the President, his family members, and even state guests ate.

Montu Saini was the Executive Chef of the Presidential Palace of India. He worked under the late President Pranab Mukherjee and he was also present during the tenure of the present President Ramnath Kobind. He joined the post in June 2015 at the age of 34. Until then, he was the youngest executive chef to cook for the President of India.

Within a few months, he became the youngest member of the Chefs’ elite International Gastronomic Society Club des Chefs. The chefs of this organization cook for the President, prime minister, kings, and queens. Some of the chefs who are members of this society manage the kitchens of the White House and Buckingham Palace.

This visit to the President’s kitchen from a burnt chapati is no less than a fairy tale to Saini. Saini, a science student from Haryana, left for Hisar with his uncle one day. The purpose is to prepare for the admission test at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT). There were no women in the house where they lived at that time. So the men at home, that is, his brother and uncle had to cook.

“We had to cook for ourselves,” Saini said. The first thing I learned was the daily pulses, bread, and potato vegetables. ‘And now Saini’s signature dish has many Bahari items including chicken durbari, bauli sabji handi. He tastes more than a dozen varied and delightful dishes every day for the sake of his responsibilities, but he prefers ordinary dal-bread and salad as his daily food.

Dad used to say, and the boy is not working.

Saini did not get a chance to get admission to IIT and got admitted to the Institute of Hotel Management in Bangalore. Speaking about that, Saini said, ‘I chose this line. My father was not so opposed. But he was not happy or satisfied. He used to joke that this boy of mine was of no use.

But the day I was appointed chef at the Presidential Palace, my father’s perception changed. I think that’s the best reward I’ve ever had. ‘Telling the story of her life, Saini added, “My kids in college always used to joke about me, saying, ‘If you want to find Saini, sir, find him either in the kitchen or in the library.’

Either you are cooking, or you are reading a cookbook.” In many ways, I am learning. It never ends. If you want to be relevant in your profession, then promote yourself according to the latest trends in every moment. ‘

Stay relevant at work all the time.

Saini, now 39, has no exciting history with cooking or food. After graduating from Hotel Management, he worked for Pizza Hut and Oberoi Group. From there, he joined the Tourism Development Corporation’s (ITDC) Ashok Hotel in Delhi. After working there for eight years, they called him to the Rashtrapati Bhavan.

Saini said, ‘I was then the chief chef of Ashok Hotel. One day I saw in the newspaper that an executive chef would be hired at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Then I apply. I was selected in a few steps through interviews. Saini said there is no substitute for being a good student all your life. There is a lot to learn from small things. That makes a person relevant in the workplace all the time.

That experience is not forgettable.

Saini will never forget an experience while working in Ashok Group. He considers ‘Uncle Jacob’ as his guru. Let’s hear about that from Saini’s face, ‘One day while passing by the kitchen, Uncle Yakub suddenly said that I didn’t add salt to the cooking. But he did not even taste the food. I was surprised.

I was even more surprised to see the taste. Didn’t really give salt. I followed him for a week to find out how he understood it. Then one day he laughed and said that he could understand from the smell of turmeric in the air. Because, salt reduces the smell of turmeric. But he got the real “strong” smell of turmeric. ‘ 

‘Family’ kitchen for the President and his family

At the Rashtrapati Bhavan, about 45 people worked under Saini. Meals for official functions, meetings, royal banquets, receptions, and conferences on behalf of the President remain in this kitchen. The central kitchen is divided into several parts. Such as bakery, confectionery station, training area, smoothie area, and staff cafeteria in one part.

There is also a ‘family’ kitchen for the President and his family. Saini said there is no such thing as a ‘normal day’ in the Rashtrapati Bhavan. There are a lot of meetings every day. So you have to approve the menu. If the President catches a flight, food has to be arranged on the flight.

It has to arrive two hours before the start of the journey. For this, everything big and small had to be appropriately planned. On special occasions like Diwali, Holi, and other occasions, the kitchen staff prepares delicious sweets and unique dishes.

Pranab Mukherjee was a fan of Sizzler.

Scrolldot. I wanted to know what is President Pranab Mukherjee’s favorite food or what kind of food he wants to eat on a particular day. Then Saini became very careful and said, ‘Naturally, the President prefers Bengali food. However, he is very keen to taste different types of food in the world. But his most favorite is Sizzler.

But how much is it eaten? You will want to eat simple food like home-cooked food. The food served at the Rashtrapati Bhavan ceremony includes traditional Indian food.

Because the chefs here come from different parts of India. Whenever a foreign diplomat comes to meet the President, there is a request to serve Indian food. Whether it’s baking bread or pastries, or Fulco kachori, samucha, amitti or jilapi.

Su Chi wanted to eat dosa and kachori

In 2016, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited India. At that time he wanted to eat dosa, samucha, kachori, and puri-bhaji. “It is our responsibility to bring the taste of traditional Indian food to the attention of internationally important personalities,” Saini said.

The most important thing to accomplish this massive task in the kitchen is to keep the product delivery process moving. After entering the kitchen, Saini would first go to the cold store. He would see if there was anything he needed that day. Then he would brief the staff on what to do that day.

He would also make sure that the work was being done as per his instructions. After that, he used to do some office work there. For example, if someone is on vacation, whether new recruitment is needed, what modern equipment will be needed, they would also look at it.

Vegetables and fruits come from the kitchen garden.

When there is no special arrangement or royal banquet by the President, the kitchen garden is taken care of. There were 200 gardeners in this garden. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs used in cooking came from here. Unique medicinal plants such as stevia are cultivated in that garden.

The President’s food is tested in the food laboratory.

Seafood, chicken, and other meats had to be regularly inspected and approved by the Municipal Corporation of New Delhi doctors. He purchased items from certain vendors designated for the royal banquet. Food prepared for the President is tested in the food laboratory every time. Saini even tasted it himself before reaching the President’s table.

Eating started with soup and ended with tea.

Meals at the Presidential Palace usually started with soup. There were vegetarian and non-vegetarian foods and sweets at the end of the feast. However, the arrangement of this meal always ended with tea or coffee. Guests were offered a variety of drinks and mouth fresheners.

The difference between cooking at the Presidential Palace and the hotel

Regarding the difference between cooking in the Presidential Palace and the hotel, Saini said, ‘The work experience of the two is completely different. Here I have represented my country. There is no room for error here. Mistakes so small here can create big problems. That risk is not in the hotel again.

It is not enough to just say sorry there. As President’s chef, there is no room for error. Must have efficient management, improved quality, and best service. There is no difference in anything else. My main job is to make fun food in both places.

Saini and his team had to work 15 to 16 hours to prepare various types of food at the Presidential Palace. Saini likens the idea of ​​making Indian food all the time to ‘mother’s cooking. He said that he has no problem cooking Indian traditional dishes.

Special plate for 400 guests

Referring to the big event under his leadership, Saini spoke about the Indo-Africa Conference. There were 400 guests and 54 heads of state. At that time, he built seven kitchens. He was cooked together there and he also decorated a special dish with traditional Indian food at the event. He also hosted 600 guests in 2016. 

Saini is currently the Executive Chef of the Parliament Canteen of India. After serving at the Rashtrapati Bhavan for five years, he returned to the five-star Ashok Hotel of the Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC). ITDC Tourism Wing of Government of India. It runs five-star hotels in various cities, including New Delhi. 

Montu Saini has received two consecutive awards. ‘Young Hotel Chef 2014’ was given by the Federation of Hotels and Restaurants Association of India. The other is ‘Master Chef 2014’, given by The Indian Culinary Forum. There are also five degrees in cooking. Montu Saini has represented India in the international arena through his work at various times. He is a Ph.D. student in tourism.

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