Calm in personality and demure in composure, at first glance you wouldn’t think that Saurabh Saxena is a master in the kitchen. Yet behind his cool exterior lies a man who has had vast experience in the culinary world, rising up to become a recognised and sought after Senior Sous Chef currently running a massive kitchen at the Fairmont Hotel in Jaipur.
His journey to that very admirable position, like all success stories, has not been all rosy. Hailing from a small village in North India and from a family of three boys, cooking was not the first thing that he thought he would pursue professionally. But from a very tender age he had already developed a strong interest in his cooking skills, especially with the encouragement of his mother who was quite the food enthusiast. He was also adventurous in his tastes. ‘’ I used to like street food a lot as it was very rich and the variety helped me know which ingredients to enrich my cooking with,’’ he told Eat Out Kenya.
Despite that, he later decided to pursue a course in engineering which failed to satisfy him and eventually he dropped out, taking up a culinary management course at Mangalore University where he graduated with honours.
Already keen to begin his culinary journey, Saurabh’s first job was at the Hyatt Regency, in the Indian capital New Delhi. After a two year stretch, he had grown enough to land a job in the land of opportunity for any upcoming chef – Dubai.
“I got a job at the Jumeirah International in 2000. I was happy to go out of the country (India), it was a dream. I was exposed to a lot of styles of cooking and it was exciting for me.”
He was then promoted to another Jumeirah hotel after two years, the Burj Al Arab, which is the only 7 star hotel in the world.
“The chefs there were from all over the world. We had German chefs, French chefs, Italian chefs and everything. I stayed there for another two years, learning all the different techniques. I worked in many food sections and this helped me develop my skills much faster.”
Saurabh’s adventures also saw him learn Spanish, because one of the chefs he had to work under could only speak Spanish. The language was necessary for Saurabh to ask questions, which he believes is the best way to hone his own talent, shape his style and expand his knowledge.
Not long after, the young Indian chef moved to the Fairmont Palm Hotel in Dubai. Recognising his talent, he was moved to be the pre opening chef for Fairmont Abu Dhabi and now, the Senior Sous Chef at the first Fairmont property in India.
Ahead of the hotel’s opening in July, Saurabh is now temporarily based at Fairmont the Norfolk in Nairobi, whose head chef Hubert Des Marais transferred to Hawaii. In the short duration that he will be here, his main aim will be to train the chefs at the Fairmont to develop their culinary skills. With him are two more colleagues from Jaipur who have come to help him.
The young chef is coming up with a massive work-force and setting up a delectable menu for the upcoming Jaipur Royal Cuisine Festival at the Hotel.
‘’Indian food is not all about spices, it’s all about the different flavours you find in diverse dishes. We shall be showcasing food from Jaipur from 26 May to June 10. The food is typical cuisine from Jaipur, which is a very hot place but which has been known to have very good food because that is where all the royal palaces used to be.’’
Chef Saurabh continues to add that his experience here has been exciting mainly because he likes our ingredients which are fresh and readily available. ‘’Nairobi is the best place for a chef,’’ he jokingly adds. But in addition, he sees a need for the Kenyan hotel industry to work on. ‘’There’s not much competition in the industry, and I think more effort should be focused on what is really happening outside to set a bar on where you really lie.’’
We asked what he likes to indulge in when he’s out of the kitchen and surprisingly Indian food was not first on his list. He appreciates the Spanish cuisine, mostly because of its simplicity and the perfect ingredients which make food tasty. His favourite dish is the Paella. ‘’I’d rather eat Indian food than prepare it, when my friends come over it will always be Italian or Spanish food on the table,’’ he ends with a smile.
He however adds that he loves homely food, is not a big meat eater as his mom is vegetarian, and although there was no limitation on meat, they grew up putting great value on vegetables like lotus root and jack fruit which are some of his favourites.
What do we expect? ‘’Experience India in Norfolk,’’ was his firm reply. So be sure to join him as he teases your taste buds with the best of Indian dishes.