As I sit and wait to start my interview with Executive Chef, Chef Khot of the Concorde Hotel, what sounds like Billboard’s Top 100 hits play softly in the background of the Bonhomie restaurant. The hostess gestures towards the breakfast buffet telling me to feel free to grab a bite and order a drink as I wait. I sip on my double cappuccino and take note of how orderly the hotel is: staff quietly busy themselves cleaning up every crumb left by hungry hotel guests, wiping down windows and cleaning floors. After a few minutes, Chef Vasant Anil Khot, the new Group Chef at The Concord Hotel, steps out to introduce himself. Wearing his decorated chef coat, he offers to make me a meal: whatever I want, on or off the menu. I explain that I have just eaten, so with a polite smile he leads me to a quiet lounge outside of the penthouse suite.
Chef Khot grew up in Mumbai, India where he attended St. Anthony’s Covenant School for secondary school and later studied catering at Kharmats Institute, one of the best government affiliated hospitality schools in Mumbai. In 1999, Chef Khot got his first job working at the Ramada Group Hotels and shortly thereafter, at Paramount Hotel. After three years at the latter hotel, he began his work as a pastry chef on a carnival cruise line in Miami.
For the next three years, Chef Khot would work on three different cruise liners all out of Miami: the Fantasy, Destiny and Victory. The names of the ships reflected the stages of his personal life at the time. When he first got to Miami to be a pastry chef on the Fantasy, he remembers feeling an acute culture shock: “When I started [on Fantasy], it was just after the World Trade Centre crisis and I was so young. I was a 21 year old boy from Mumbai going to the airport. In Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris, they removed everything on our body and they checked us… My mom had given me homemade pickles and I had to throw them away at the airport.” Vasant laughs at the memory. Working on the cruise ship required a lot of stamina, often he would work 12 hour days in the pastry kitchen. Chef Khot returned home at the end of his nine month contract. Two to three months later, Chef Khot landed another pastry chef job, this time on the Destiny.
Seven months into his Destiny cruise, Chef Khot received a call from his girlfriend who said her parents wanted to set up an arranged marriage. They were both 23 at the time and from traditional families, this was not out of the ordinary. Chef Khot booked a flight, left his belongings on the cruise ship and returned to Mumbai where he and his girlfriend had a civil ceremony wedding. Although his wife’s family was against it, Chef Khot returned to the Miami cruise line business for one last stint, this time as a pastry chef on the Victory.
Chef Khot quickly got a promotion which included a leadership development training course at a pastry college in Tampa, Florida. Here, he received his Cordon Bleu pastry chef certification. One day while spinning sugar on the Victory, he spilled a scalding hot piece of molten sugar which burned right through his arm. “The sugar was 140 degrees celsius. Water boils at 100 degrees so it was like an acid,” says Chef Khot gesturing at an large scar plainly visible on his right forearm. He was immediately rushed to the hospital where he was told that he’d never be able to use his hand again. The cruise ship gave him a cheque and he went home to Mumbai.
A religious man, Chef Khot prayed for his hand to get better. He prayed for months and then one day when he was making a 250KM walk to the Saibaba temple, his hand began to regain mobility. “My hand started working again, it was a miracle” he tells me, shaking his head in disbelief. After getting his hand checked and cleared at the hospital, Chef Khot returned to the Victory for a final stint working on a cruise liner.
After drawing a close to his days at sea, Chef Khot spent the next few years working in different high-end hotel kitchens in Mumbai, gaining experience in restaurant and hotel management. One day, he was approached by a friend living in Nairobi and asked to be the Group Chef of The Concord Hotel. He took another leap of faith and has been in Nairobi for just over a month. This Easter, Chef Khot plans on decorating the hotel in an Easter theme and making a special Easter menu for Bonhomie restaurant.