The Executive Chef of ITC Windsor talks to Traveldine about his career path, ITC’s initiatives under ‘Responsible Luxury’ and his food philosophy
Having worked with a diverse range of hospitality establishments across the country and overseas, Chef Srinivas Venkatesan is a seasoned professional who comes with over 25 years of experience in the hospitality arena.
Chef Srinivas is known for his in-depth knowledge of both Indian and international cuisines. Before joining ITC Windsor, he was part of the pre-opening team at ITC Grand Chola, Chennai and was instrumental in setting up its F&B outlets and handling multiple kitchens at the hotel.
He is a graduate of IHM, Chennai, and started his career as chef de partie at Taj Air Caterers. Prior to joining ITC Hotels, he was associated with properties like The Trident, Udaipur; Taj Coromandel, Chennai; The Park, Chennai and Novotel, Hyderabad. He has also been part of Carnival Cruise Lines, Miami, USA. He talks to us about his career path, ITC’s initiatives under ‘Responsible Luxury’ and his food philosophy. Excerpts:
Could you tell us a bit about your culinary journey?
I started working in 1995 with the Taj Group as part of Air Caterers. Then I joined the Oberoi Group and was part of the opening of the Trident Udaipur. Post that I came back to Chennai to the Taj Coromandel. In the late 1990s, as a young chef, I read about several ingredients that weren’t easily available in India, things like broccoli or portobello mushrooms or sea urchin. There were interviews going on for the Carnival Cruise Lines then and I thought of giving it a shot. I joined them based out of Miami. I used to sail to Mexico and Canada. It was good exposure. You got to work with produce that you had only read about. After about three years I returned to India and joined the Accor Group. I was part of the opening team of their convention centre at Hyderabad as well as the airport hotel. Then I moved to Mumbai and was with Novotel Juhu when it opened. After that I moved back to Chennai and was part of the opening team of ITC Grand Chola. Within six months it opened.
What makes working with ITC different?
Being with ITC one realised the interest that the company takes in cuisines, especially Indian cuisine. Also, as part of Responsible Luxury, the hotels emphasise on eating local. So, we have a section called Local Love. When you visit a new city, you would want to eat something local, but you may not know where to go or, for that matter, you may not be confident of the quality or hygiene, especially in current times.
Therefore, we offer a selection of famous local dishes as part of our menu at ITC hotels. You can experience local food that that city is famous for, right in your hotel. Also, all ingredients are sourced locally to reduce the carbon footprint. We are in touch with farmers and local suppliers.
Could you tell us a bit about the other initiatives under ‘Responsible Luxury’?
Other initiatives include ‘Choose Wisely’. It’s related to the World Wildlife Fund for fish. While getting our fish supply, we know which fish is easily available in that season and which fish is overfished. Our menu highlights whether a fish is in abundance or is likely to be endangered. As a luxury hotel we do provide it to you, but we also inform you, allowing you to make a considered decision.
Then there is ‘Shunya Aqua’ which basically translates to zero water or water with zero carbon footprint. We don’t depend upon bottled water, so there’s no plastic and the water doesn’t travel from a distance. Hotels have their own RO plants and clean drinking water is provided to all the guests.
Were supply chains disrupted during the lockdowns?
Yes, during the lockdowns supply chains were impacted. For instance, under normal circumstances we purchased 100kg of tomatoes and our supplier was procuring it from some 30-40km away. With demand going down, we didn’t need him to come in every day. Therefore, we made him come in only twice a week. We faced challenges in procuring some of the produce because of the state norms of not letting produce come in from other states. During the first lockdown we didn’t know what was happening, but by the second lockdown we were prepared.
What steps did you take during the pandemic?
We created a bubble for our team to avoid chances of getting infected. We all stayed back in the hotel. There was no interaction with anyone coming from outside.
Any one ingredient that you love working with?
Coconut. It’s so versatile. Whether it’s coconut milk or grated coconut or coconut oil. Coconut can be used in all meals, starting from breakfast to dinner. And it’s vegan too.
What is your food philosophy?
Whatever you cook, cook it with passion. Passion is the seasoning for any dish.