“A chef must think like a scientist, organize like an accountant, present like an artist, and cook like a grandma.”
“No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing”. A quote like this couldn’t define him any better. The ECS Friday team met up with Yuba Raj Pokhrel, Executive Chef at the Kakori Restaurant, Soaltee Crowne Plaza, to know more about the wonders of a chef’s life.
Pokhrel started his career in cooking by balancing his work and education. He got inspiration to go forward in the profession after receiving the proper skills to behave, think, and cook. In late 1993, a lot of dedication was needed to get a proper job in a hotel. Later in that time period, he got recommended for Sheraton (a popular American hotel chain), and so started working there. Then, gradually, he tried for different hotels and restaurants around Nepal and India.
He says that he is a person with great curiosity. Moreover, he used to, and still does, carry out a lot of assessment, analysis, and comparison with other restaurants and hotel chains of national and international level. His team ran the famous Bukhara chain of Indian restaurants during the late 1990s in Nepal. Similarly, he currently works in various parts of India like Chennai, Hyderabad, and in bigger brands like Sheraton. Furthermore, he has started to move to other countries, to get the necessary knowledge and utilize it whenever he gets the chance.
A chef’s occupation is a very demanding one. Chefs must dedicate a huge amount of time to their work and cannot waste a single breath by being lazy. Likewise, they need to be responsible for whatever they make and deliver to the consumers. Validating the idiom, ‘With great authority comes great responsibility’, Pokhrel tells us about one instance when a SAARC summit was hosted at Soaltee. He was assigned to accommodate presidents of eight countries in the same hotel. He remembers how important it was to make a good impression on the guests and how hectic the whole event was. Eventually, his team did pull through and became successful in maintaining a good reputation.
In Soaltee, he and his team are doing a lot of research and experimentations. After a feasible amount of guest feedback and analysis, new items are introduced, and then tested in the kitchen. Moreover, Kakori usually changes their overall menu regularly, and recently, they had called a master chef from India to make a new themed menu for the restaurant.
His daily job spans up to more than twelve hours, and his team needs to carry out huge operations, from prepping morning breakfasts to night snacks. For them, guests are all the same, so the timing, food quality, and taste need to be measured through every parameter for a successful feast. He says that a chef is not only chef, but also a good manager and motivator in the kitchen. A chef must have lots of food knowledge and experience so they know how to play with food while creating a menu fit for the customer. Taking into account the customer’s nutrition, a chef has to be flexible enough to create a menu according to a customer’s diet, preference, and health.
“This is my country, and we must implement a lot of things in Nepal, too. All the ideas I inculcated from various countries, like the different cuisines, etiquette, and ingredients, must be implemented here as well,” he says, when asked about why he wanted to settle in Nepal. Moreover, the motto for Chef Pokhrel is that, a guest must be satisfied on receiving food with proper quality if they are paying for a particular dish. “The main thing that drives me to work in this industry every day is my passion for cooking and food. Most of the time, I forget my daily meals, as well!”
A unique forthcoming idea
He has a quite unique and exciting future plan that he was very happy to share. He wants to visit the rural most culturally rich and untouched parts of Nepal. While he’s there, he wants to explore their lifestyle, culture, and tradition of preparing food. He believes that Nepal is still lost when it comes to their authentic cuisine, exception apart. So, in order to mine out the truths of Nepali cuisine, one must observe these rural people on how they prepare food. A good example of Nepali cuisine could be chatamari, a rice-based Newari flatbread, and sisnu jhol, a soup made of stinging nettle. For this aspiration, Pokhrel says he will need support from different platforms, such as the media, private companies, and other cooks.
The chef’s handpicked preference
He has deep knowledge about oriental, Western, and Indian sub-continental cuisine. But his favorite is South Indian cuisine, as personally, he spent a long time there. He loves the fact that the cuisine has many ingredients, a huge range of dishes, authenticity, and an added health benefit that is normally not found in other cuisines.
Tips and recommendations from the chef himself
“People should avoid heavy and fried items as snacking options. Go natural by having fresh vegetables and dishes like cucumber, carrots, and salads, which do indeed go well with drinks such as wine.I would obviously recommend Kakori in Soaltee Crowne Plaza. I do not have much intel on the outside restaurant market, but I would recommend Mul Chowk and Le Sherpa.”