After the heat of a 12-hour shift, where do our celebrated chefs go for some me-only time?

They exude glamour as they move around the kitchen in style, much like the star conductor of an orchestra. However, ask these celebrated chefs what it means to work round the clock in their highly demanding profession and, yes… it’s not all sugar and spice — or crépes and crème brulée, if you please.

On their toes, literally taking the heat on a 12-hour shift that usually stretches way longer. The best (or worst) part is they can’t yell, scream, fight or kick — it’s definitely no screaming match, as Gordon Ramsay of Hell’s Kitchen fame would have you believe!

The chef’s whites and the starched bandanas, the knives and ladles have to be handled with sophisticated calm, calling for a perfectly balanced recipe of humility, creativity, patience and skill.

And when the whites are finally off, and the chefs breathe easy, what do they do?

Sleep, sleep, and sleep… many of them readily claim. But that’s surely not all, with many of these culinary professionals extending their creative passion outside their workspace — here’s a peep into their chill-out zones.

Chef Thomas Wee, a passionate biker, cannot stop thinking of his dream machine — Honda CBR1000f — even at work. “When I am not a chef, I play with my iron horse,” says the Master Chinese Chef at Eros Hotel, managed by Hilton, in New Delhi’s Nehru Place. “I love to go on long drives. I have done Uttaranchal, and plan to head to Himachal soon.”

Vacation for him is to fly back home to Malaysia and bike around the country, all the way up to Hatyai in Thailand. “I stay overnight, and head to Phuket the next day, which is 930 km one way. I love speed — my top speed is 260 kmph!” he discloses proudly. And, as if to balance all this speeding around, he has another, sedate hobby: crafting dough dolls for display at the Empress of China restaurant in Delhi.

Chef Inderjeet Singh, Executive Chef at Country Inn & Suites By Carlson at Mysore, is as dextrous with his carpentry tools as he is with his carving knife — even any waste wood will do for him, and before you know it, it has been transformed into a cabinet!

Chef Sabyasachi Gorai of Olive, in Delhi, loves vintage cars and is willing to travel to any distant part of the world in search of these timeless beauties… of course, the mention of some regional speciality cuisine will quickly set him off in the direction of his other love — food.

For restaurateur Ritu Dalmia, relaxation means waking up late, followed by two hours in the gym with loud music, and a movie (complete with popcorn and hotdogs). She also confides that had she not become a chef she would have been a DJ.

Well, one chef’s dream is another’s reality. Chef Harman Singh Talwar at Delhi’s Hard Rock Café used to be a professional DJ in London before turning to tables of another kind. Even today, this sardar, who wears his four tattoos with flourish, wastes no time hopping onto a table at the café for some wild foot-tapping.

His idea of happiness is a pitcher of chilled beer, good music, and, when work permits, a weekend off with his wife and dogs.

At work, they are the boss — smart, savvy, and they know their kitchen like the back of their hand. How about at home?

“My wife married me because I am a cook, so when I am not cooking for guests, I am cooking for her,” says Sam Wong. And that’s certainly no easy task. “She is a tough connoisseur to please — and since it was her only reason for marrying me, it is challenging!”

“My wife finds that my cooking at home turns out to be a nightmare so, thankfully, I stand no chance,” says Parampreet Luthra, admitting that he still craves his mother’s cooking.

Nimish Bhatia, Regional Executive Chef — South and Master of Trade, The Lalit Ashok, Bangalore, does cook at home, but ends up on the wrong end of the firing squad. “On off days I try to cook with my kids. We have a lot of fun, but our kitchen becomes a mess. So the ‘boss’ ends up screaming at us.”

(This article was published on August 31, 2012)
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