A Michelin star chef’s table in Beijing

Sudha Menon | Updated on September 20, 2019 Published on September 20, 2019

Grub report: The self-confessed foodie hits Beijing’s buzzing pub scene on his day off from work to check out the food offerings   -  IMAGE COURTESY: ANUPAM BANERJEE

The winner of two Michelin stars, Anupam Banerjee’s itchy feet and creative hands have helped him script a flavourful journey

He has a nomadic soul — and, as he says, itchy feet. “I get restless when I am restricted to one place indefinitely,” Michelin-starred chef Anupam Banerjee stresses.

And that explains why he is far away from home, overseeing Food and Beverages (F&B) at St Regis in Beijing, an assignment he took over in August 2018. I am sipping Chinese tea at the lobby café of the iconic hotel, listening to him talk about his journey.

“After six years at the Ritz-Carlton, Bangalore, from pre-launch to establishing it as a food destination for gastronomes, I was raring to take up another challenge and this was perfect,” he says. What fuelled the move to China was the fact that while he had worked in the Mandarin Oriental in Washington DC, London and Geneva and with Raffles in Singapore, he had never worked in China and was eager to do so.

Over the last year, Banerjee has travelled to different regions of China to familiarise himself with the nuances of the country’s disparate culinary traditions. “Through food I connect with the cultures of people,” he says.

In 1991, Banerjee, who grew up in Ranchi (Jharkhand), participated in the prestigious Taste of Asia event in Singapore. The then 25-year-old so impressed the management of the famed Raffles hotel that they offered him a job on the spot. That was the turning point of his life and he has since been honing his culinary skills from some very eminent masters in the field.

At Raffles Singapore, he learnt about evolving global culinary trends, picked up work ethics and forged lifelong connections with legends such as French chef Alain Soliveres and the American Charlie Trotter.

“Alain Soliveres opened his heart and his Paris restaurant so I could use a two-week vacation to cook with him. His quality standards and his commitment — he worked in the kitchen from 6am till after midnight — shaped my own approach to work,” Banerjee says.

His journey in hospitality began with hotel management studies at The Oberoi Centre For Learning and Development and Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Chennai, followed by his first job at the Park Sheraton, Chennai; soon, he became a feted one-star Michelin chef in 2010 and 2011 during his time at the Mandarin Oriental, Geneva.

As the F&B director at the St Regis in Beijing, Banerjee has been responsible for the execution of a major transformation of the hotel — including putting in a grand new ballroom and spicing up F&B offerings at its restaurants.

When it comes to the food at the hotel, the 45-year-old chef is on his feet through the day. He is in the kitchen for all three services from morning till late at night. “Keeping the team motivated, making sure the revenues are coming in and having guests go back with happy memories keep me on my toes.”

The self-confessed foodie hits Beijing’s buzzing pub scene on his day off from work to check out the food offerings and he swears by the city’s street food. And he is in awe of the dim sums and noodle soups he savoured at the tiny eateries that dot the city’s crowded street markets. What probably also emotionally connects him to Oriental food is the fact that his wife is a Singaporean Chinese.

“Inspiration is everywhere; you simply have to look for it. I am so enamoured of the Beijing duck served in restaurants all over this city that I have reimagined and presented it at our Italian restaurant Danieli,” he says.

This summer, he curated a Taiwanese Night Market food festival and followed it up by inviting anIron Man Chef (winner of a Japanese television cooking show produced by Fuji Television that has spawned several adaptations including Iron Chef America) from Thailand for a Thai food festival.

“The Chinese consumers have innumerable online channels on which they order food and I have to ensure we are visible and the brand of choice on these channels,” he says.

Banerjee himself counts Singaporean chicken rice and a bowl of laksa or khow suey — both soupy meals with various kinds of toppings — among his favourite foods. And, of course, he loves Bengali food. On his wish-list for the new assignment is the introduction of Indian cuisine on the menu, though he is in no hurry to do it.

“When it comes to food it is critical to find the balance between offering guests something innovative and offering them their favourite comfort foods. I tell my team: Cook like you are cooking for your loved ones or for yourself and you will never go wrong.”

It is late evening by now and the hotel is getting busy for the dinner service. I wind up with my last question: Does he have a strategy by which he stays ahead in the game?

“I believe in constant learning. You have to be on your feet and have foresight, or you can be out of the game very quickly,” he says.

Sudha Menon is an author based in Pune

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Published on September 20, 2019
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