Chef Manjunath Mural’s lifelong dream is to be able to present Indian cuisine in a manner that is relevant to diners from across the globe – to make ‘haute Indian cuisine’ as accepted as haute French dining. He resents the “niche”, “family restaurant” image of Indian cuisine that is so common in big cities around the world, and wishes to showcase the depths of history, tradition, ingredients and techniques that are profoundly ingrained in Indian cuisine.
As the Executive Chef of Song of India in Singapore, Chef Mural was the first Indian Executive Chef to earn a Michelin star for an Indian restaurant in Southeast Asia. Song of India went on to earn a Michelin star four times in a row with him at the helm. For Chef Mural, earning the Michelin star was just one way of working towards his dream of presenting Indian cuisine at its pinnacle on an international stage. Those who have worked with him are impressed by his passion and his everlasting desire to learn. His dedication to his craft, eye for detail and strong work ethic are qualities that lend to his success in the international arena.
Born into a family of doctors, Chef Manjunath carved his own path and followed his dreams to reach great heights of success. He recently opened ADDA, a neo-Indian restaurant that presents Indian cuisine in an innovative and approachable manner. We have much to learn from such inspiring individuals, and we were fortunate to have the opportunity to ask him a few questions!
Q1. When did you first realize that being a chef was your calling? What or who inspired you the most?
A1. It was during my training at the Taj President where, while training in the Thai restaurant, I met two Thai lady chefs who really inspired me with the feeling that being a chef is a respectful career which requires a great deal of passion. Apart from this, my mother and father both supported my dreams of becoming a chef, even though they were both doctors.
Q2. What are the character traits that you think are essential in this line of work?
A2. Humility, passion, hard work, dedication are some traits that are important for a chef. You should try to show your personality through your cuisine. At the same time, there should be a constant desire to learn more, these are some of the things that make a successful chef.
Q3. How important is it for an aspiring chef to undertake a professional program in culinary arts?
A3. A professional program helps to learn the basics, the technique of cooking. It proves one’s interest in being a good chef and provides the advantage of adding skills, which are needed to survive in the tough hospitality industry.
Q4. How was your journey towards achieving your first Michelin star? Were there any hurdles?
A4. I have always been extremely oriented towards quality and consistency as a chef, without compromise. I also consider myself a good team leader, and I try to keep my team motivated to achieve greater heights. In the end, they are the actual winners. I believe these traits helped me on my journey towards the Michelin star, and I never experienced any hurdles or pressure.
Q5. How do you cope with the day-to-day pressures of work, especially in the kitchen?
A5. So much experience, spanning over many years has made me a very patient chef. I hardly ever take on any pressure, rather I enjoy teaching my chefs to make consistency and quality a habit, as I believe these two things make cooking an enjoyable and happy experience.
Q6. Over the past year, how have things changed in the kitchen on account of Covid?
A6. Things have certainly changed over the past year; chefs have given greater importance to delivery platform food, created affordable menus, worked on cost control in terms of kitchen operations. The focus has shifted more to easy, casual dining. The target clients’ budgets have reduced, which has also made chefs turn to sustainable ingredients to help keep costs lower.
Q7. Apart from culinary training, what skills would you consider important for a budding chef?
A7. A positive attitude, humility, desire to learn and utmost respect for other chefs, whether they are young trainees or experienced chefs – these are all important in my opinion. Stay away from the trap of overconfidence.
Q8. What advice would you give to students of the culinary arts who dream of becoming Michelin-star chefs some day?
A8. Believe in yourself and in what you want to do. You must have the confidence to think differently, without caring about the opinion of others – this will always help to differentiate you from the crowd. Make sure that your basics are strong.
- The interview was originally published in Career Ahead April 2021 issue.