Being a pastry chef is not easy, you will have to sacrifice a chunk of your free time. Prepare yourself for that, accept it and you will get so much in return.
Becoming a well-rounded culinary professional is difficult if you are always in the same geographical place, but what if an internship abroad is not an option for you? The financial burden that comes with internships is a barrier for many chefs looking to upgrade their skills and build their resumes. Today, we bring you a solution. Working in an international environment allows you to learn about new cultures and new cuisines from home. It is the only way to get in touch with the world without leaving your country. One of the places where you can try ingredients from all cuisines and work with chefs from all over the world is the Le Meridien Lav Hotel in Split. Read the story of their Indian pastry chef, Anup Gokal Salvia, the man who left Dubai to eventually settle in Croatia.
Kul IN: Tell us something about your background, how did you start working at Le Meridien Lav?
- I am from Pune city in mainland India, Mumbai is 100 km away. I completed a program at a culinary institute in 2002 where I specialized in food production. I worked as a chef in Mumbai for 3 and half years, then worked in the South of India, and eventually went to Dubai. Dubai was the turning point of my life, I worked at 4 hotels there. First at Fairmont Hotel, a five-star hotel in Dubai. That was very challenging at first because I had worked in the same place and my home country for the previous four years. Fairmont and Dubai in general were a huge change, something totally different. It is a bustling international place but within 5-6 months I managed to successfully adapt. In Dubai, I got the necessary confidence and realized I could work anywhere in the world. I also worked at Rixos hotels, Sheraton hotels, etc. After this Middle-east experience I went to Montenegro. There, I worked at Porto Montenegro for two years and again had to adapt to a whole new set of circumstances – you have to master a whole range of new ingredients and flavors. The procedures are also different, there are many food tries, many tastings, and after that elaborate procedure you get the new product. Different audiences have different tastes and expectations. After two years in Montenegro, I went north, to Croatia and got a job as the pastry sous chef at Le Meridien Lav in Split, Croatia, and adapted nicely. I am working with a chef who is very good and friendly, I am not scared to ask something. The atmosphere is the perfect blend of work and fun and learning.
Kul IN: When did you realize you wanted to be a pastry chef?
- When I was in school, sixth or seventh grade, I used to watch cooking shows on TV. I would try recreating the dishes at home. My creations were not particularly successful at the time but I tried and enjoyed the process. Milk would regularly boil over but at least I realized what my passion was, and my technique has luckily improved over time (laughs). Cooking is not easy - it looks effortless on a plate but it takes a lot of work to make it look that way. Chefs of all kinds work very hard on their skills. On a plate, you see one piece, but there are many components within it, that dish requires a lot of preparation and careful attention.
Kul IN: How did you come to Croatia?
- In Dubai, I heard that this part of the world has a very different and interesting cuisine, that it was a good place to learn how to develop ingredients and recipes, and I was in search of new experiences at the time! I love the weather and whole country, Indians love the sun. Furthermore, I love the culture in Croatia and the peaceful life Croatia provides. Working aspect is hectic wherever you are if you are a chef, but my heart is calm here. When I come home from work I feel fresh while I felt anxious and saw only towers in Dubai. I love the nature here, for example, look at the trees surrounding Kul IN, I love being surrounded by nature. It is a great bonus when you are working and living in Croatia, another thing to enjoy, besides work and life.
Kul IN: What advice would you give the potential Kul IN students from India?
- I think it is important to experience something totally different and see the world, especially if you are a pastry chef or chef. Culture and language are very important for culinary arts, earning a good living is just a bonus, one of the perks when working in this industry.
Kul IN: Would you describe the food culture in India?
- India is a big country, so different parts of India have different flavors, tastes, cultures. My region combines both the South and North, and the food is very spicy. Even today, I have some trouble with spices because my tongue is dead from the spicy food (laughs). My chef always picks up on the nuances of different flavors, and sometimes I have to ask him to try my food and check the spiciness. India is not famous for its pastries, generally speaking, our thing is spicy food. However, Calcutta has many milk desserts. For example they make cube-shaped pastries that incorporate milk, sugar and local nuts. It is very good.
Kul IN: Was it difficult to adapt to the European style of pastry-making?
- Not really, we dont have many traditional pastries as Indian cuisine is not pastry-focused. A lot of the pastries we eat come from the outside. Basically, what we prepare in Lav, we also prepare in India, Indian pastries have an international flavor and there is a lot of Italian and French influence. Pastry culture in very similar in Croatia and India, as opposed to Dubai, where people prefer very sweet and heavy pastries.
Kul IN: Do you have some message for young pastry chefs, where should they look for inspiration?
- It is good to be inspired by others but the motivation needs to come from within. When I was younger, I would look at others – some friends became doctors, some engineers and lawyers. This should not concern you, you have to ask yourself what you like and then pursue it. Being a pastry chef is not easy, you will have to sacrifice a chunk of your free time. Prepare yourself for that, accept it and you will get so much in return. Working in pastry arts will always give back what it takes away, keep that in mind. Furthermore, you can find inspiration in ingredients; people are not the only ones capable of speaking, ingredients speak too. When you put oil into a hot pan, the oil sizzles, it is talking to you in that 'shhhhh' sound. This dynamism and magic is where I find inspiration and what I enjoy.