French-Swiss chef Benoit Violier was found dead a day before the new Michelin guide in Paris was to be released. Phorum Dalal asks Indian chefs about the high demands of the food industry
Last Sunday, French-Swiss chef Benoît Violier ended his life with a shotgun, a day before the unveiling of the new Michelin guide in Paris on Monday. The 44-year-old chef ran the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier, which was named the best in the world in December by La Liste.
Late top chef Benoit Violier at the Restaurant de l’Hotel de Ville in Crissier near Lausanne, western Switzerland. Pic/AFP
"Chefs put in love, sweat, tears, blood and at times, their life savings to follow their passion. Good things should be praised. But, the award is a highly pressure-oriented honour. A chef’s job may not be as crucial as that of a brain surgeon, but they are put to test every single day. Picture this: they are crammed in small, stuffy kitchen for long hours at a stretch. It is hot, loud and 70 to 80 people come with their expectations. Chefs, even at the highest levels, could get freaked out," restaurateur Zorawar Kalra explains, adding that he would love to see a Michelin guide in India.
Chefs all over the world mourned the death of an exceptional chef, many acknowledged the price one pays to retain a rating every year. "Violier’s death is a great loss. While I never visited his restaurant, I followed his career through his interviews. Till date, when I open a restaurant, I get the butterflies. But with time, I have built a mindset that doesn’t take all to heart. I never visit food sites to check reviews. I follow only reviewers who know what they are talking about. Cooking is a soul-stirring process, and chefs are known to be touchy, because a lot of what they do comes from their passion," he reasons.
mid-day spoke to a few chefs about the increasing cut-throat competition, the high demands to serve a high-quality product and real-time critics on social media. firstname.lastname@example.org
In India, the standards in the food industry are improving. Though we don’t have a Michelin guide to judge our work, there are people with their cameras waiting to trash your food on social media. I find the need to follow other passions and take breaks. For me, it’s music or trekking. At times, criticism is taken positively, but on occasions, you know that people are judging you without reason. If one does not step back regularly, it is easy to break down.
As you climb the ladder of success, the pressure builds up. It is an honour to receive these awards but it also creates unwanted hype around you and your restaurant. People have a specific idea of your product, and it is not always the truth. They come in expecting something that the restaurant might not be. As a chef, I prefer to stay low-key. Once you achieve an award or fame, it is like a fortune cookie — you never know what will come your way.
Passion has a crazy side! An artist who strives for perfection takes all that it takes to get there. Sometimes, it takes a toll on health, personal and financial values. They get carried away because they are following their passions. Today, the pressure is insane. On one hand, it is the chef’s vision, but numbers govern it. Often, chefs have to be pulled back as, after all, it is a business at the end of the day.
My biggest worry is consistency. A customer cannot have a good experience one day, and a bad one the next. A chef’s job is thankless. Shutting down Aoi, which was my most favourite product, in 2015, was my toughest decision ever. It earned great reviews but never made money. Today, a chef’s role is more than just to make good food – he has to be the brand’s face, a good PR guy and interact with customers. Today, if you don’t like a dish, you can demand to see the head chef.