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Chefs as Travel Promoters: Either Evolve or Dissolve

Monday, October 14, 2019, 15:18 Hrs  [IST]

We're well into the 21st Century but our hospitality netas seem frozen in the past. That was the Age of Exploitation. World-spanning Empires fattened on their Colonies, crafted their Ruler-Ruled social systems on tribal hierarchal structures. The white rulers of India assumed all the trappings of the ousted Mughals. They created an architecture which resembled that of their predecessors and even replicated their summer migration to the mountains! Status was everything and so the great hotels began to resemble ornate palaces and monuments. Guests paid to be treated like pampered royalty. That is what star-rating still aims at today.

Enter, the great Digital Revolution of our century. Access to Information had always been the Great Social Divider: the more you knew the more powerful you were. This, to some extent, is still true today, but these barriers are being demolished by our hand-held smart phone. Thanks initially to Indian-influenced Steve Jobs, our iPhones have more computing power than the computers that helped create the atom bomb, according to science writers! Since knowledge is power, smart phones have become the great global equalisers, leaping over frontiers, bringing events on the other side of midnight into every home right now. Today we, quite literally, see what is happening tomorrow!

This has given rise to a paradigm shift in our social attitudes. There is enough anecdotal evidence to sustain the belief that the Millennials, those who reached early adulthood at the turn of the century, have a more global view of life than their predecessors. They value Experiences rather than Exhibits. We're still dazzled by the experience we had when a young Millennial escorted us to a boutique restaurant and exhibited such a dextrous familiarity with exotic dishes, beverages, sauces, breads and sweets that we had the manager and chef join the maitre'd to find out who this well-informed gourmet was!

This encounter got us thinking. Originally, restaurants grew around chefs who offered speciality cuisine. Then managers took over, like the camel in the Arab's tent, and decor and style pushed the chefs back into the kitchen. It is more than likely that the Millennials will force a realignment of priorities from Style to Substance, from Very Superior Managers to Very Skilled Chefs!

When this happens, Chefs will reassert the truth that there is no such thing as "Indian Cuisine". Years ago, when Pleasantville, the US headquarters of the Reader's Digest, asked us to write an article on Indian Food we refused. The types of cuisine, indigenous to India, are as varied as the 4,365 communities studied by the Anthropological Survey of India before it wrote its trail-blazing People of India. Moreover, as the communities mix and merge with marriages and migrations, cuisine evolves.

This is the new lure for travel which can lead to the next boom in tourism. No, we are not talking about highly specialised Gourmet Tours which still cater to niche markets and are likely to remain so well into the foreseeable future. We're amazed at the popularity of such programmes as Master Chef Australia and the even more enthralling one starring the delightfully down-to-earth Gordon Ramsay. Every episode sees this enthusiastic British celebrity chef in a different destination. There, teaming up with a local chef, Gordon Ramsay uses native ingredients and indigenous cooking methods to create meals for the ordinary folk of the region. This is the lure of travel and cuisine perfectly blended. Please remember that this is not highly sophisticated haute cuisine or the terribly unsatisfying molecular cuisine we mistakenly ordered in Spain. It left us hungering for the Spaniards' version of biryani, the very substantial paella!

The bottom line is that the growing, new, generation of Millennials has growing new tastes. They combine their yearning for exciting new places, like a challenging drive through Finland, and its dark coniferous forests, wetlands and reindeer herds, with a hunger for exciting new foods. They relish poronkaeistys (reindeer meat and mashed potatoes), rapu (small fresh-water crayfish), and new potatoes with herring.

The quest for Exotic Cuisines is going to drive the Hospitality Industry of the Millennial Age. How it responds to this challenge will cause a realignment of hierarchies and, sadly, unavoidable pain!

(The Views expressed within this column are the opinion of the authors, and may not necessarily be endorsed by the publication)

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