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INTERVIEW

“In kitchen, it is ultimately chef’s skill”
Monday, 26 February, 2018, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Kamat Hotels India Ltd has been a well known name in Indian hospitality industry since last 80 years. The company’s globally most recognised brand is the Orchid, an Ecotel hotel, located in Mumbai, Pune, and many other locations. It is Asia’s first chain of five-star environmentally- sensitive hotels, which has won over 95 international & national awards. Also, Fort Jadhavgadh, Maharashtra‘s only fort heritage hotel, offering the Maratha Royal Heritage Experience, is located just 20 minutes away from Hadapsar, Pune, and 3.5 hours from Mumbai.
The company is also into many hospitality ventures other than hotels and restaurants such as timeshare clubs, resorts, and heritage hotels. It is also into hotel consultancy, setups and other such related activities. Vishal Kamat, director, Kamat Group, in an email interaction with Harcha Bhaskar, talks about evolved kitchen in hotels and increase in use of technology in hotel operations, food safety and changing consumer demand. Excerpts:

How has kitchen in Indian hotel evolved? How are food safety and hygiene taken care of?
The whole concept of kitchen has now turned into a highly interactive and upfront experience for dining. With the increase of knowledge and inquisitiveness within today’s generation, food has not just become a necessity for filling stomach but also for pleasing eyes. Due to awareness people have now started opting for vegan diet or they prefer organic food to follow the healthy way.

Saying that, people still want their food to be tasty and at the same time being an experience to be remembered. Food is not just a need today which needs to be fulfilled but it’s a time of celebration; enjoyment; togetherness with the family and that is still very much prevalent. Coming to food safety and hygiene part, it is expected that if we run a reputed establishment it has to be hygienic and safe in terms of food for everyone. Normal processes of law are there but it is our duty to make sure that beyond the normal process or requirement of law, the food what we serve should be fresh by way of ingredients sourcing, quality of ingredients, quality sourcing in terms of where the food is been sourced because as a chef or as an owner it’s our duty to ensure the overall health of our guest is been taken care of. We use lot of produce, where we are aware about the ingredients sources and their quality and even the vendors are all reputed with whom we associate as it is of utmost importance when it comes to safety and hygiene.

What are the trends with regard to food and beverages? How often is the menu changed?
The beauty of our India is that different people in different cycles of their life whether be it age, economic or whether it is in term of migratory, for example, people from smaller town are coming to cities for their want to experience the different kinds of food and beverage available in city. There are few people who are globe-trotter who come to their own city and expect a different type of demand.

The beauty of our country is that one can experience some fantastic roadside dhaba food, which serves a traditional food, be it Maharashtrian, Punjabi etc. to a high-end experiential dining whether it is molecular or global cuisines.

At this day and age, we have spectrum for everyone that’s the biggest luck that our generation has. The menu change is something that is a part of guest repeat value or chef’s creativity value which can be changed regularly. The menu change should not be a part of your business to increase revenue but in fact it should be done to enhance or add value to your business.

What are technological advancements taking place in the hotel industry?
In the food and hospitality industry, technology is entering in a big way as now lot of guests can check out any place in a lesser time because of the introduction of various apps that allow the guest to do a reservation even after entering the place and share their feedback. These apps are currently running in the market but we can also see many other trends in terms of food delivery, drinks, food apps where one shares their experiences that benefit the others. Technology has definitely taken a leap, as it has not only helped us become more efficient but has also helped in delivering a better customer experience. Having said that, there is always a limitation to how much one can use technology as in kitchen it is ultimately chef’s skill.

How much is the current revenue of Indian hotel industry? What is its growth rate?
It is not possible for me to speculate something so vague, but I can definitely tell you that is absolutely humongous. The beauty of our industry is that we are able to employ the generally unemployable, if you have the right attitude the hotel which teaches you the right aptitude and with that combination you can reach to various heights in your career. For example, my grandfather was a dishwasher with a limited education but today he has become the chairman of India’s largest vegetarian hotel chain and environmentally-sensitive chain. This goes as a testimonial, the beauty of our industry is such that if you have the desire to serve a guest you can reach the limits of your ability, but if you have no attitude and desire but just have the skills and aptitude then you will not reach anywhere in life in any industry.

So let’s us understand, the hotel industry is very critical industry because it allows all spectrum of people to participate in economic growth and that is why it is the maximum employer compared to any other industries. The growth rate is high as the sky is the limit because when people are hungry they will want to go to places where they love to eat the most, it is no longer  need based. But in fact it depends on the mood, occasion, and celebration needs as they go and explore different places. At Orchid Mumbai, we have South of Vindhyas, which is specialised and serves authentic South Indian Cuisine. Boulevard, we have 24-hour coffee shop, which serves various international cuisine and specially known for midnight buffet. Mostly Grills, is one of the best rooftop restaurants, which serves best and freshly imported meat cuts to your choosing of rare, medium or well done.

What are the challenges faced by the industry? How do you plan to overcome them?
Challenges will be there in every industry; it is an ongoing process whether it is staff training, retention, or customer feedback as these challenges are continuous but we have to overcome them. Being committed to our cause is what makes a great work experience and in turn helps us deliver great guest experience. If we handle both these by usage of multiple assets then we shall overcome them soon but it is continuous challenge.

How has liquor ban and GST affected your business?
Liquor ban initially had affected our business because it was very abrupt and it was not well-thought-out. As part of initial action the government departments were also very abrupt in their behaviour creating a lot of confusion and of fear among businessmen and consumer. But, luckily the Supreme Court understood the matter clearly and thereafter issued clarity that the ban was not applicable within city limits. We, as an industry, support no drinking and driving.

How do you find the process of licensing? Which are the various areas where development is needed?
Licence is a thing which we must all comply with and we support all our members to help them. Those who don't know how to do it, we help them. How to fill forms and who to approach because it is a tedious process and the government needs to work towards integrating these multiple licences. Some of them are redundant because they are from the British era. Some of them are redundant because the technology has changed or the requirements have changed. Some of them need to be updated to the modern requirement, the modern day and age, and that is why I think the government needs to be actively working on this.

How many hotels does your company have in Maharashtra? Tell us about the uniqueness of each hotel.
We have hotels in Mumbai - the Orchid and VITS Mumbai, we have the Orchid in Pune, we have the Fort Jadhavgadh and we have a hotel in Nashik. All hotels have their own USP, the Orchid Mumbai is most preferred for MICE meetings, which is common in all four hotels in Maharashtra, where there are lots of conference and events, wedding, exhibitions. So we are very popular with the MICE and with a lot of business travellers we are on our family and corporate hotel because of which we get most of it in a big way.

So is in Pune because we have the largest convention centre and hall. We do lot of big events in our 50,000 sq ft lawn that we have and we have a rose garden which is ideally for weddings and marriages, reception and things. That each hotel of ours is different. Fort Jadhavgadh is basically not a hotel, it is an experience. To go there is to relive the Maratha era. It is modernised for today's Maharaja.

Other than Maharashtra we also have fantastic hotels in Puri, Konark, Bhubaneswar - the golden triangle of tourism of Orissa - where the Sun temple, world heritage sites, Konark temple is there along with Puri. We have a beautiful boutique beach resort in Goa.

What are your expansion plans in India and abroad? Which are the various countries Kamat hotels have presence in?
We are definitely looking at growing our environmentally-sensitive hospitality chain and also looking at various opportunities once they fructify. Presently we are not looking at going abroad because there is so much opportunity in our own country. We are basically focussing on India.
 
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