The Times Food Awards 2017 recently recognized the best in the food business of casual and fine dining in Pune. Nagraj Bhat, Head Chef at Pune’s renowned fine dining restaurant Syrakko and rooftop cockail lounge Sin Envy Pride, has won the prestigious Chef of the Year (Pune) Award. From being an accidental chef to cooking for celebrities like King of Pop Michael Jackson to being recognized as Pune’s best, we celebrate his successful journey in the world of gastronomic delights.
Nagraj grew up in a humble middle class South Indian brahmin family. Like everyone else, his love for food started from his mother’s kitchen. He calls himself an accidental chef as he had never thought in his wildest dreams of becoming a chef. Until then the only cooking skills he developed was that of roasting Papads and preparing Maggi. Just out of curiosity, he applied for a hotel management degree course at a premier IHM in Mumbai. The turning point came when he visited his elder brother in London during his second year vacation.
Going to a farmer’s market near Wimbledon, he had a sort of revelation. The aroma of food, colourful ingredients and the beautiful dishes that he saw instantly inspired him to be a chef. It was a completely new world for him. Being a vegetarian, it was a real challenge for him eating meat, eggs, poultry and fish. After his visit to London, he had decided that if he has to become a good chef, he must start his career working with some of the best chefs in UK
Being an Individual award, there is no nomination or voting in the Chef of the Year category. The selection is made across all restaurants, hotels and cuisine. A panel of food critics chose the Chef of the Year. The award holds a very special place as it gives recognition and appreciates the efforts of people who work in one of the toughest industries.
Chef Nagraj Bhat
After graduating, Nagraj started by interning at ITC Maratha, Mumbai which is known for its food. From there on he moved to London for further studies and did a stagiaire for three months at 3 Michelin star The Waterside Inn owned by Chef Micheal Roux and his son Alain Roux. He then went on to work with another Michelin starred chef, Chef Chris Horridge at the Clivden house luxury hotel. Here he cooked for celebrities like the front man of Rolling Stones Sir Mick Jagger his daughter Elizabeth Jagger, Pop star Micheal Jackson and many more . From there he worked at Boulter’s with Chef Daniel Woodhouse who has worked with some greats like Chef Gordon Ramsey and Chef Tom Aikens who was the youngest Chef to be awarded 2 Michelin stars. It was in UK that he learnt modern techniques of cooking and understood new food trends.
He realized that there is tremendous scope for his skills in India. However, coming back to India and getting a job was very difficult for him as he didn’t have a godfather in this industry. He faced many rejections but he did not lose hope. He had to prove himself as getting a break was really difficult because of the stiff competition. Today, heading the kitchen of Syrakko and of Sin Envy Pride is something that he is really proud of.
I believe that you have to stay motivated from within and believe in your dreams, day in and day out, you never know what’s in store for you, you just have to believe in yourself and keep pushing yourself.
Chef Nagraj Bhat