It’s been a 16-year journey for Saurabh Saxena. The young, handsome cordon bleu transformed from a young man unimpressed with prospects of being a successful engineer to a Senior Sous Chef, running a massive kitchen at the Fairmont Hotel in Jaipur.
Hailing from a small village in India, Saurabh – the second born in a family of three boys – studied engineering in his father’s footsteps. It didn’t take long for him to realise that that was not his cup of tea.
With encouragement from his father, he dropped out and took up a culinary management course at Mangalore University, where he graduated with honours.
“While I was not in school, I used to help my mom prepare the meals in my free time. I used to like it when she was baking and would help her when I could. I think that’s where the interest for cooking came from. I decided that that’s what I want to study,” he told Capital Lifestyle Magazine.
Bight eyed and bushy tailed, Saurabh’s first job was at the Hyatt Regency, in the Indian capital New Delhi. After a two year stint, he had grown enough to land a job in the land of opportunity for any Indian – Dubai.
“I got a job at the Jumeirah International in 2000. I was happy to go out of the country (India), it was a dream. I was exposed to a lot of styles of cooking and it was exciting for me. I started as a Tex Mex chef with lots of Paprika and all.”
He was then promoted to another Jumeirah hotel after two years, the Burj Al Arab, which is the only 7 star hotel in the world.
“The chefs there were from all over the world. We had German chefs, French chefs, Italian chefs and everything. I stayed there for another two years, learning all the different techniques. I worked in the meat section, cold section…”
His work there was very demanding, just by virtue of the hotel’s prestige.
“The guests there wanted only the best. So there was no hanky panky allowed on their food. The other amazing thing about that hotel is the fact that you could get any spice or ingredient you wanted; anything from anywhere in the world. This makes the food first class.”
Saurabh’s adventures also saw him learn Spanish, because one of the chefs he had to work under could only speak Spanish. The language was necessary for Saurabh to ask questions, which he believes is the best way to hone his own talent, shape his style and expand his knowledge.
Not long after, the young Indian chef moved to the Fairmont Palm Hotel in Dubai. Recognising his talent, he was moved to be the pre opening chef for Fairmont Abu Dhabi and now, the Senior Sous Chef at the first Fairmont property in India.
Ahead of the hotel’s opening in July, Saurabh has been holding fort at Fairmont the Norfolk in Nairobi, whose head chef Hubert Des Marais transferred to Hawaii. The young chef is coming up with a massive work-force and setting up a delectable menu for the upcoming Jaipur Royal Cuisine Festival at the Hotel.
“We shall be showcasing food from Jaipur from 26 May to June 10. The food is typical cuisine from Jaipur, which is a very hot place but which has been known to have very good food because that is where all the royal palaces used to be. Some of the menus have been there for centuries, but I like to develop my own style.”
The 34-year-old has interacted with Kenyan chefs in Dubai, and was excited to come to Kenya, where he saw his first lion outside of the Discovery Channel. He learnt about Ugali through the Kenyan chefs, and is hoping to spice it up by making the staple food with an olive paste or with sun-dried tomatoes.
“I don’t know if Kenyans realise this but they have so many ingredients here. Herbs, fruits, spices, meat, you have it all here. It makes the food get amazing taste.”
Saurabh says that one day he hopes to be able open his own restaurant, which he will run with his mother, whom he says is a spectacular cook.
The sports lover has met celebrities like Roger Federer, Kanye West and Akon during his work, but he is most impressed by people’s stories and the history behind food recipes.