Heads of state tend to like everything. Well, at least when it comes to their meals. No favourites. That is what the chefs of various heads of state, who are on a tour of India at present, will have you believe. None of these 18 chefs who feed presidents, royal families and prime ministers across the world are at liberty to discuss what their patron's favourites are.
Legend has it that once a chef let out that the president of the United States loved braised lamb. After the news came out, braised lamb was served to the president in every country he visited. The reverse has not worked well, either. When another US president said broccoli was his least favourite food, several kids across the country refused to eat the vegetable, leading to a broccoli farmer coming and dumping his produce in the White House!
Le Club des Chefs des Chefs (CCC), an exclusive gastronomy club comprising chefs to heads of state across the world, met in Delhi recently to hold a fund-raiser to support a charity headed by Nobel Peace laureate Kailash Satyarthi, and the Princess Diya Kumari Foundation, Jaipur.
The CCC members are in India as part of their general assembly, which takes place in a different country every year. The CCC, which was formed in Paris in 1977, is meeting in India for the first time. “It's like a G20 of the chefs,” said CCC founder Gilles Bragard. “We live by three mottoes: One, best cuisine in the world is your mother's cuisine. Second, the chefs promote local culture and produce. Third, who eats healthy, lives longer. So it is the responsibility of these men and women to give their state head healthy meals. If politics divide men, then a good table brings them together. These chefs are also diplomats, practising culinary diplomacy, part of a country's soft power.”
Venu Rajamony, press secretary to the Indian president, added on a lighter note that like there was a 'red telephone' between the Soviet Union and the USA—a mythical line between the countrys' heads—today there is a 'blue telephone', a direct line between the chefs of different countries.
The chefs' Indian affair began with a kitchen tour of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where they learnt how to make jalebis under Montu Saini, executive chef to the president since June 2015. "It is a dream come true for me. This year they all cooked in my kitchen, next year I hope I cook in theirs!" he said, adding that his global counterparts would be tasting Indian street food―golgappas and alu tikkis among other things―and visiting the spice market in Chandni Chowk. “It is my duty to showcase Indian cuisine to the world. We were happy when recently Aung San Suu Kyi [state counsellor of Myanmar], who was our guest, requested puri bhaji, dosa and kachori.”
What is it like being the chef to the head of a country? Christian Garcia, CCC president and chef to Prince Albert II of Monaco, said he personally bought the ingredients every morning from the market. “We work with the freshest ingredients, not even refrigerating them. It is different from being a chef in a restaurant or hotel because one is cooking for a family or a state dinner and sometimes just making them a soup and salad.”
Saini told THE WEEK that his biggest challenge was during the India-Africa summit last year. “I had recently joined and had to be in charge for the meal of 50 plus dignitaries. I got six kitchens put up in the Rashtrapati Bhavan and 80 thalis had to be dispatched from each. We did dress rehearsals with the thali presentation beforehand and luckily it worked out well.”