Cooking is often described as an art where science and mathematics blend with a little bit of magic. Chef Jomon Kuriakose, who hails from Mavelikkara in Kerala, believed in this when he decided to choose culinary arts as his career and also when he proudly represented his country on BBC’s celebrity master chef. The young chef gets candid about his love for food and also about his incredible journey in the hospitality industry.
Tasty food had always been Jomon's weakness. Whenever his mother went out and he was alone at home, Jomon would buy chicken from the nearby chicken farm. He would then fry the chicken and eat it to his heart’s content. His mother got fed up of his foodie nature and complained to one of his teachers. It was he who advised Jomon to turn his passion into profession. “My teacher Sunil D Kuruvila asked me why I couldn't turn my love for food into a means of living. It was a turning point in my life. From then onwards I began looking for ways to make food my profession,” says Jomon.
Not easy to convince the family
“During those days, a job in the restaurant sector wasn’t a respected one. So, I had to convince my father a bit to let me choose this profession. He even told me that he didn’t give me education just to become a ‘cook’. In the end, he stood with my dream,” recalls Jomon.
Jomon was peeling a basket full of shallots in a hotel’s kitchen in Pune when his close friend Subeesh called him and told him that he was going to London for higher studies. Jomon called his parents and said that he too wished to go abroad for studies. They agreed and the chef flew to London to pursue higher studies. Seeing his passion and honesty, the hotel where Jomon had been working as a part-time chef hired him full time by granting a work permit. He has been working as a chef in London for the last 12 years. “After football and music, what Europeans love the most is good food and talented chefs. Even in the nursing homes where Keralites work the most, chefs and cooks in the kitchen are respected after the manager,” says Jomon.
Culinary art is a skill-based profession. In Jomon’s opinion, a certificate in the hotel management course can only support your career to a small extent. One’s skill, talent, and his/her willingness to face challenges are the factors that could guarantee growth in their career. This is one field where there is high competition. It is important to excel within a short period of time. A chef should be willing to continue learning and work hard for it.
“Once, when I was in Kerala for vacation, I visited an old age home run by a family. A group of youngsters was taking care of more than four hundred people who had no role in society. I got a chance to spent a day there and cook for them. As a chef, it was definitely an unforgettable day. Their incredible smiles and ‘thank you’ were like benedictions for me. At that moment I felt as if my cooking skills were indeed God’s gift. My eyes welled up with happiness and pride when I served them the food that I had cooked,” notes Jomon.
Currently, Jomon works as the chef de cuisine or executive chef at a prominent restaurant in London. He believes that some opportunities could change a life forever. For him, participating in BBC’s celebrity master chef was one of them. Jomon says his confidence level has skyrocketed after taking part in this show. “Many well-known chefs who are my role models called me to congratulate me. One of my teachers from school called me after watching the show. He asked me whether my English speaking skills were this good. I used to by heart notes depending upon the number of sentences in a paragraph. I wouldn’t study anything that had more than three lines as I would forget them. However, I wasn’t scared or tensed while cooking with twenty other contestants in front of three cameras. I had clarity about what I was doing,” explains Jomon.
In the movie Pavithram, Mohanlal’s character accidentally burns a dish and serves it as a new dish called Unnimadhuram. Similarly, Jomon too has many stories of creating new dishes like this. Once, instead of putting lentils in boiling water, he put them in the chicken gravy that was bubbling up on the next stove. Finally, he turned it into a new dish called chicken dhansak.
Struggles in a chef’s life
For every person, the struggles would vary in the food and hospitality industry. Jomon says he had struggled with language in his initials days as a trainee chef in London. He had studied in a Malayalam medium school in Mavelikkara until class ten. He then completed plus two and pursued a course in hotel management. English became a major problem when he reached London for his higher studies. “We must dedicate our life and time to have growth in our career. You cannot be a successful chef in just a day. You would succeed only if you are willing to work hard for at least 6-7 years.
"There had been times when I thought about why I was struggling like this. The four years that I worked on a work permit was hard. I even thought about dropping it and look for some other job. I studied for four years and had knowledge as well, but lacked work experience. Once, a chef asked me whether I knew how to make rumali roti. When I said no, he made me cook rumali roti for the entire hotel staff for four days. I still have a great love for that chef. Only those who know how to do their jobs would earn respect in this industry,” notes the chef.