Parenting and being a chef are similar in certain ways. You might feel pressured to cook something fresh every day when your kids are “starving” and need to eat now, but chefs deal with that situation all the time. We wondered what superpowers it takes to deal with both picky kids and picky customers. Our blog series Chef Papa and Chef Mama finds out.
Santosh Jori is the director of kitchen at The Westin Beijing Financial Street. Originally from Mumbai, he moved to Beijing with his family last May. He and his wife have two daughters: Esha (age 8), who attends the British School of Beijing Sanlitun, and Anaya (age 3), who will start school next year. Chef Jori has 15 years of cooking experience and specializes in French and fine dining.
How has your career as a chef influenced your children?
My two princesses are at very young age at the moment, but somehow the small one likes to help her mummy make a good Indian meal for daddy’s lunch.
How have your cooking habits changed after you became a parent?
Children bring happiness in everything they do; I like being the child while setting up buffets for guests, or playing with plated food.
How has your family influenced your cooking?
I am from a holy place in India, and my father was the creator of an all-day dining canteen for devotees. His team used to prepare food for 1,000 people every day. Whenever I used to visit that massive operation, I become more passionate about cooking.
What is your first food memory when you were a kid?
Eating the best tandoori chicken made in clay oven and frozen milk parfaits or kulfi (Indian-style ice cream). I am getting hungry as I write.
How do you cook differently at the restaurant and at home?
Fine dining at the restaurant and fun dining at home!
From a family perspective, what are the advantages and disadvantages of working as a chef?
The interesting thing about the hospitality world is that you are working when other people are on leave, as they all come to the hotels and restaurants. So one must find the time and creativity to celebrate in all seasons with family, friends, and fraternity.
What’s in your fridge now at home?
Blueberries, sliced cheese, sausage, pomfret fish, mango and yogurt.
Is there a guilty secret ingredient in your home kitchen — something you’d rather not be spotted using?
Maggi instant noodles.
Tell us about a recent "wow" food moment you shared with your family.
Last month, my eldest daughter Esha and myself made a nice and simple penne pasta with tomato sauce for her school project and enjoyed it as a family for dinner. Everyone loved the first-ever dish made by my daughter.
What’s your favorite go-to ingredient?
Fish – we love eating pan-seared fish, overnight marinated fish with hung curd, chili powder, lemon and ginger. Coated with semolina and shallow fried – yummy!
Do your family members have any quirky food demands?
Not really, but we are addicted to chocolate, so we call ourselves a chocolicious family.
Tell us about the pickiest adult customer you ever had.
We had a regular guest who was vegetarian but also likes to eat products made from gluten-free flour. But it was an opportunity to develop something special for this guest and meet their expectations every time they visited. Guests should carry memories with them rather than only a good experience, because memories last longer.
Do you invite your kids into the kitchen?
Esha likes to participate in cooking classes and she is very fond of working with chefs. We have done interactive sessions of pancakes, cakes, and pasta in our kitchens at Westin Beijing Financial Street.
When you have the opportunity to spend a day with your family, what do you do?
We are so-called “knight riders.” We spend half a day cycling to discover Beijing; some of our favorite rides are towards Tian’anmen Square, Houhai, and Beihai. After burning a good 1,000 calories, we end up at KFC to gain them back. Hahaha!
Photos courtesy of Santosh Jori and The Westin Beijing Financial Street