Chef Hrishikesh (Kesh) Desai is head chef at Lucknam Park luxury hotel and spa in Bath. In 2009 he won the prestigious Roux Scholarship, with the award for National Chef of the Year following in 2010. The talented chef has been working at Lucknam for seven years and this year he has been the driving force behind the hotel’s recently launched cookery school where enthusiastic home cooks can learn some of the intricate skills required to create a Michelin-starred dish. I spoke to Desai to find out how he got into the food industry, why he admires US-based chef, Thomas Keller, and what you can learn at his cookery school. Check out the interview below and don’t forget to take a peak at An Interview With Chef series so far.
No, actually. I never wanted to be a chef. I wanted to work in the front of house. When I was 12 I attended a wedding ceremony in a luxury hotel in India. I saw the way people talked, the way they dressed, their professionalism was incredible. I decided I wanted to be in that industry. After I did my management diploma in India, I went to France to do a scholarship. It was there I saw what was happening in the food industry. Everything changed. I decided to go into the culinary arts and took a course to find out the basics behind French cuisine. It seems to have been fruitful!
When and why did you move to the UK?
I moved to the UK in 2004. At first I worked at a hotel in Surrey. It didn’t have any AA Rosettes. It was a simple place and I just wanted to use the opportunity to gain experience. Once we gained some Rosettes, I moved on. I got the job at Lucknam Park in 2005. I started as commis chef and worked my way up. It wasn’t easy, Hywel Jones, my executive chef, is very strict and was always checking everything I did. That’s how you learn and grow. It’s all paid off now.
How would you describe your kitchen ethos?
I always stick to a few key flavours. I think seasonality is important. I try to find the freshest ingredients possible. I think it’s important to cook as if you were cooking for your children. You wouldn’t feed your children something you wouldn’t be willing to eat yourself. If you give 100 percent, the final product will always be better. There’s no point just doing something for the sake of it. If your heart is true and your mind is true, it will all work out for you.
You’ve achieved a great deal in a relatively short career, what have your highlights been so far?
The biggest highlight has to be the opening of the cookery school at Lucknam Park but winning the Roux Scholarship in 2009 was important too. Winning that took me to the French Laundry in California. I had the opportunity to meet Thomas Keller which was a dream. Winning National Chef of the Year Award in 2010 was incredible too. It put me in the same league as the likes of Gordon Ramsay. Being in this industry, each day just gets better and better. You get to meet so many people and that helps.
Who in the food industry do you most admire?
Once you get a chance to meet people like Thomas Keller the way you think and your personality changes. Those sort of people don’t get to where they are with just the flick of a switch. They got there because they worked hard. When you meet them, speak to them, hear their story, it’s encouraging. I admire the Roux brothers and everything they have done for the industry. They have been so positive about me and my career too. Even when I was studying hospitality in India we learned about the Roux brothers and their success.
What is your most memorable meal of all time?
It definitely is when I dined at the French Laundry with Michel Roux Senior. There were 9 michelin stars under the roof together. Thomas Keller was there. I clearly remember some of the courses we’d had, it was all the classics from the French Laundry cookbook. I was halfway through my training and I remember doing my lobsters, the sea urchins, picking the vegetables… Michel Roux kept telling me it is all about simplicity, nothing needs to be hidden, the food speaks for itself.
Tell us a bit about Lucknam’s new cookery school…
The cookery school is a brand new project for me. I’ve never attempted anything like it before. We have about 24 courses. There are seasonal ones, such as Christmas, others are more technical. Coming from India I’ve included a few on Indian cuisine but not the sort of cuisine you’re familiar with in restaurants in the UK, instead we look at the best Indian dishes, the classics. We also explain the technique involved in creating them. We’ve got courses on fish, shellfish, meat, knife skills. You have the chance to play with lobster or trim a French rack of lamb. We’ve even done a course to help you create Michelin style food at home. Of course it has to be adapted because at home people don’t have the equipment but a lot of things are achievable. We’ve had great comments so far and we seem to be almost entirely sold out. I love the role of teacher too. I always wanted to work at the front of house and now I get to be a chef working at the front of house, meeting all the guests. It’s a very satisfying job.
Lucknam Park, Bath, Colerne, Chippenham, Wiltshire SN14 8AZ
Tel: 01225 742777