The kitchen warrior

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The kitchen warrior

Friday, 15 March 2019 | Chahak Mittal

The kitchen warrior

As chef Jitender Kumar pays tribute to the valour of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman by carving out his face on a watermelon, he talks about how his culinary skills are for him the greatest  modes of expression. By Chahak Mittal

The nation relieved a sigh of relief the moment the news of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s homecoming broke on national television. While artists made sketches and paintings paying a tribute to him, Twitterati filled the internet with various hashtags that went viral throughout the night. He became the toast and hero of the country overnight.

Well, the celebration of this braveheart’s return from the face of death doesn’t seem to be over yet. As part of the 14th edition of the Culinary Art India 2019, Jitender Singh, chef at The Ashok Hotel, pays tribute to the commander by creating yet another masterpiece.

The chef carved out Abhinandan’s “iconic” moustache on the watermelon, along with Jai Hind in Devanagari script, a couple of army men, Amar Jawan Jyoti on Pumpkin, MIG 21 on Yam and highest honour of bravery, the Ashok Chakra on Honeydew Melon. He was awarded with a silver medal, scoring the highest at the competition.

As the carving has become the talk of the town, we question him that how did he come up with such an idea. Well, for him, the idea behind this creation was very “simple.” “Whatever happened at the borders in the last few weeks was very fresh in our minds. What commander Abhinandan did for the country is beyond courage and bravery. Being a hotelier and a chef, it’s not possible for me to go to the frontline but I can always contribute and pay regards with the talent I have. Hence, through this fruit carving, I wanted to pay tribute to the brave pilot, our Army men and other defence forces. The carving is a mark of respect to our soldiers and their sacrifice and bravery. I wanted to beautifully depict Abhinandan’s heroism through the skill I have developed so far. The image was in my mind and I just wanted to give it a shape. Nothing could have been better than this — to pay homage through my art to our armed forces,” says he.

Winning the competition was never the motive behind carving the Commander’s face for Jitender. He says, “For me, as a chef, my medium of expression is food. Through food, we re-ignite all the five senses of our body. I chose his face as my medium of expression as I wanted to pay tribute to his valour and at the same time present something that is one of its kind.” For him, this was a perfect blend and his recipe for success.

The chef apprises us that he has always had a passion and an inclination towards creative arts like painting and sketching. And as he entered the culinary world, fruit and vegetable carving, he says, “re-ignited my passion for arts and I started doing it for plating techniques at state banquets.”

Even back in my hotel management days, I used to experiment with various fruits and vegetables, it has been a long time but that hasn’t settled the fire in my belly to learn newer techniques in food craving and grow in the space.

Fruit carving is one of the oldest traditions followed in Oriental countries like China, Japan, Thailand and some other Asian countries in particular. While fruit carving can also be done on other fruits such as carrots, papaya, pumpkins, etc., the chef explain why he chose only watermelon to carve, “Watermelon carvings appear to be highly attractive on account of its varied colours and sizes. I prefer the fruit as my carving centerpiece because it adds a vibrant colour effect on the display. The contrasting colours of melons (three layers) lend a striking effect to the finished product, making them all the more appealing.”

He believes that watermelon carving can be great fun with the kids too. “In fact, being an excellent source of vitamin and a tasty fruit, kids can have a great time learning this art and absorbing the benefits of it. Lastly, it also provides what we call in culinary terminology — HSP (Hard, Soft and Plum) textures that makes the carving more efficient.”

The chef feels that a culinary carver turns fruits and vegetables into magnificent shapes and decorative masterpieces. Carved vegetables and fruits enhance the buffet table, which was initially a Thai art but today has become globally popular.

This intricate art of fruit carving has gained a lot of popularity over recent years, he says, “People are giving great importance to aesthetics as this paves the way to a man’s stomach. Sculptured pieces of fruits simply attract and any vegetable or fruit can be turned into a stunning piece of art with imagination.”

He says that the future of culinary carving is bright as people are becoming more aware of the “importance of food presentation. These skills are built for the masses.” He asks the masses to “Pick up your knife. It is not important what the end result is, what matters is that you tried.”