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The Vadodra girl in Noma kitchen
Ankita Chavan, the youngest intern at Noma this season, talks about her experience in the kitchen, including cooking up a meat curry for the staff meal that earned her a clap and mini-speech from Rene Redzepi
There are 20 interns working every season at Noma, the cutting-edge Copenhagen restaurant. Given the restaurant’s stature, it is obvious that there is a long waiting list of interns, and the restaurant accepts them, after an extensive round of interviews, for just 3 months. While many professional chefs choose to also do their internship here, choosing to take a break from their careers to learn Nordic and molecular gastronomy, it is not very often that a young student gets accepted into the kitchen. At 19, Ankita Chavan, is the youngest to be interning in Chef Rene Redzepi’s kitchen. She tells us about what made her apply, about her experience, and about the meat curry she cooked up!
1. Tell us something about your background and how did you manage the offbeat, unconventional Noma internship?
I am a student of the Jindal school of hotel management (which is in academic partnership with Cesar Ritz, Switzerland). They support students to grow in his/her areas of choice and we are supposed to do two internships of 6 months each. I applied for kitchen (food production), so that I can get some hands-on experience. Mine is the only college which gives you this opportunity.
But it’s also my family that has influenced me a great deal to be a part of this passion for creating food from my early childhood. My father, Pradeep Chavan, was the only Indian to do an internship with the legendary chef Paul Bocuse (in Lyon) in 1989. My brother chef Mickey Bhoite is a true Italian chef. So, food is in our DNA. I had an opportunity to intern under chef Bhoite for 6 month at Le Cirque, New Delhi as I wanted a strong foundation. For my next internship, I decided to apply to a top Michelin Star restaurant. I dared to apply straight to NOMA that respects and welcomes interns as future chefs of world. After a series of email interviews, I got selected for their 3-month internship programme. The reason I got selected could be a combination of what I learnt in college, my intern with Le Cirque and my family background.
2. Tell us about your personal interactions with chef Redzepi and the working atmosphere.
As this was my first international travel, I was quite nervous. But chef Rene met me and counseled me. He told me and the other interns that we all are here from different parts of the world and it may take some time to be part of the Noma family but soon we would be more comfortable. He told us to that we could freely discuss our problems with him and his family and take time to adjust. This gave me comfort. Chef Redzepi is amazing. He wishes every intern and staff member everyday and spends time with us and mingles with everyone during the staff meal at 5 p.m. I gave him chef Sanjeev Kapoor’s cookbook as chef Kapoor is friends with him (chef Kapoor has been to Noma for a CNN fusion journey).
Work is really tough. We start at 7 am and work till midnight with a couple of short breaks. We work five days a week. Many interns left in between, but my chef brother made me understand that this is the life of a passionate chef.
3. What are you training in?
We get trained here in different sections of the kitchen with different chefs. I am learning New Nordic Cuisine with the influence of Molecular Gastronomy. This means traditional local cuisine with modern science. Here, every ingredient is sourced locally and the menu is designed as per availability of season. It is about presenting simple ingredients as ART ON PLATE, so it teaches you to respect local and seasonal ingredients and to create a mesmerizing dish to remember.
Other than food, one get to learn a lot of new things too, like going to the forest for picking fresh flowers, moss, ants, forest wild mushrooms, herbs, leafs etc. I get the opportunity to learn new techniques of preservation, fermenting, pickling and use of bee hives etc.
4. What are your future plans?
My plan is to do further studies in cuisine (at Alma, Italian school of culinary arts, and Modernist cuisine at Institute de Paul Bocuse ) and work more in the professional modernist kitchen and learn to be hands on. After enough experience, I will come back to Vadodara to give back to the city through colleges, like my father.
5. What is the Noma work ethic?
Ethics at Noma is great; they work like a family and all work the same — from early morning to the middle of the night. They give us comfort and a helping hand as and when needed. Music is always on and I even play Hindi Bollywood songs once in while. It’s so nice to listen our Hindi music in global kitchen and everyone enjoys it. There is a Noma interns Facebook page for all activities on the weekend, and it is a great network and bonding with future chefs. The Saturday night project is the most important event, where working chefs create a dish to present to Rene and everyone else. There is so much of creativity and learning. You can bring in the influence of your country to the dish but ingredients should be local. Everyone has a right to put their note over a dish presented. Every intern from different countries has to cook their cuisine for five days in their tenure. They select a partner from the country closest to your own. Here, I was paired with a chef of Nepalese origin but he worked in Australia and was executive chef there. I cooked Mango lassi, Batata vada, Tandoori Chicken, Chana Masala, Mutton RoganJosh, Aloo Gobhi, and Chicken Biryani with raita along with some Australian dishes. It was really a challenge to perform and cook for all 70 chefs for lunch and Dinner. Everyone needed to be served in time and the food could not run out. My mutton curry was the most appreciated dish and got applause by clapping and a small speech by chef Rene as the best dish of the staff meal served in this season. It also made it as the first ever mutton curry picture on Noma Instagram! I was so emotional that evening.