From Gangotri to Ganga Sagar: An Ode to Food
It's mostly filled with love. Sometimes, it's part of a routine. And at times, it's occassional. And then there are issues. A body that needs healing, a mind that needs nourishing, a marriage that needs some warmth, a companionship that asks for some understanding, a friendship that calls for adjustments, an arrival that seems like a long-term stay, a departure that leaves an unexplained void, and so many tid-bits from our everyday life – what is it that good food cannot rescue us from. At least for a while. You get the time to absorb the flavours, relish the ingredients, appreciate the taste, and not think or worry about anything for a while.
Unpacking over 24 years of journey is tough but let me take you through it briefly
It All Began with My Grandmother's Love for Cooking
My grandmother has been my inspiration and I learnt cooking from her. Because of her, I developed a keen interest and understanding of the local Garhwali ingredients, spices, and herbs.
It was my grandmother's love for cooking and the discipline she combined with the art that appealed the most to me.
Education and Career as a Chef: In the Pursuit of Good Food
In the quest to understand food and the art of cooking, I joined The Institute of Hotel Management, Catering & Nutrition, Pusa, New Delhi. An autonomous body under the Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, IHM is one of the premier hospitality institutes in our country and I would request people who aspire a career as a Chef to check it out.
My first stint was at at Taj, New Delhi and then I went on to work at Hyatt, ITC Maurya in Delhi. After a brief yet considerable experience working at the leading hotel chains in India, I went to Germany and worked there for almost eight years. It was a period of transition and learning – about people, language, culture, food preferences, and cuisines.
I tried to make the most of my time in Germany, immersing myself into learning 'what matters the most to people when it comes to food on the table?'.
This journey was full of pleasant surprises, discoveries, and understanding.
What brought me to Patio, Al-fresco Dining at Aloha on the Ganges, Rishikesh
(Image Source: https://www.alohaontheganges.com/dining/patio.html)
It was during the lockdown period that I had joined Patio at Aloha on the Ganges in Rishikesh. Like many other industries, the hospitaly industry had also experienced a huge setback during the pandemic. However, the show must go on.
I looked at the pandemic as an incredible opportunity to offer people love, peace, hope, and joy, through food.
What's on the menu
At Patio, 90% of our ingredients are locally sourced. We are very well connected with the local vendors here and we source ingredients directly from them. Even our menu is themed around the local specialities. We take pride in designing a menu that represents the rich diversity in food spanning from Gangotri to Ganga Sagar, where the river Ganges meets the sea.
(Image Source: Tripoto)
Our customers love our menu, they tell us that our menu is quite unique in terms of North Indian specialities. It's not just the food but we take care of the overall experience here at Patio.
'Dil se aur Dimaag se'
I believe Hospitality in India is way ahead than some of the most developed foreign nations. I see an amazing blend of passion, intelligence and respect, for cooking here.
As a Chef, if you are not putting your heart and soul in to the overall process, if you don't see your guest as a family member, you will be serving just food and wouldn't be delivering an experience that's filled with love, warmth, and joy.
That's what helpes me and my people in the kitchen to come up with unique dishes.
Cooking is one part of the story, serving is another.
If you serve too much on the plate and people are leaving food behind, what's the point of balancing everything. They might feel full but not content. That's what we try to solve at Patio by carefully balancing the proportion of every food item that's served. The idea is not to stuff food but to serve every part of your body, mind, and soul. We take care of both - the quantity and the quality.
(Featuring a happy guest with the must-try 'Himalayan chulhe se' selection in the menu)
The hospitality industry calls for immense hard work combined with a genuine interest in the art and a knack for understanding the process. It's a busy life.
A typical day at work begins with checking the ingredients and involves everything from cooking to making guests feel comfortable while enjoying their meal. A 12-hour shift that involves taking care of every little detail.
Whenever there is an issue in service, I ensure that I am personally taking care of that. In fact, right after the order, I try to understand if the guest has some allergy or would like his or her food prepared in a certain oil or spices. If my guest is not at ease, no matter how good the food is, we're missing out on deliver an exceptional experience.
And have you ever wondered that the customers are not on the constant lookout for exceptional or stellar or extraordinary but the fundamentals, the basics done right. That's the key. Get the basics right, rest will follow.
A great ambience, live music, and fine dining written next to your brand's name can never make up for too much or too less salt in the soup.
A five star experience is not brand-centric but customer-centric. Experience is the ultimate benchmark – how does my guest feel after the meal? That's all that matters.
Rishikesh is the Yoga Capital of the World and as an Indian, it's a matter of pride for me to be part of something magical here.
I have been to over twenty three states in India, closely observed their cuisines, worked in most of these states, and experienced food in some. Globally, I have an experience working in almost 14 countries. I have tried my best to bring the best from my experiences in the menu here.
People come to Rishikesh in pursuit of the spiritual. And food is an integral part of spirituality. After all, भूखे पेट भजन नहीं होय गोपाला!
And of course, the love for local Garhwali food keeps me here. I feel rooted.
(Thank you for sharing your journey with us. We celebrate you. Written by Garima, the Founder of The Story Bar, this article features an exclusive account of our conversation with Chef Prasad Uniyal, documenting his journey and experiences as a Chef.)