A Taste for Leadership Chef Raj Gupta

Raj Gupta always saw himself being a leader — mainly a leader in the kitchen.

“I always wanted to be a chef because cooking was my passion,” says Gupta, who grew-up in New Delhi, India before venturing abroad and establishing himself as a world-class chef.

He has worked his way through the industry and into his recently appointed position of Executive Chef for the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia; first earning his Hotel Management diploma from the Pusa Polytechnic Institute in New Delhi, and then from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

“My formal training began during my eight-year stay at Sheraton Bahrain, Middle East. After the Middle East I worked in 10 different countries in places such as Xian, Shanghai, Phuket and Bali,” he says, giving insight into the destinations before he arrived in Halifax in 1995.

After 28 years, he still finds his job fulfilling, “A professional culinary career is very rewarding, gratifying and challenging. It is changing so rapidly that there is no room for complacency. It’s a roller coaster of highs and lows.”

“But all that doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is one’s truth, mission and passion in life to practice the culinary arts,” he says. “No matter how accomplished chefs are, they don’t know it all. There is something for them to learn from their fellow chefs and their culinary staff.”

Over the years he has come to create a number of culinary delights, but the one he considers to be his true signature dish is Smoked Tandoori Atlantic Salmon Martini with Cashew Cranberry Vinaigrette.

“It is special to me because it truly represents my cooking style and principles. I believe in innovative, contemporary, global cuisine that combines influences from the many countries I have worked as an executive chef.”

He is exposed to various cultures and cuisine, and believes the second most important factor is to keep cultivating passion for food. “That is what drives us to perfection, to creating the perfect cuisine in the perfect environment.”

Throughout his career, he has been awarded both Gold and Bronze medals in the 1988 Culinary Olympics and in the Middle East and the Asian Culinary Competition (Mefax) in 1982, 1984, and 1986. He won the Silver Medal in the Sheraton Culinary competition in Boston in 1987. Other culinary honors include Gold and Silver in the Atlantic Provinces Culinary competitions in 1998 and 1999; and a recipient of Chef of the Year for 2004, as well as the Culinarian of the Year for 2004.

When it comes to being a leader and an Executive Chef his philosophies are straight forward and to the point.

“First, and your primary responsibility, is to be a leader, a chief, in the kitchen. The chef must know how to inspire his culinary team to push their edges. He or she does that in two ways; one is by example and the second is by creating an environment that, while stressful, is organized in a manner that allows the team to be productive in the least stressful manner,” Gupta says.

He says that those in his position need to have great human relations skills, be good communicators, and educators; have a comprehensive understanding of all the culinary skills (saucier, meats, pastry, etc.), sanitation and menu development; master the computer, knowing how to control food and labor cost.

As Executive Chef and Director of Food and Beverage, he oversees the entire culinary stewarding, receiving, and cafeteria and service operations of the Westin Nova Scotian Hotel. His responsibilities include the upscale Casual Elements Restaurant, EVE Lounge, room service for 297 guest rooms and suites, and 23,000 square-foot banquet and meeting facilities (catering up to 1,000 people).

“Our attention to detail and personalized service has earned praise from meeting planners across Canada and around the world,” he says. “Our conference services managers and executive meeting managers specialize in one-stop shopping and offer professional, personalized service to ensure the success of any events.”

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