Constructing Celebrity in Contemporary India
The first is Arindam Chaudhuri, who's already featured in two blogs because his institute, IIPM, threatened to sue a blogger because he linked to an article that sought to investigate the dubious claims made by his institute in print ads. Arindam is widely introduced as a management guru and visionary in many well-established mainstream publications in India. I have not read his DIY management book, but I do know that no work of his has perhaps ever graced the pages of a peer-reviewed journal. His professional experience is limited to being the Dean at the institute that was founded by his father, which is also where he obtained his MBA degree. Whatever little I've read of his ideas, I shudder to think of a working manager taking them seriously. And yet our man gets feted with awards, features prominently in the media and is a fixture on the management lecture and seminar circuit. I wonder how and why he manages to pull this off.
Arindam Chaudhuri is an extreme example, but there are others who perhaps do deserve their success but are allowed to get away with absurdities just because someone was too bored or lazy to run their press releases through fact checkers. Witness this news item, and I quote:
In fact, Olive - Delhi (there's one in Mumbai too), says its Manager - Operations, Tanvir Nizam, is the only restaurant in India to make it to the Conde Nast Traveller's list in 2004, sharing the honour with Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon.
Wow. Thomas Keller, Alain Ducasse, are you guys serious? I was quite happy that an Indian restaurant had been judged to be the culinary equal of such greats as The French Laundry, but also puzzled that they had picked one serving pan-Mediterranean rather than Indian cuisine. So I hopped over to the Conde Nast Traveller website, and this is what I find. Turns out it just made it to the list of new restaurants, hence the presence of the august company of Keller, Ducasse and Robuchon, who were opening second or third ventures. The list is picked by Condy's inhouse staff rather than readers, which explains the puzzling inclusion of so many celebrity chef restaurants. So technically the Olive staff are right, but strictly speaking I don't think any serious publication should allow a restaurant to get away with the misleading assertion that they belong right at the top with the best in the world.
Actually the chef behind Oliva/Olive Moshe Shek is quite an intriguing character as well. Curious about the current culinary scene in India I tried to find more information about him. In interview after interview, reporters mention the fact that he worked in a kibbutz as part of his resume as a chef. Now I have friends whose families, or they themselves have lived and worked in kibbutzes, but certainly they didn't think it qualified them to become professional chefs. There is mention of having worked for the Hilton Group, but no mention of specific restaurants, or responsibilities undertaken (was he a line or a sous chef, or a hospitality manager). I'll let pass his reference to Schnitzel as "typical Israeli food" because there is considerable debate about what constitutes "Israeli cuisine".
Also I have my own opinion about this whole business of a restaurant serving pan-Mediterranean cuisine. I mean innovative cusine is exciting, and fusion can work at times, but representing accurately the culinary heritage of a bunch of Mediterranean nations is a great challenge that even the best of chefs can stumble with. I've been cooking and reading up on Greek cuisine for the last three years, and I still feel apprehensive serving a Greek dish to someone who is Greek. I genuinely think I know very little about the cuisine and have a lot to learn, and hence pardon the my skepticism about claims to serve Sicilian, Genovese, Greek, Turkish, and Israeli cuisines, all under one roof. Serving a bunch of cuisines together in one restaurant simply because all use olive oil is as absurd as serving Swedish and Japanese food together, because both have raw fish as ingredient.
But of course, in the current scramble for celeb cred, pan Mediterranean is more exotic than just plain old Lucknowi kebabs. Toss in an Israeli connection, a stint in Switzerland and you've got the foreign mystique. Apparently working in a kibbutz helps as well. And for some, just a ponytail and dorky glasses would do just fine.