Meet Pavan Kumar Chennam

After a whirlwind recruitment, Pavan joined the Weligama Bay Marriott Resort & Spa in April. In his first role outside India, he’s looking forward to capturing the essence of tea and getting to grips with soursop.

My first day at Weligama Bay Marriott was…

Exhilarating. I joined during avurudu, right in the middle of the festivities. The hotel was immensely busy; what you would normally learn in a month, I learnt in day! The environment was very eclectic and festive. I think I started off on a positive, auspicious note.

When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?

I come from a family of doctors and engineers, but one of my uncles had made the unconventional career choice to be a chef. I saw him grow in his career and become an executive chef at a young age. My mother is a very good cook and as a child I would help with the cooking, so I had that knack of working in the kitchen; but at a professional level, the trigger point was when I saw what my uncle had achieved in his career.

How do you describe your cooking style?

I like to let the ingredients talk. To use the finest, freshest ingredients and let them shine. I’ll embellish the dish with my own skills, but the ingredients are the champions.

What Sri Lankan ingredients are you most excited about?

The tea! Looking at all the varieties of tea I am asking myself how I can introduce these teas into cured and smoked meats. I’m also very excited for the spices here. Though we get a lot of spices in India, I think spices here are more preserved and pronounced. The cinnamon and cardamom in particular, are fantastic.

What is your advice to young chefs aspiring to become an executive chef?

As a budding chef, make mistakes, remain hands on and become an entrepreneur – a ‘chefpreneure’.

As chefs we have to be hands-on 24/7 and we let our hands do all the talking. Sometimes we hold ourselves back from making mistakes, but it’s only when you mistakes you learn. Knowledge is power, but in our profession, putting that knowledge into practice is the only way to hone our skills.

Chefs these days are not just tied to the kitchen. They are entrepreneurs and they can make or break a restaurant, so they needs to create a brand for themselves. Young chefs need to develop additional attributes like how to talk about food and learn the financials of the kitchen.

Which trends do you see emerging in F&B?

Healthy eating and sustainable food are the next big things. Many people, particularly millennials, are making very health-conscious choices these days. They could be following the keto diet, no-sugar, gluten free, or vegan. Healthy eating means different things to different people

How do you see Sri Lanka positioned as a destination for culinary travel?

Sri Lankan local food has tremendous variety. Though it’s a small island nation the depth in culinary offerings is immense. I see a lot of opportunities.

With the Marriott team, we want to create a concept of holistic healthy eating. I want to create a menu that is end-to-end organic with no additives at all. When it comes to healthy eating, this type of menu would tick all the boxes.

Hospitality Insider Issue 4