A friend of the family recognised his talent, and suggested it was worth him turning his passion into a profession. After college in New Delhi, he began to work in some of India's finest hotels, both Taj and Oberoi. But he had a dream, and that was to travel - pictures were not enough for him. Just as in the kitchen it was all about touching, tasting, experiencing for himself, likewise in life he could barely believe in such things as glaciers, icy waters, sheer cliffs and snow. How was it possible for the sun to be visible at Midnight? Norway took pride of place at the top of his wish-list of places to visit.
In India, he had become a sous-chef, with a highly competitive nature. But when Seabourn came to India on its first ever recruitment drive in the sub continent, Rajat applied to join the team in a far more junior role, recognising that this was a great opportunity to make his mark. His first daughter was just three months old when his supportive wife encouraged him to take the plunge and go to sea for the first time - a move they have never regretted.
From the moment he started, he grabbed every opportunity that came his way, moving quickly from chef de partie to relief chef, and so on, right through to his current executive role. He loves the opportunity to go ashore and taste the local food, then come back on board to try and incorporate it into the daily menus. He learns as much as he can from guest chefs bringing new techniques and contemporary pairings, constantly reevaluating and updating the menus But this job is not just about cooking - a good kitchen is all about people management, inspiring great teamwork, and ensuring that every team member understands the customer. To work in a kitchen you have to be physically very strong, he says, but many people do not realise you have to be mentally strong also.
When Seabourn's new ships were planned, Rajat was determined to be part of the back-up team, setting up the new kitchens, ordering the pots and pans, doing the paperwork. And as he spoke, I was fascinated to hear just how much a chef's job involves, from menu planning to ordering, budget responsibility, staff training, safety, resources and hygiene - and of course, most importantly, to producing memorable and high quality meals for 450 guests every single day of the year. And as a Corporate Executive Chef, you take on fleet responsibility for manpower and forward planning.
Rajat travels from ship to ship, maintaining quality control and taking information back to Seattle to set strategies and goals. The current challenge is Project Antarctica - planning for Seabourn's first ever foray into Antarctica later this year. As someone who worked through Seabourn's move from Florida to Seattle, I wondered how that had impacted on his job. "It was excellent", he told me. "All of a sudden we had access to upgraded technology, established processes, and a far wider network to enable us to purchase more effectively, and plan more efficiently. So whilst our specifications in terms of food quality was far higher than those of Holland America, the group buying power meant that we could really up our game - to the benefit of the staff, and also the Seabourn guests. It was the perfect combination of Seabourn mentality, with Holland America buying power."
On board Seabourn Odyssey, the Hotel Director is a former chef. I wondered if Rajat had aspirations in that direction? "No, for me ultimately it's all about the cooking", he told me. "I like to keep in touch with the front line, constantly working to improve our offering, and also to inspire and promote our staff. Many crew come from other cruise lines, not just for the better accommodation and conditions, but also for the level of training we offer."
How about his family in Bangalore? He has two daughters, 13 and 8 years old. Nowadays with skype and facetime, he can speak to them every day, and he manages to get home for about four months every year. His wife is also in the business, head of a department at a culinary college, so she understands his challenges and issues.
Both daughters already show an interest in cooking themselves, but for Rajat it is all about giving them the support and education they need to ensure that everything is possible - just as his parents did for him. So, did he get to go to Norway? Yes he did, and it remains one of his favourite places. Other top destinations are Japan and the Caribbean. And despite all his years with Seabourn, he has still never been to South Africa. That's next on his list…
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