“When fully opened up, The Pop Inn looks exactly like a bar. Rows of wine glasses are displayed, several bar fridges are in full view and a small kitchen is set up,” writes WENDY JOHNSON
COOKING up creative dishes for up to 1400 people at one time is no easy feat, but for Nikhil Jain, the executive chef at the National Convention Centre, it’s all in a day’s work.
And his work has been recognised nationally after winning the Chef of the Year award at the Australian Hotels Association National Awards for Excellence, on the Gold Coast.
Jain remains modest in his win, saying that it’s a team effort. “You can’t do it on your own,” he says.
The top chef has been in the food industry for more than 20 years, training in some of the best hotels in India, before working in some of the best hotel restaurants throughout Asia, the UK and in Australia.
“Hotels have always fascinated me,” Jain says of his early days in hospitality.
“When you walk into a hotel, it’s like a different world. In India, hotel restaurants are live kitchens. They work in great co-ordination – it’s more like watching an orchestra – everything is very precise.
“It excites me to be a part of that, where you can be performing with others without even saying a word.”
Although first trained in India, Jain describes his cooking style as European, in particular Italian.
This can be seen in many of his culinary offerings, in particular his “Deer Footprint” menu, which includes venison with “soil” made from dry bread and deer sauce.
Originally moving to Canberra to work at the Hyatt, Jain has been at the Convention Centre for more than four years. He says initially it was very challenging moving from cooking a la carte to the banquet style that’s offered at the convention centre. He says it took him about six months to really transition into cooking for large functions. Last year, Jain and his team served almost 150,000 guests.
“There’s always a bit more anxiety,” he says.
“But planning is very important, there is no room for error. That’s just not possible. Everything needs to be simplified to eliminate any mistakes that could happen.
“After a function is over it’s great to see how we’ve pushed our boundaries and achieved something we haven’t achieved before.”
He says he’s started incorporating more molecular gastronomy into his dishes, which he says really lends itself to the big-banquet style.
Despite the recent success and a job that can take him around the world, Jain says he’s happy to call Canberra home with his young family.
Another winner for the ACT at the National Awards for Excellence was East Hotel, which took out Best Suite/Apartment Hotel.