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Culinary Connection: Bringing Alumni Together Through Food

Left: Aditya Pai / Right: One of Pai's Culinary Creations

Le Cordon Bleu Melbourne Alumni, Aditya Pai, is a chef at a Two-Hatted restaurant and Vice President of the Alumni Committee. Discover Pai’s story and how his personal experiences with food have brought about a mission to connect others to a community.

"For some chefs, their biggest accomplishment is a physical award or cooking the perfect dish. Sometimes I see my biggest accomplishment as a chef is making money to be able to present a cheque to my mum. She runs a school for children with special needs who are from little-to-no economic skill. She helps children with special needs who have suffered from brain damage and trains their parents to care for them when they leave the school. You know, it kind of humbles us, when we (as a society) are looking for instant gratification, my mum is focusing on “in six months time, the child will be able to sit upright by themselves”. And that’s an accomplishment. It puts things into perspective sometimes. The biggest accomplishment varies for everyone. I enjoy helping someone I love, by doing something I love.

I was inspired to be a chef from a young age. My parents bought me a cookbook for my 10th birthday. It was my first cookbook. It contained recipes like pancakes, potato gratin and no-bake chocolate cake. These were things I enjoyed making for my family when I was young. We didn’t grow up like a typical Indian household, where it was just Indian food all the time. My mum is an amazing cook and she loved experimenting with food. One of my favourites was her Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. I was blessed with constantly trying new foods and that influenced my palette as well.

Even before that, cooking for me was all about the love. Dinner times were a moment of family. No matter how late anyone got home, we would always wait for each other and have dinner together. So I associated that feeling of family and love with food. This transferred into a career opportunity for me, where I could share that feeling with others.

I first studied in India, which gave me the opportunity to work at a Two-Star Michelin restaurant in San Francisco for one year. I also travelled across America during this time. I’ve had a lot of food adventures whilst travelling. I returned to India and after working in a couple of restaurants and hotels, I soon realised the potential for me to grow there is very limited. I thought about my future and Australia seemed to offer a lot of growth for me. I also knew a few professors who had studied at Le Cordon Bleu Sydney which influenced me to research studying at Le Cordon Bleu in Australia. I felt my hometown, Bangalore, had a connection to Melbourne in terms of the social aspect, the dynamics, the weather and everything. So I chose to move to Melbourne and I have been here since 2018. I live right in the heart of it and Melbourne has the most incredible food scene!

The Le Cordon Bleu Melbourne campus was amazing. The chef lecturers have a lot of love and passion for what they do. Because of this, I was able to learn a lot and they were always helpful when you asked them questions. I had the opportunity to take part in a few competitions and the chef lecturers were very supportive by giving me space and ingredients to trial dishes for it as well. It’s not necessarily what Le Cordon Bleu taught me in terms of curriculum, but it’s how the chefs taught it. It’s the passion that the professors have. They make the effort to reach every student.

I am lucky to still be employed despite a lot of hospitality organisations struggling during the COVID-19 regulations. The initial connections I made when studying with Le Cordon Bleu have definitely contributed to that. I did my work placement at Cutler & Co. It is a fine dining, Two-Hatted restaurant in Fitzroy, Melbourne and is part of Chef Andrew McConnell’s Trader House company of award-winning establishments. The joining establishment is the sister restaurant, the One-Hatted, Marion Wine Bar; so it is a two-fer for me. I worked here through my Certificate IV in Commercial Cookery and Advanced Diploma in Hospitality Management (Cuisine). They ended up closing due to COVID-19. But they gave me the opportunity to work at Baker Blue, who are a supplier of breads to the restaurant. I’m now working at Meatsmith [part of the same company] which specialises in butchery and will be back at Marion when they reopen after lockdown. My current title officially is a Commis Chef but my duties have allowed me to gain experience at a Chef de Partie level.

What I love most about my job is when you make a good dish and it brings this sense of satisfaction and happiness to it. It has nothing to do with anyone else sometimes, when you are able to create a good dish and provide good service, it can bring you this next-level joy.

Aditya Pai and his Le Cordon Bleu peers

What makes a good dish is when it surpasses the expectation of what you want to experience in the dish. It’s a combination of things. It needs to look aesthetically pleasing, it needs to have texture, the flavours should work really well and it should also draw on the heartstrings or a memory that people might have. Like now, one of the desserts on our menu is a Crème Caramel. It is a dish that almost everyone is familiar with. But we add a little bit of Sauternes [French dessert wine] to the caramel when we make the dish, and that just elevates it. It makes it slightly different but still very familiar to what people enjoy. So it draws on the heartstring when you get that texture just right - where its creamy and smooth with the right mouthfeel. It gives you that elevated happy feeling, like, “this is what I want”! Surpassing that expectation.

When I was studying in India and getting close to my graduation time, I asked a few of my friends who were alumni, "what does the college do once you graduate?” They looked at me dumbfounded like, “what do you mean what does the college do? They do nothing. You’ve graduated. And that’s it”. And that was a little disheartening for me. And it turns out that I wasn’t the only one who thought the same way.

During my studies, Le Cordon Bleu informed me that they were looking to start up an Alumni Association. I wanted to make a difference. I was offered the opportunity to join the Alumni Committee. We’re currently trying to build a really good foundation for this association to grow on. One thing that I have observed and felt at Le Cordon Bleu is the sense of family and a common passion from all the teachers and students, which is food and a love of cooking. I feel like once you graduate, that shouldn’t change. So, one of my goals would be to continue this sense of camaraderie and community.

Every student comes with a different story, different sense of ideas. To understand the world, you need to understand people’s stories and get to know people. Restaurants are always looking for chefs. If you are looking for a job and in the Le Cordon Bleu Alumni Committee, it opens the doors to meeting someone who works in a hotel that you like or has a job opening available to recommend you. With Le Cordon Bleu being international, it gives the potential not just to work in any city in Australia but the potential to take you across the world.

All these amazing benefits don’t take place unless people make the effort to be a part of it. People who share the same vision of community and love of food. The more alumni we reach, the more traction and benefits people will reap. It is also a great way to eat at new restaurants with like-minded people to share ideas, food and grow professionally. That is the ultimate goal - to continue building a community who connect over food."

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