On one of his trips to Wokha, Nagaland , our R&L member Jungio made a visit to one of the earliest café around the vicinity -Café Serrano . He describes the cafe as an excellent backdrop for a Hollywood-esque dining setting with the orange tint of the dusk dancing off the porcelain plates and the stainless cutleries.
R & L contributor sat down with Gilbert Lotha, chef and proprietor of the cafe talking about his journey , challenges , kitchen misadventures and more.
What led you to become a chef and how was the journey?
While doing my Advance Course in Continental Cuisine from Indus Institute of Culinary Arts & Hotel Management, Bangalore I was surprised to witness the level of insane dedication and undiluted passion for the culinary arts shown by the visiting foreign staffs which both challenged and nudged me into emulating the same level of professionalism and love for the culinary art. The journey from a student of the art to a business owner has been a long winding road for me personally- from working a year at the prestigious Le Meriden in Bangalore to going abroad to the US and working as a demi-chef de partie in Miami for two years and then coming back to South India to further my knowledge on Indian cuisines.
It was in 2012 that I decided to pack my bags and head back to Nagaland for reasons too vague to recall now but if I may try now I think a good share of the reasons may be due to the crippling identity crisis I faced outside and the nagging desire to challenge oneself.
I started Serrano in 2015 with a staff of five members who were mostly friends, families and well wishers on rotation. I am so grateful for all the supports- financially and morally I got from my family, without them and the grace of the Almighty, it could probably be non-existent.
What are the challenges that you face that are unique to Wokha based on your experiences?
Well the location puts us in a disadvantage as the logistical cost increases significantly since I have to travel outside of Wokha to purchase ingredients and equipments .The café business here is also relatively new and like any new endeavour, the environment is definitely hostile but I am so glad that the public’s reactions so far have been positive and accommodating.
- Would you like to share any stories of misadventure in the kitchen?
This happened when I was in the US with a chef called Louis, a bubbly Jamaican woman in her late 40s and it was a busy day in the kitchen . We were all racing against the clocks to push through Sushi prep for more than 2000 orders. This involves working with accompaniments and the most dreaded among all is the wasabi- also called Japanese horseradish. So that day I decided to play a small prank on the preoccupied Louis who gullibly chucked the wasabi laid on the table when I told her that it now came in orange flavour. What followed after the expected stream of tears induced by the wasabi was the most colourful string of expletives, each more pungent as the wasabi, from the mouth of a chef.
Do you have advices for people who are looking into starting a business like yours?
Yes I do.I never envisioned that one day I will be starting a business like this on my own but I always had an unwavering faith in our God that specialize in doing the impossible. Put God first,Always.
“I believe that a man’s true potential and happiness lies in following you passion and sticking with it no matter what the obstacles are . One should also supplement it with as much exposures and experiences you can scoop out from the world that rewards those who dare to do more than just dream away. I am a stern advocate for professionalism and from the way I see it these days, we the Nagas, are in dire need of a modicum dose of it.”
Folks from Wokha can visit this cafe and try the recommended items by our contributor Ovung from the menu Serrano exclusives – TÜmbak( Nutgall berries) and Sprouts & chicken salad and also bonus item Lasagna
Let us know how you would rate, if you have visited already or if you visit the café after this story !
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