Passion Within Keeps Me Inspired – Chef Bhuvan Ravishankar

Being a chef is about finding inspiration, one should never be bored of what you do…” says Bhuvan Ravishankar, kicking off our interview. Which naturally makes one curious to know – what keeps a chef inspired? For Bhuvan, “it’s something which cannot be taught, it has to come from within.

Bhuvan is currently a pastry chef at Pullman at Melbourne On the Park, situated in the city’s main sports and entertainment district, directly opposite Melbourne Cricket Ground. His cooking philosophy reflects an ongoing trend among many of today’s culinary professionals.

“Customer expectations keep rising, day to day – it’s important to go one notch above and create an added exciting element to their dining experience”.

Bhuvan believes in the “need to evolve with the times” and to “update constantly as the world is changing at a very fast pace”. Bhuvan has worked in many different luxury hotel kitchens, alongside mentors who have helped evolve his passion for always learning new skills to spark those special moments of creative inspiration.

Today, Bhuvan believes that “Hotels offer a structured system which enables you to drive your imagination in a very creative way – with the right team and support. You can create many experiences ranging from customised room amenities, themed banqueting breaks, luncheons, gala dinners etc”.

Challenging my capability and pushing boundaries

Bhuvan’s earliest interest in cooking began nearly twenty years ago, after leaving high school.

“I was fascinated with the idea of understanding the science of cooking and using my creativity to work around it. I started my professional training when I enrolled for a four year graduate diploma in hospitality management at the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration (WGSHA), Manipal, India. It’s ranked as the number one hotel management school in the country and 26th in the world”.

It was also here that Bhuvan was influenced by the first – and one of his “biggest mentors” – who still continues to have an impact to this day. “ Prof Valsaraj (WGSHA) encouraged me to unleash my creativity by challenging my capability and pushing boundaries”.

Work towards my dream of becoming a passionate chef

Further horizons beckoned during his one year internship (2004-05) at several of the world most iconic, and expensive hotels including, the Jumeirah Burj Al Arab Dubai – famous for its striking sail-shape design, and the JW Marriott Marquis, also in Dubai. At 355 m (1,165 ft), the 72-storey twin-towers make it the second tallest hotel in the world. Bhuvan says. “these lucky experiences changed my perspective of what luxury hotels can offer and the fresh produce one can work with. It helped me realise and work towards my dream of becoming a passionate chef”.

Bhuvan graduated with a diploma in hotel management, and in 2006, was selected for the 2 year post graduate programme in kitchen management by the Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD), managed by the Oberoi Group of Hotels and Resorts. “Oberoi is known as the pioneers in luxury hospitality in India”.

“The selection process was rigorous”, admits Bhuvan, “There were almost 6 rounds of interviews, the last round being the toughest – with the founding chairman himself, Prithviraj Singh Oberoi. I was fortunate to be the only candidate who was selected from my college that year for the kitchen management programme”. The experience was all-encompassing for Bhuvan, with a “wide range of input, from theoretical to practical learning, across various luxury hotels and resorts in India. It was here that I honed most of my skill set”.

During lockdown, I was motivated to create recipes and share them with my audience

Bhuvan says there is a “particular style or pattern to the repertoire that every chef has” and how his “childhood and cultural background” also influences his decision-making relating to food. He cites his experience during the recent Covid lockdown as a typical example.

“Like many other chefs around the world, I was completely cut off from my work space which created an opportunity for me to think about something which I am really passionate about. I created a blog, with simple recipes people could make at home with easily accessible ingredients. This really motivated me to create recipes and share them with my audience”.

One particular dessert Bhuvan created at home was a tart au citron (lemon tart), with an unusual flavour pairing of rosemary, milled pepper and finger lime. “I personally loved this flavour combination, so much so, that I added it to the restaurant menu when we reopened our hotel at The Pullman Melbourne On the Park”.

Drawn towards pastry, where most of the magic happened

Bhuvan completed his 2 year post graduate course in 2008 and started as sous chef at The Oberoi Groups’ two flagship hotels, The Trident Nariman Point (555 rooms) and The Oberoi Mumbai (287 rooms). “I worked in various parts of the kitchen, including banqueting, larder, butchery and various restaurants. Soon I realised and was drawn towards pastry, where most of the magic happened. This place was revolutionary, as it developed most of my skills, given the sheer volume of the business.”

It was here that Bhuvan met another important mentor and ‘guide’ to his creative development. “Chef Vikas Bagul was the executive pastry chef, and nurtured me with all the skills I possessed so I would be able to run a successful pastry kitchen. We worked on various aspects ranging from, buffet lunch and themed brunches to all day dining, large scale banqueting, cake shop and delicatessen. This was a very exciting learning experience. It was a 100 per cent homemade, driven production line where we produced the Viennoiseries (croissant, Danish), cookies, breads, cakes and homemade ice creams”.

Freedom to learn and evolve

Clearly, Bhuvan had found his true creative centre and culinary passion. In 2014,  he was appointed as the pastry chef at The Oberoi Bangalore, India (160 rooms) where he was to both, manage a team and be responsible for the daily operations of a busy hotel.

“Three years later, I was promoted to executive sous chef with a dual responsibility for assisting the executive chef in daily kitchen operations and running the pastry kitchen”. Once again a mentor was on hand to help Bhuvan in his new joint role. “My executive chef, Ajit Raman was an extremely talented chef who taught me how to take on the role of responsibility. His approach was to empower individuals, give them the freedom to learn and evolve while monitoring and guiding them through the process”.

More inspiring chefs were to follow. Bhuvan says that during this time, he had the opportunity to attend some “amazing master classes by some legendary chefs”. The experience was eye opening as I learnt different techniques and skills to be a creative pastry chef”.

He namechecks the likes of Antonio Bachour (Bachour Miami, USA), Frank Columbie (Bellouet Conseil, Paris), Eric Perez (Bangkok), Peter Yuen (Coach,USA), and  Anil Rohira (Corp Pastry Chef Felchlin Switzerland/Team captain USA & Chef of the year USA).

I wanted to explore more opportunities and travel the world

Ten years had now passed, working at the Oberoi Group. Like many a chef we interview, Bhuvan felt that at this stage in his career it was now time to broaden horizons once more. A powerful urge to always learn and discover more is surely a defining characteristic of a chef’s career journey.

Is it a coincidence that success can so often be found in Australia? Bhuvan headed out to Melbourne in 2018. “I wanted to explore more opportunities and travel the world, and it’s been a very exciting journey so far. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing restaurants, cafes and large scale catering companies like the Atlantic Group and the Peter Rowland Group – established six decades, and pioneers in many major events like the Melbourne Carnival, Australian Open, Grand Prix etc..

After a short stint at The Sofitel M Gallery Chadstone, and joining Accor Hotels in 2019, Bhuvan took on the role of pastry chef at the Pullman Melbourne on the Park. Then the pandemic arrived not long afterwards.

Syncing classical flavour combinations

Earlier in the interview, Bhuvan explained that during lockdown he took to experimenting with new dessert recipes which he later introduced to the Pullman menu.

“I believe in syncing classical flavour combinations, testing new ways of working with them in unconventional ways, recreating classical desserts and developing new dishes.

‘Eton Mess’ is an unconventional classical re-creation. For me this dish opened up boundaries and made me think out of the box. I was inspired with my travels across Daylesford, Victoria where I noticed wild mushrooms growing across many regions and lovely fresh strawberry sold at the farmers market. Voila! This dish consists of a transparent vanilla empanada with strawberry filling, meringue in the shape of mushrooms, strawberry gel, dehydrated strawberry, whipped Namelaka (from Japan, meaning, “extremely creamy” but contains no eggs or flour), and sprigs of lemon balm.

Another experiment was ‘Slow Cooked Apple’, my take on Tart Tatin but prepared in a slightly different way using a few innovative ingredients available in the market, and ensuring that the flavour and texture are the main driving factors. This is paired with a pistachio financier (a small French almond cake made with brown (hazelnut) butter), tangy rhubarb gel, rhubarb crisp and vanilla bean ice cream”.

Desserts, is it sustainable? Is there a story behind it?

Bhuvan says he is “very technology driven”, and feels “social media has played a very important role, its very easy to understand the current global trends”. The impact on customer hospitality is very clear, adding, “Thanks to technology not only do chefs need to update themselves, customers also are aware about the current trends.”

Bhuvan cites a typical example, “Sometimes, guests now want to know what chocolate you use in your desserts, is it sustainable? Is there a story behind it? Can we promote a local artisan bean to bar chocolatier rather than using an imported brand of chocolate? These are some of the important questions I ask myself when I design menus or dishes”.

Sustainability is always high up on the conversation menu with just about every chef we interview. Bhuvan is no exception. “It’s something I really believe in – whether it’s the ingredients you use, the packaging you use, the processes you follow to make it happen. Every step has something which is very crucial”.

Bhuvan gives a rather tasty example, “I used a local chocolate while I was working in India, a brand by the name of “Mason & Co”, to create an ‘After 8’ Bombe Alaska using the lovely mint chocolate they made in Auroville, Pondicherry (India).

Bhuvan also believes in showcasing the produce he uses. “Some of the products are highly sought after, expensive and rare to find, some under rated, cheap, easily available yet not given the value they deserve. It is important to hero the products we use. Given the current pandemic, we need to support each other and help each other grow”.

A high pressure environment lures you to unhealthy addictions

Awareness of issues is key to another vital issue in hospitality – managing the demands and stress of the kitchen. Like most chefs, Bhuvan agrees that “over a period of time it tends to take a toll on your physical and mental wellbeing”. He recalls his early experiences.

“Back in India, working for 12-16 hours a day, 6 days a week, was accepted as the norm. Working in a high pressure environment lures you towards a unhealthy lifestyle.

I realised this much later and a couple of years ago, started prioritising my life. I quit smoking, practised a healthy lifestyle, and ensuring I incorporated exercise as a part of my daily routine. To be honest, this has changed my wellbeing, emotionally as well as physically”.

Bhuvan believes that it’s young chefs who tend to get caught up with the fatigue caused by the demands of the industry. “However, in the current times people are aware, and are making conscious decisions about their wellbeing. It’s important to find time for self care and ensure that you find a way to de-stress – and make it a life long commitment”.

Bhuvan says his time for self care and de-stressing is enjoyed, “spending time with the family, exploring the surrounding neighbourhood or countryside. Being in the nature is something I really enjoy”. Bhuvan adds that he also loves photography, technology – and “collecting and using fountain ink pens”.  Inspired when writing up the menus, maybe?

Building blocks of the empire you plan to build for yourself

Exploring the passion within for cooking has been a constant theme throughout Bhuvan’s career. So too, the importance of listening to mentors, who can introduce new and exciting possibilities for recipe creation. Bhuvan has particular advice to offer young chefs on how to make their way in the industry.

“I always tell budding chefs to have the passion within them – as skills can be taught. It’s very important to learn and understand the basics, because you will never forget them. They are the building blocks of the empire you plan to build for yourself – don’t let failure define who you are or determine who you will be! Follow your passion, strive for perfection, the rest will follow your way. Finally take time to do things you enjoy – and never forget to smile”.

A smile is some thing, of course, that everyone appreciates, whether in the kitchen or front of house.