EXECUTIVE CHEF AT MARRIOTT GATEWAY ON THE FALLS

By: Megan Pasche | Photos by: AJ Harlond

Jerry Nanda is one of those people who seems like they were born to do what they are doing. A love of food shines through in the way he cooks it, the way he serves it, and even the way he talks about it. He is just really good at his job. Nanda is the Executive Chef at the Marriott Gateway, Niagara Falls, and that puts him in charge of not only all meals served at the hotel, but of the hotel’s restaurant, Milestones. This is a franchise where 95% of the menu is made fresh, and in addition to that, the menu has recently been changed to include lots of International flair.  I caught up with Chef Nanda to talk about how he got his start, his job at the Marriott and how he has cooked his way around the world from his native India to right here in Niagara Falls.

Megan Pasche: What made you decide you wanted to be a chef?
Jerry Nanda: “I think the passion for food was always there, it ran in the family. I come from India, and food was something that would be the talk of every gathering, every meeting. You would take time to plan out meals. The part of India that I come from is considered the foodie part. I lived in a big family, so a lot of attention, a lot of importance, would be paid to what we would plan for our meals, whether it was for our regular meals or for celebrations. My parents, my grandparents would take me to the veg market whenever they would go out to select vegetables. Growing up, I was not sure which direction I wanted to head to, and I ended up doing my honours in political science, but the interest wasn’t there. So eventually, I deviated to hotel school, finished it with aces, and there was no looking back after that. It’s been a great ride, 23 years now. I think the passion was there, and that has only helped me to progress further.”

MP: What led you to Milestones?
JN: “I have pretty much worked half the globe. I started off in India, the first hotel I did my apprenticeship at was one of the LHW (Leading Hotels of the World). So the foundation was very strong. I was very fortunate to have gone through that initial training. What led me? I don’t know, it was probably a mix of destiny, a mix of my ambitions and a mix of my mentors that have brought me places. I haven’t sought out the last few positions that I’ve held, I was called.
From India, my next destination was Dubai. I spent about nine years in Dubai. I was really wowed at the standards and skills there. It was all about venturing on to the next level, expanding my horizon, learning new skills and being more ambitious. After spending nine years in Dubai, we found the best was yet to be explored. So we decided to make Canada our new home, applied for citizenship, came here in 2003. The first interview I ever went to in Canada, I got the job, and 11 years later, I have step by step, moved on, and it has been a very progressive ride for me.”

MP: What are your duties at the Marriott and Milestones?
JN: “I am the executive chef for Marriott, and because Milestones is part of our executive operations, I am the chef for Milestones as well. So I look after both sides of the business, the hotel side and the restaurant side of it. I have been at this property for about a year and a half now.”

MP: Do you have a cooking philosophy?
JN: “My cooking philosophy has always been to be excited by the ingredients that I see around me. Whether I am at the veg market or the grocery store, my passion is looking at ingredients and finding ways to use them. I like to keep it simple. Simple in the sense that I do not like to mask my proteins with sauces and all that, I like to highlight the ingredient. Make it simple, yet elegant. Elegant in presentation and elegant in visual appeal and flavour profile. The ingredients should speak for themselves. Make use of the best ingredients and use them to the core.”

MP: Do you have someone in your career that stands out as a mentor?
JN: “The first mentor is always your own mom, and that is true in my case too…she was a big foodie. She was my first introduction to the passionate side of cooking. Later in my very first job, I found a mentor, he’s a world-renowned Italian chef, his name is Giovanni and he is now based in the US and he has travelled the world. He saw that passion in me, and made sure I was given the opportunity to advance my career.”

MP: How do you stay educated on new food trends?
JN: “Food is something that is ever developing. Every day there is a new style of cooking coming out, a new ingredient. Everyday is a new trend. You have to stay abreast of what is happening in the market. Stay above the competition. Find out what everyone is doing and take it a notch up. I do a lot of reading; I probably have a collection of about 400 cookbooks at home. Besides that, the Internet is a great tool and I also do participate in virtually every food and beverage related event in the city. I am a very strong promoter of local cuisine versus importing, making sure my ingredients are sourced locally, which helps the community, helps the local farmers, and helps the local food processors. There was a restaurant that I worked for where we did not have any menus, the menu would be created every day based on what the farmer would put in his basket. We would look at that basket everyday and we would create the menu out of that.”

MP: Is there a moment in your career that you are most proud of?
JN: “There have been many moments. My first proud moment was getting a job in the hotel world, the whole family celebrated that I became a chef. From very basic moments such as being applauded for what I’ve done, to the success of my team, nurturing somebody…those are my proud moments. I’ve been very fortunate that some of the people that I’ve trained have gone on to become big chefs, and when I hear back from them, that’s a proud moment for me. I don’t look at those big moments, I look at the small moments.”

MP: Do you have a favourite ingredient to use?
JN: “That’s tricky, some chefs like to restrict themselves to certain cuisines…I just like food in general. That doesn’t stop me from saying I like Japanese food, Italian food, Chinese food, etc., as long as it is good food and there is an opportunity to learn. A popular ingredient would be something that is very versatile and can be used in different ways. Everything that is good quality and can be put to good use, that excites me.”

MP: Do you have a favourite kitchen gadget?
JN: “Most definitely my own hands, but I think that one thing that stands out is my hand blender. In a moment I can whip up a sauce, a dressing, a soup.”

MP: What kind of meals do you make while you are at home?
JN: “Comfort food of any kind. I don’t like to restrict myself to any particular cuisine. One day it could be mashed potatoes and a good piece of meat, the next day could be a rice and a comfort curry, the third day could be a nice bowl of soup. At work I’m surrounded by very exotic foods, but then at the end of the day, I like to make sure I have my meals back at home where I can have one simple, nice dish.”