Cooking for a cause: Sumeet Jhingan
It has been a labour of love, albeit a rewarding one in so many ways, for Capital Club Bahrain general manager Sumeet Jhingan. After moving to the Kingdom of Bahrain in mid-2016, Jhingan rolled up his sleeves and set to work by launching the ‘Celebrity Chef’ series — the aim being to improve the restaurant offering in Bahrain by hosting and collaborating with top chefs from across the world each month.
But that wasn’t all. In addition to hosting these well-known chefs, young Bahraini chefs are being given the opportunity to work and train alongside them. When the initiative was launched, Jhingan told Caterer Middle East: “Capital Club Bahrain has signed up with Bahrain Institute of Hospitality and Retail (BIHR) offering an opportunity for its Bahraini students to be trained at the club. Selected students will have the pleasure to travel abroad and work with Michelin starred and Top 50 chefs for further experience under the sponsorship of the club.”
Two years after this was launched, how is the initiative progressing? Very well, admits Jhingan. He reveals that when he landed in Bahrain, he realised there was an opportunity and the demand for more. He comments: “So we thought, why not do two things? [Let us] put Bahrain on the culinary world map and give back to local students who are in this profession and help them become world class talent so they can find jobs and encourage more [people] into this business.”
Having hosted 12 guest chef events so far, each lasts typically for between three to five days. Capital Club Bahrain then works with BIHR to include its students as part of the team working with the chefs.
Jhingan notes: “It starts from when the chefs arrive; some students go to the airport to receive them. From there on, they are with them like a shadow. They spend time with the chefs in the kitchen, they take the chefs out sightseeing, they eat with the chefs, they are involved in the mise en place, they are involved in the service, and so on. The hospitality in Bahrain is very warm and they take pride in welcoming international talent coming to the country.” At this point, Capital Club Bahrain has hosted about 100 students so far, with each chef working with around 10-12 students on average.
These students also get more than just the time with the visiting chefs. Capital Club Bahrain takes on some of these students, and provides them with training for an extended period of time. Jhingan says: “We want to develop them at a young age, not just in the kitchen but front-of-house as well. We are also working with three hotel groups in the UAE and two hotel groups in Saudi Arabia to make sure that when the students have done a year with us that we can recommend them, they can test them, and they can hire them. One of the big hospitality operators in the UAE has said they will take 15-20 Bahrainis provided they have the skills.
“With the success we have seen in Bahrain, we have been approached by nearby GCC countries to ask if we can take their students, or can we come and do this programme with them in the school.
“If we can play our part in training local Bahrainis who can be employed in this business in hospitality I think we have done our bit for the country we live and work in.”
Jhingan thanks all the chefs who have supported the initiative so far: “When we wanted to start this idea, the worry was that it was not possible. In Bahrain something like this was never done before.”
And not only was the project done, but succeeded in a way which is now translating to the demand for more. Jhingan reveals: “We are looking for a bigger space, Capital Club wants to bring in more students. We also want to open doors to non-students — as long as they are Bahraini and working within the hospitality sector.”
He credits the vision of the local authorities and government as well. Jhingan comments: “We are very lucky to have a great Crown Prince, His Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa. His vision is to focus on hospitality and tourism with Gulf Air bringing in new aircraft, with the phenomenal work EDB (Bahrain Economic Development Board) is doing in the sector as well. Hospitality in Bahrain is booming with the opening of new restaurants, new concepts, and new hotels.”