"He made me see life as a bowl of bhel"

On Fathers' Day, seasoned Chef Vikas Seth fondly remembers the few dad-son bonding occasions that turned more than just ‘our time', but lessons to a good life

As told to Madhulika Dash
" They say, life is a box of chocolate. And I think that box is always with your dad, the person who all grow up respecting and fearing. I, incidentally, was no different. He was a formidable figure at home, not in the characteristic dominant style as associated with most dads, instead he was someone who could easily cajole a family to go with his bidding. Yes, he was assertive but with a tone that was always warm. And yet, there was this quintessential "father phobia" in me that would often make me confide in my mum, my silly mistakes, mischief and all things kid.

"As I grew, I realised that some of that phobia that comes naturally ebb out as I realised how crucial my dad's role was in shaping my family. The realisation, now when I look back wasn't that dramatic as the above line may have made it sound. It was more about observing him doing little things. Those little things that I did with him, even when I hadn't reached his height, became things that have hugely helped me grow as a person. Funnily, it isn't the reason that still cajoles me to do these little things with him even today. It is the fact that he is extremely fun to be around – competitive even at times.

"I still remember the first time we went playing badminton. He was extremely competitive and played like we were two friends at a tournament. I lost of course. But then he took me out on a treat for attempting my best. I remember it was one of those rainbow cupcakes. Next day, he just said, be prepared another match today. I won that set. This time he treated himself to a roll, stating the winner treats.

"I paid from my measly pocket money. Years later, while complementing my team on a difficult service I used the same tactics to up their morale for the next day – we were attending to a stadium crowd. The next day, I was surprised to see my team work like a well-oiled machine. I even got to have a treat especially made by my junior chefs even as the service was at full swing.

"His zeal to keep me all round fit didn't stop with badminton. He introduced me to meditation and even to satsang. While sitting in one place was hard for me, I did get to a point where I could sit for the same duration as his; satsang wasn't my cup of tea to be honest, not in the beginning at least. But I did go, just to realise during my early years as commi chef and then on a cruise that it eventually turned me into a keen listener – a virtue that any chef would tell you is the key to kitchen success. In fact, over the years, where I have cooked for many such events voluntarily, it has given me the lessons on the art of communication. On our last visit, my dad eventually confided how he was an effective communicator all his life. He said, and I quote, ‘communication is like cooking a good meal – you can say what you want, but to be heard you need to say it in a way that appeals to them." It was a moral that I have used in my cooking – I cook what I want to present my diners with but do so in a way that appeals to them. And it has been a success.

"The other lesson that my dad taught me during the dad-son time is the necessity to be open and move on. Unlike most of the dad friends I had met, my father had an amazing open palate and eagerness. He would try everything – and not in a manner of taking a bite for the sake of it, but with this impressive intent of relishing it. In his search of interesting local food, he would go around discovering these little places that served amazing fare – I was his tag along. While most of our jaunts had some delicious memories, there is one place where I did find food not to my liking and complained. My father took a bite and said, "it is just a little off, not bad. It's like the bhel, you like something you don't like others. But each element is necessary to make it so great."