He has launched a string of five-star establishments in Bahrain and was largely involved in Veeraswamy in London, the country’s oldest Indian restaurant, and Soho’s wildly popular The Red Fort.
Now a regular on MasterChef: The Professionals and the winner of the BIBA, Restaurateurs Restaurant and Personality of the Year awards, Rajesh is the director at Grand Trunk Road, an innovative restaurant steeped in Indian culture based in South Woodford, London. The Staff Canteen caught up with Rajesh to find out more about Grand Trunk Road, its unique apprenticeship scheme and why you should never cut corners.
“I know a lot of restaurants that require a certain number of diplomas and qualifications. But I can honestly say that having a passion for the industry is of the utmost importance.” Rajesh takes pride in offering apprenticeships to applicants without requiring any prior experience.
He added: “For me, a genuine enthusiasm to learn and work towards delivering a great experience is key. I understand that you can have this without spending years garnering academic accolades, and I’m interested in developing new talent from the ground up.”
We asked Rajesh to walk us through the first day of the apprenticeship at Grand Trunk Road: “Day one is normally an introduction to the restaurant environment. Learning about the kitchen equipment and how to operate it, the dos and don’ts, and a little work involvement; only one or two hours.”
He takes extra care to ensure that his apprentices thrive and learn from the beginning of their time at Grand Trunk Road, and said: “We make sure that we spend time enough with apprenticeship staff to understand his or her level of understanding of the job. They will be expected to learn and design their quarterly programme and make an assessment after three months before we start their next level of training. Some of them are very fast learners.”
Rajesh is notable for his comparatively high salaries for apprentices at Grand Trunk Road. He thinks that this is crucial for piquing interest, encouraging effort, and creating a fair and rewarding atmosphere: “Yes, we do pay more than many others. People have a negative perception that the hospitality industry doesn’t pay well; for this very reason, many people don’t wish to come into the industry. The hospitality industry requires commitment, hard work and long hours. We, as a business, look into the cost of travelling and other expenses. They have to be covered, otherwise people lose interest before they even start.”
Rajesh nurtures his apprentices to become the best of their kind. This helps Grand Trunk Road stand out as an experience of the highest quality. We asked what hospitality means to him: “For me, hospitality is about creating an experience, one that starts the second you enter an establishment and lingers after you’ve left. It’s an exciting challenge to create an atmosphere that is rich, a varied menu that is sumptuous and satisfying, and ultimately provide faultless, enjoyable space of time for those that visit you.”
He added: “Grand Trunk Road offers a dining experience which is both luxuriant and memorable. I and the head chef Dayashankar Sharma have worked to construct a menu that offers flavours both familiar and experimental, but always delicious and steeped in history. Our décor is sleek and warm, while our resident mixologist frequently creates delicious cocktails to complement everything on offer to perfection. We go further than what people may expect from a venue serving Indian food; we pair intricate culinary knowledge with fresh, flavoursome ingredients to stunning effect, continuing to make ourselves unforgettable.”
The 60 cover restaurant opened last year and derives its dishes from the many towns along the ancient trade road of the same name, from Chittagong in Bangladesh to Kabul, Afghanistan. Particular dishes include crusted seared scallops with roasted red pepper, garlic and tomato chutney; pheasant supreme with pickling spices and yoghurt; ground lamb with mint, ginger and seven spice mix; Cornish lobster with black, green and red peppercorn; mixed mushrooms with fenugreek and petit pois.
Rajesh has also found that the location of his restaurant, in South Woodford, attracts applicants to his apprenticeship scheme: “I’ve noticed that not being based in Central London has greatly increased interest in our scheme. I’ve found that people are drawn to a high-quality product that isn’t in the usual setting of the bustle of the city. At Grand Trunk Road, our focus on excellence is one that has consistently brought people out of their comfort zones to experience it, with each person very happy that they did. After many years cultivating successful restaurant brands and working with a vast array of individuals, I feel the immensely favourable response we’ve had since our launch sets us apart.”
Rajesh, who has been in the hospitality business for over 30 years, finished with a word of advice: “Pay attention and never cut corners. Aiming to provide the best means being patient and picking up things that so often go amiss in the industry. Feedback from patrons is vital, and listening to what works and what may not is an essential part of progressing beyond the standard.