Kshitiz Sethi, Canada’s representative at this year’s Barilla Pasta World Championship, never planned on being a chef. “During my early school days I thought I wanted to be a mechanical engineer,” Sethi said. “I was more into science until Grade 11.”
Coming from humble beginnings in Delhi, India, it wasn’t until he started eating out and trying different styles of cooking that he became inspired by food and began to work in his father’s bakery. “I used to work and help in the bakery after school when I was in Grade 10 and 11.”
After high school, Sethi decided to pursue professional culinary training at The Institute of Hotel Management, Catering & Nutrition, Pusa in New Delhi. There, he took the Food Production and Patisserie program and soon after opened a street-food stall. “Basically, it was like fast-food, street food. It was Indochinese,” he explained.
While running his food stall, Sethi began intensive industrial training. “I started my industrial training back in India and I also had my fast-food outlet, so [I] was doing [well].” After six months however, Sethi felt, “it was time to decide whether I’d have to go into business or further [my] education.”
Sethi’s culinary ambitions quickly won out and he began to research schools in Canada where his sister was living. He ultimately chose to attend George Brown College’s Culinary Management program and packed his bags to move to Canada in 2016.
At George Brown, Sethi feels he had excellent exposure to and preparation for Toronto’s restaurant culture. “George Brown has been very [good] to me, in terms of [my] culinary education,” he said.
Sethi was given the chance for real workplace experience at three different restaurants throughout his program. His first two internships were completed at George Brown where he worked as an apprentice at the Café —the school’s culinary-student-run café for students — and at Chef’s House — a student-focused learning restaurant adjacent to the school’s campus.
“Then, I did my final internship at Paese Ristorante, because I was already working part time with them as a student.”
After completing his work placements and graduating, the staff at Paese were more than happy to have Sethi join their team full time and it wasn’t long before he started climbing the ranks. After only 20 months, he became Chef de Partie and found himself being recommended by his manager as a candidate for the Barillla Pasta World Championship. “My manager at Paese got an email and [asked] if I would be interested in participating,” said Sethi. “[He] wanted me to submit [my] bio and a recipe.”
To enter the competition, chefs had to submit their bio along with a recipe of their own creation using one of Barilla’s pastas. The concept for this year’s competition is “Bello —Buono —Fa Bene:” Beautiful for Eyes, Tasty for the Palate and Soul and is meant to showcase a mastery of pasta.
Wanting to represent Canada faithfully and channel all he had learned while living in this country, Sethi used Canada’s reputation as a multi-cultural nation as his inspiration for his Spaghetti Con Le Sarde recipe. “I already knew that this competition would have global exposure, so I started to prepare my recipe keeping Canada in mind,” said Sethi. “I came up with an authentic Italian pasta dish inspired by all the different cultures [Italy is exposed to].”
“The ingredients [for this pasta] were grapes from Greece, [combined with the preparation of] drying fruit from the Moors [to make the raisins] and then the tomato sauce in the dish was from Southern Italy. And the saffron has Spanish influences.” Sethi explains. “It is kind of authentic Italian, but [also] represents different cultures, so it could represent Canada.”
By making a pasta dish that incorporates ingredients found in Sicily thanks to contact and trade with its surrounding neighbours, Sethi chose a dish that is both authentically Italian yet also multi-cultural, which he feels accurately represents Canada’s diverse identity.
Following his recipe submission, Sethi was chosen from four other young chefs to represent Canada at the final stage of the competition in Paris, France from October 10 to 11.
“It’s an honour to represent Canada at the Barilla Pasta Championship,” said Sethi about the opportunity.
In Paris, Sethi will battle against 17 chefs from different countries around the world. He will be required to prepare his winning Spaghetti Con Le Sarde along with a white canvas dish made from ingredients chosen by Barilla and disclosed to the competing chefs on September 6.
To prepare, Sethi explains “I’m still working on some kind of garnish or something that I could bring to the plate. But the [pasta] dish would be the same. The second dish will be decided in September.”
The young chef is most excited about the global opportunities this competition will give him. “Networking with all those people would be great in terms of getting the skills and knowledge I’ve always wanted,” said Sethi. “I get the chance to work with Michelin-star chefs, or chefs of that calibre, who can teach me [many] things.”
When asked about his future and if he would continue to specialize in Italian cuisine, Sethi explains,“I’m still learning, growing and evolving as a chef. I would like to evolve as a multi-cuisine chef, [so] I don’t want to stick to one cuisine. Food should be fresh, authentic, taste great, and made with a lot of passion.”
By Shelby O’Connor