Digraj Baghela Singh, Head Chef at the Prince’s Gate Hotel in Rotorua, started his career with a baptism by fire, working as a trainee chef at the world-famous 5-star Taj Lake Palace hotel in Udaipur, India. “I got to learn all aspects of the hotel industry,” Singh told Hotel Magazine. “It was very productive training, and it helped me to set my standards very high.”
Since then, he’s worked throughout India and New Zealand, holding brief tenancies in Bangkok, Shanghai, and Guangzhou kitchens along the way. “I love exploring, looking at other cultures and researching dishes for ideas and inspiration,” Singh said. “I always try to challenge myself.”
During his time in New Zealand, Singh has fallen in love with the country’s culinary scene, particularly the quality of its produce. Under Singh’s supervision, the team at the Prince’s Gate Hotel have recently crafted a Taste Indigenous New Zealand menu, incorporating the best locally sourced produce and ingredients, including New Zealand lamb, eel, blue warehou, manuka honey, pikopiko, and kawakawa.
Singh praised his colleagues at the Prince’s Gate for their support and work ethic in implementing this new menu. “We have a very positive environment, we learn from each other, we discuss as a group and only move forward if everyone is on the same page. It’s like a family.”
Over the years, Singh has developed from a by-the-book cook to a more creative chef willing to challenge the status quo. “When I started my career, I was more into following the set recipes, sticking to the basics and improving my skill. But I now see myself challenged to experiment with authentic New Zealand recipes.” But any experimentation, he argues, must be grounded in an appreciative understanding of the produce. “Creativity is crucial for this line of work, but the chef must know the tradition and history of the food they work with, as well as numerous ways to combine ingredients,” he explained. “Chefs think and experiment with combinations; they can combine the traditional with the modern or a general taste with a touch of something personal.”
Looking back, Singh attributes his career path to his father. Though he wasn’t a professional chef, he was a passionate cook who inspired Singh as a young man with his love of cooking. “He always told me, ‘Whenever you cook, cook from your heart. Put love in it, respect it, and the dish will never let you down,’” Singh reminisced. “I still always follow his advice.”