How Chef Manish Tyagi Really Got Started In The Kitchen - Exclusive

Today, looking at the resume of chef Manish Tyagi, it's hard to imagine him doing anything other than cooking. He's the man behind the menu at Bay Area restaurant Aurum, he defeated the mighty Bobby Flay on the show "Beat Bobby Flay," and he's cooked in kitchens from India to San Francisco (via Aurum). But as it happens, despite having grown up helping his mother in their home kitchen, Tyagi fell into the professional culinary world rather by default: It was less expensive to study for the hospitality industry than it was to stick with his initial studies in math and stats.

During an exclusive interview with Mashed, Manish Tyagi told us about his unique journey, which started in the kitchen at home in India and ended up in professional kitchens respected the world over.

"Taking it as a career, actually, I never decided," Tyagi explained. "It was around [the early] 2000s and I was in the second year of my college. I was pretty confused what I'm going to do with my life. There were not many professional school options around me, so whatever I was getting in front of me, I was just applying for them so that I just don't end up doing plain BS in math and statistics. ... I thought, 'I have to do something ... so that I can get jobs easily.'"

At first, Tyagi didn't envision a career as a chef

But with few jobs evidently available, the future chef decided to make a more practical choice. Manish Tyagi would switch paths completely, pivoting to the culinary world.

"The minimum qualification for catering college during my time was high school. Already I was crossed two years [of college] so this was in the back of my mind that I'm going backwards. But I didn't have much options available — I got selected in engineering, but college was very far, and then the fee structure was out of our budget. So I dropped that idea and picked this catering college thing."

"You'll be feeling amazed that I was not sure even after completing my three years of this catering college diploma that I'm going to go in the kitchen, because I used to love cooking, but had no feeling that I can do it in an industrial way," chef Manish Tyagi admitted.

The interview that landed Manish Tyagi in the kitchen

Sometimes luck does play a role in life, at least when someone is ready to make the most of it. And Manish Tyagi lucked out when it came to one interview early in his working life.

"I was more leaning towards [food and beverage] services ... In my campus interview, I cracked a couple of rounds, and then the final round was to happen in one of the premier hotel chains [in] India, one having a quite big name [of] the Oberoi group of hotels," he explained. Tyagi said that the food and beverage manager was on vacation, so the hotel's executive chef conducted the interview instead. "He did [the interview] so he can pull me into his team because he was also looking for chefs. He kind of got biased. And rather than just taking a simple interview, he thought: 'Why don't I have this guy in my kitchen?'" 

"That's how I get into the kitchen," Tyagi concluded. "I guess, mostly it was my destiny rather than I choose it as my career. I kind of started enjoying it initially. A couple of months were hard and had so many times this thought that I should leave this, this [is] not my cup of tea."

Tyagi pointed out that only about 3% of catering college graduates go on to make cooking their lifetime career. He credits his mentors, who encouraged him to read more and try to experiment, with his future success. "So [in] my case, I started enjoying it," he said.

If you happen to be in the Los Altos, California area and want to try Manish Tyagi's cooking, be sure and drop by his restaurant Aurum.