Passion, Persistence, and Patience
When Viraj Borkar was a young boy growing up in Pune, India, the thought of a future in food industry was simply unfathomable. Suffering from stomach issues that required strict dietary restrictions, food would inevitably put Viraj on a roller coaster of emotions. Thankfully, his mother’s creativity in the kitchen enabled him to enjoy wonderful flavors while he slowly healed to a full recovery. “My family’s enjoyment of food inspired me to dive headlong into the culinary world the first chance I got,” say Viraj, manager at the Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, a collection of nine popular dining destinations in Washington, DC.
But first, Viraj earned his bachelor’s degree in hospitality from the prestigious Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology, and Applied Nutrition in Mumbai. He completed internships at the Al Hamra Fort Hotel in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and the ITC Grand Maratha Hotel in Mumbai, India and managed the 2007 Dubai Airshow for Emirates Flight Catering. Then it was on to Hyde Park. “My admission reps, Michelle Mullooly and Virginia Reilly, of the International Student Services office, made the application process easy to understand,” Viraj says. “The whole campus life and the atmosphere itself was the best experience.”
Viraj took advantage of every opportunity that came his way. He became a chef’s assistant in the Continuing Education department for food enthusiast classes and Boot Camps; was the assistant to the winning team of James Kent and Tom Allen at the Bocuse d’Or USA finals in 2010; and was awarded the Nucci Scholarship for Culinary Innovation by the Produce Marketing Association Education Foundation.
“As a recipient of the Nucci scholarship I got to attend the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition in Monterey, CA,” says Viraj. “It’s a four-day conference but the CIA made it possible for me to arrive early and stage under Daniel Patterson at Coi, Gary Danko at Restaurant Gary Danko, and Peter Armallino at Plumed Horse. I was also able to tour Napa Valley wineries to expand my knowledge and understanding of the wine and beverage industry.”
Back in Hyde Park Viraj continued to stage while juggling his course work. “I was able to do stages at Eleven Madison Park and Jean-Georges, and I was very fortunate to complete my externship at Tabla under Chef Floyd Cardoz,” Viraj explains. “I count myself lucky to have been mentored by Chefs Lou Jones, Thomas Griffith, Rob Mullooly, Brannon Soileau, and Professor Bruce Lavender. Overall, the CIA really helped me get exposure to amazing kitchens and gain experience for my résumé. I was also able to build contacts.”
After graduation, Viraj was offered a job on the line at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen where the emphasis on precision and plating was a real eye-opener. He then worked for fellow grad Maneet Chauhan ’00, then executive chef at Vermillion in New York City, where he learned to blend different cuisines using fresh ingredients. “It was Maneet who suggested I move to the front of the house,” says Viraj. “That was the beginning of my management career.” Vermillion owner, Rohini Dey, soon tasked Viraj with the management of both the Chicago and Manhattan restaurants.
Viraj would go on to be the assistant general manager of Avtar Walia’s Tamarind Tribeca in New York City. During his tenure the restaurant received a one-star Michelin rating. Viraj was also thinking about his future and solidifying an action plan. “I moved to the nation’s capitol to work for Ashok Bajaj, owner of the Knightsbridge Restaurant Group, who’s been in the business for more than 25 years, to learn the skills of an entrepreneur, so I could fulfill my dream of becoming a chef-turned-entrepreneur.”
With his CIA education and his experience, Viraj is confident he can achieve his goal and he is well on his way. In addition to his management duties, Viraj is developing an online chef-based dining concept. “One of the main things about the CIA is certainly the culinary focus but the school offers so much more in the varied curriculum so you graduate with a well rounded education,” says Viraj. “If you have a chance to be a student at the CIA, be calm, know your passion, take in everything, grow your endurance and patience, and get involved. Every day you have an opportunity to make new connections. With passion, persistence, and patience you too can shape your dreams into reality.”