Chef Ambarish Lulay is on a mission. After years of study and award-winning work on several continents, he finds himself wanting – perhaps even needing– to share his world. So after creating a culinary arts program at Kendall College in Illinois, he’s now a faculty member in Purdue’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. It’s one of the best in the country. Lulay grew up in India with mostly vegetarian meals, many prepared by his grandmothers. “We ate home-cooked meals,” he said. “There was always the wonderful smell of food around. It’s a social, communal sort of thing.”He’s got an international reputation in the culinary arts developed through prestigious award-winning positions in Asia, Australia, Europe and North America. He views cooking as an integral spoke in the over-arching umbrella of hospitality.
He says, “We’re not in the business of food. We’re not in the business of rooms. We’re not in the business of selling coffee. We’re in the business of people. We’re here to meet their expectations, one way or another.”And he adds, “Hospitality is a sentiment. Everything we do is for somebody else. We’re responsible for their experience.” Purdue’s program covers the gamut of hospitality-related fundamentals in a highly hands-on setting. “A lot of the learning happens situationally, on the floor,” Lulay says. “These things can’t really be taught using a PowerPoint situation.” So students spend time in the teaching laboratory known to most as the John Purdue Room, an on-campus restaurant open to the public. “We don’t expect students to be making burgers and sandwiches when they leave here,”Lulay says. “We want them to be prepared to set up a system such as this, and also make it profitable. If it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.”
Lulay is influencing another generation of hospitality staffs much like he influenced co-workers. “You find out you can’t do everything,” he says. “But can you influence that plate of food even from a distance? Can you train people properly? Can you lead a team so your vision is carried out?” A big plus to teaching in West Lafayette, he says, is that Purdue also allows him to cook –he’s Purdue president Mitch Daniels’ chef. “Cooking is why I got into this in the first place,” he says. Lulay will take his class to Belgium and Luxembourg during spring break, where they will explore the cultures through food and drink. He advises families here to spend more time around the table. “It’s critical for the development of a cuisine that traditional recipes get handed down,” he says. “Whether they change or not is OK, but they need to have traces to that tradition. It’s a part of our values we can’t afford to lose.”