Posted on January 29, 2015 by

Vivek’s Acceptance Speech; Honorary Doctorate of Letters- University of Warwick

Vice-chancellor Professor Sir Nigel Thrift, Professor Laura Green, members of faculty, family, friends, and fellow graduands, to whom I offer my congratulations. Congratulations on your hard work – and success.  It is a privilege and honour to be here today and receive this honorary degree of doctors of letters from the University of Warwick.
This recognition to me is proves right what my father used to say. He said one should do what they believe in, and if you do it long enough and well enough — it gets noticed. I am particularly humbled that the University of Warwick took note of a restaurant chef not directly related to the university. I also realise how sometimes more than knowledge, education or information, our values can connect. I share similar values to that of the University, that of ambition, drive and making a difference.I grew up in a small coal mining community in Bengal in India, and had a very normal life with a regular education typical in my community. My parents were far from wealthy, but they did the best they could, and gave us the most they could. This brought me to thinking: Although things may or may not be perfect, if you do the best you can do, then it is enough.
When I think back of those times, I remember food at the heart of the family, celebrations and sharing. Now I realise whilst food appeared as the centre of it all, it was not the driver. The driver was hospitality, love and warmth. Food was the manifestation of warmth and love. That’s where my love of cooking came from.
After going against my father’s expectations and not becoming an engineer, I went to hotel school and whilst I studied all different aspects of hospitality, it was cooking that attracted me most. This opened new doors for me at Oberoi Hotels and allowed me to stay in touch with food. Through this journey, a chance encounter with Marco Pierre White’s book White Heat in 1996 was a turning point and resulted in me choosing to work in restaurants rather than stay in large business hotels.
Thinking about it, it’s incredible how much impact it’s possible to have through books, it’s quite likely Marco does not even realise I exist! Through that one book, and my interpretation of it, I was able to connect to his values of passion, innovation, creativity and challenge. I try to communicate my own thoughts, beliefs and values at every opportunity through my own books.  Passion, innovation, creativity, challenge, ambition. Each of these are very powerful words. Each of these values has helped shape where I am today. But none of these words more important than one other and that is Opportunity.
There is nothing quite like your first opportunity. Whether it was the first car you cleaned, your first big interview, or the chance to open your own restaurant, that moment when that opportunity came is one to be remembered and treasured.  My first opportunity in London came in the form of Iqbal Wahhab and is very well documented. That moment, that feeling you get when you have a chance to prove yourself is one you never want to forget, no matter how much time goes by.
As we progress in our careers and lives, it’s also important for us to create these opportunities for people with us and to those who come after us.
Opportunities are not just given to others, but its giving yourself the opportunity too. giving yourself the opportunity to learn, to grow—If we don’t grow, we just end up a stone in someone else’s path.
The other important word is Challenge. Challenge isn’t just about physical endurance, staying power or outworking everyone else around you. It is about challenging perceptions and notions. In the last 12 years I have been working on challenging people’s perception of Indian food. In my 20 years of cooking, one of the most desirable traits from a chef is perfection. We keep taking great pains to achieve perfection; the perfect dish, the perfect restaurant etc. However these days I am debating with myself if ‘perfection’ has a negative connotation; a sense of finality. An end. A point from where nothing can be bettered. It seems so egotistical, so vain. What is achievable, what is worth striving for, is the pursuit of excellence.
The ambition to pursue excellence, whilst creating opportunity and making a difference certainly sounds like a more enjoyable journey, let us all embark on it.
With these thoughts in mind, I proudly but humbly stand before you to accept this Honorary Doctorate which you have so kindly bestowed upon me.
Thank you.