Feeding the future forces of nation
Captain Vikram Batra Mess at Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, is a favourite haunt of Gentlemen Cadets
Parwinder Sandhu

A team of nutritionists, a catering officer and chefs decide on the daily menu so that a cadet gets at least 2,800 calories per day
A team of nutritionists, a catering officer and chefs decide on the daily menu so that a cadet gets at least 2,800 calories per day

Twentyfour chefs work round the clock in shifts to ensure that that cadets never go hungry
Twentyfour chefs work round the clock in shifts to ensure that that cadets never go hungry
Photos: Abhyudaya Kotnala

Impeccably dressed in their uniforms, a bunch of Gentlemen Cadets (GCs), mounted on their bicycles, are enthusiastically pedalling towards a place, perhaps closest to their hearts and more importantly to their stomachs, Captain Vikram Batra Mess.

Inside the mess, a number of closely-cropped heads, unmindful of the presence around them, could be seen polishing off the delicious food served to them. It is only after the plates are cleared and their hunger satiated, that these future officers look around for dessert, usually a fresh fruit in the afternoon. Talking is not allowed inside the mess and only the sound of cutlery is heard. Trained to perfection, the servers dressed up in crisp uniforms, ensure that every GC coming to the mess is fed well, just like a mother would do.

Food has always held a crucial place in the life of a soldier. Be it at war or training, it is only a full stomach that gives energy to the soldier to perform beyond his limits.

At the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun too food predictably holds an important place. Just like their training, special emphasis is laid on the food being served to the GCs who spend 18 months in the academy undergoing a gruelling training that transforms them into an officer capable of leading his men into the battle.

A team comprising nutritionists, catering officers and chefs decide on the menu for each day so that a cadet gets at least 2,800 calories per day. Variations are also made keeping in mind the likes and dislikes of the GCs who are rarely fussy eaters. "We prepare such a menu that is usually liked by every GC. Since the academy is imparting training to some Foreign Gentlemen Cadets (FGCs), too, we have to keep in mind their likes and dislikes as well. A meeting is held with the GCs once a month where the menu is discussed and also what they would like to include or exclude from the menu," says Major Shashi Kant Pandey, catering officer at the academy.

"It is nothing less than a battle inside the kitchen. We have a team of 24 chefs, who work round the clock in shifts to ensure that the academy people never go hungry. At times, there are outdoor exercises and night training. During that time a GC is given packed food. We have an entirely different menu for the outdoor trainings," adds Major Pandey who is lovingly called 'Mother Hen' of the academy.

Unlike many other places where missing a meal is not considered a big thing, at the Indian Military Academy, it is otherwise. "Right from the morning till the night, a GC undergoes so much of physical and mental work. It is impossible to work on an empty stomach. We ensure that each and every cadet at the academy does not miss a meal. A detailed explanation is sought for missing the meal. But usually no one misses a meal," says Major Pandey.

To ease the burden on the chefs and increase their efficiency and productivity, the academy recently installed a variety of fully automatic electric equipments in the kitchen. Right from chopping till the cleaning everything is now done with the help of machines.

Even though they might be on their way to becoming 'men' but the little boys within these GCs at the academy have their favourite days and meals. Amongst the hot favourites are chane-bhature, aloo paranthas and continental food. In the dessert, it is the tipsy pudding that tops the chart. "We simply love the aloo paranthas here. Usually a GC has five to six paranthas in one go. The day tipsy pudding is served, everyone usually takes second and sometimes even third helpings. However, it never runs out. I think even the kitchen staff is aware that GCs like the dish and they make extra," said a GC.

However, the GCs have one request. "We do wish that they include more rajmah-chawal. Somehow it is one dish that is loved by every GC and brings about a feeling of being at home," says A GC with nostalgia evident in his voice.

Chef speak

  • For Bahadur Ram (55), the head chef, at the Indian Military Academy, the kitchen is a second home. Working tirelessly for the past 34 years in the academy mess, Bahadur Ram feels proud to be an essential part in shaping the future of Indian Army. "Even though it is hectic working in the kitchen, but in the end the feeling of fulfilment and contributing our bit covers up for everything."

  • The academy rules do not permit the GCs to interact with the kitchen staff. However, after becoming officers and being posted to their alma mater, many officers come and meet the kitchen staff. "Whenever an officer comes to us, we feel very happy. Among all the delicacies served at the Academy, it is the pudding that is relished the most," said Rajesh, who has been working in the Mess since 2006.