All fired up

Kathmandu, December 3

As the country continues to reel under crippling fuel shortage, including of cooking gas, hotels have had no other choice than to resort to traditional methods to cater to their guests and keep their businesses up and running.

Chefs of Hotel Soaltee Crowne Plaza are busy since crack of dawn in preparing the dishes using firewood at an improvised outdoor kitchen — while their state-of-the-art kitchen is hardly being used, except to cook limited items on induction stoves.

“We started using firewood for cooking since last month,” informed Balaram Pathak, director for food and beverage at Hotel Soaltee.

Initially, the hotel had only slashed the number of items on offer in its menu to save cooking gas when the market began witnessing shortage of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG). The measure was meant to be temporary in nature as hoteliers expected the supply situation to ease.

But as days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, with resolution to the crisis nowhere in sight, the star hotels scrambled to find viable alternatives. “We simply could not afford to halt our services during the peak tourist season,” explained Pathak.

The hotel is now offering all items on the menu. However, most of the items are cooked using firewood. Earlier, the hotel used to burn firewood only for bonfire to entertain guests during winter months.

Soaltee is not the only hotel that has been forced to adopt traditional cooking methods. Other five star hotels are also facing similar situation. The fuel crisis brought on by the unrest at the Nepal-India border points due to the Tarai protests is another major setback for the hotels that were already in dire straits due to the massive earthquakes of April and May.

Until the Tarai blockade had choked the import of petroleum products, including LPG, all hotels and restaurants were entirely dependent on LPG for cooking. But now, they have started exploring other options like firewood, induction stoves, kerosene, among others, so that their kitchen remains open.

According to Gopal Malla, finance head of Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu, the hotel has been using firewood to cook since last two months. “We had limited the use of firewood to cook food for staff, but began using firewood and induction stove in catering to the guests since last month.”

The hotel too has set up a temporary outdoor kitchen.

But even the measures that have been put in place have not been able to rid the hoteliers of their anxiety. This is because although star hotels are reporting occupancy of only 20 to 25 per cent this season, their stock of firewood has started to dwindle.

“We have been managing somehow, but our stocks are not going to last forever,” said Rajan Shrestha, sales and marketing director at Hotel Radisson.

The hotel has also built a separate kitchen to prepare food using firewood.

While expressing his gratitude to Timber Corporation of Nepal for selling firewood in Kathmandu few weeks back, Shrestha added, “It’s such an irony that while the whole world is talking about reducing emission and conservation of forests, we have been forced to cook food using firewood. But, then again, it is only normal for ethical issues to be pushed to the backburner when the whole country is on the brink of a major humanitarian crisis.”