Established in 1989, the Kitchen & Bath Industry Hall of Fame honors those who have made a lasting, positive impact on the kitchen and bath industry. Inductees are picked by a committee from nominations submitted by voting members of the NKBA. A formal induction takes place during at a special event during KBIS each year. Nominations come from far and wide — just like this year’s inductee. Surjit Kalsi was born in India and graduated Bombay University in 1956. “I was going to become a doctor,” he recalled. “I headed to London to join London Medical College, but it wasn’t possible because I couldn’t pursue that level of study while working full-time.” So Kalsi did the next best thing, he decided to become an engineer. He worked days and attended class nights. His job and studies meshed well. “My very first job was at a gas supplier management company in their research and development department,” he said. He was a quick study. “I was tasked with creating maximum efficiency burners. So I created my first dual-burner where I had two chambers in a burner fed by a duplex valve,” he remembers. “Turning the control to a certain degree would supply one burner and a little more would supply both.” When his boss at the time, impressed with Kalsi’s ingenuity rhetorically asked, “Why hasn’t anyone else ever thought about doing this?” he replied, “Because anyone else is not me!”
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vice president of engineering for more than double his salary. After one month on the job, he received a call from a man in Mississippi. “He had an idea and wanted to meet with me,” Kalsi said. “He wanted to produce a commercial range for residential use.” He offered to pay Kalsi’s salary for the company as well as the development cost of the product. The man was skeptical when Kalsi told him it would take one year to create what he wanted — others weren’t even able to create a prototype. Kalsi applied burners and grates that were to be used for the product to an existing 48” wide range from U.S. Range. He insulated it so thoroughly that it passed every household appliance standard when it was submitted to the certifying agency for approval. His client was initially intending to purchase 35 units, but quickly upped the order to more than 100. He already had a distribution system in place and the product was hugely successful. Today, Fred Karl Jr.’s company is better-known as Viking range. Kalsi stayed with U.S. Range for a few more years before again deciding to work for himself. “By then, I decided never to work for another person. I had an idea that since I had given Viking the full range, with my new company, I could give people the range top,” he said. Within its first year, Kalsi’s new company, Dynamic Cooking Systems, was churning out 100 units per month. During that year, he attended the National Association of Home Builder’s show in Atlanta, where he met both the president of Thermador and Wolf, and encouraged them to visit his company.
The idea wasn’t patented though, because in 1957, the technology was simply too expensive to include in a home range. Still, his initial design success and a raise within his first year encouraged him to stay in the industry.
The president of Thermador accepted the invitation. “I was sitting on a box of screws with a table made of a sheet of wood with four screw boxes as legs, talking to someone on a phone that was barely more than a toy, when I felt a tap on my shoulder,” Kalsi recalled.
Soon, Kalsi had another hot idea – literally. “I came upon a way to clean the oven using heat — if you elevated the oven temperature to 900 degrees, all the fat would disappear,” he said. “That, I did patent. It’s under my name and the company’s name.” Thus, the pyrolytic self-cleaning oven was born.
“Thermador’s president asked how many units the company made in a month. He wanted 400 to 500 a month. I told him if he gave me a 50% advance and 50% on delivery we had a deal. He told me he couldn’t do that – that wasn’t how they paid their vendors.”
Kalsi continued to climb the company ladder and was brought onto the board of directors in 1970. At that point, he had another hot idea – he decided to start his own company. Since England was filled with industry giants, he decided to return home. But he encountered problems. “I realized I had forgotten some things about India,” he admitted. “First and foremost, there wasn’t a gas supply in the country.” He also faced power shortages and a shortage of skilled labor. After 10 years of struggle, he had enough and packed up and moved to Baltimore, Maryland. In Maryland, again an employee, he was back down the ladder at a salary of $20,000. Within six months, he received an offer for an interview from a company in Pennsylvania. Upon arriving, he was told an interview wasn’t necessary. “They hired me on the spot for research and development at $35,000.” Three years later in 1985, another rung on the ladder was within reach – a headhunter contacted him about a job in California as
He called back that night and asked Kalsi to come over for further discussion. Kalsi returned home that night with an order for 5,000 units and a check covering half the amount. His partners and he sold their company. Today, he has finally found the company where he feels at home. Capital Cooking was started by his son and some of Kalsi’s former employees. Kalsi was brought on as chairman and president. They continue to introduce new product and deliver innovation to the industry. Kalsi now holds six patents, with others pending and the satisfaction of knowing that most high-end consumer kitchens in America showcase something that he brought to life. When asked what advice he would offer others striving to succeed, he says, “Regardless of difficulties, if you stick with it, you’ll succeed.” And does he have any regrets about never becoming a doctor? He laughs and says, “I have many friends who are doctors — they tell me I did the right thing.” NKBA.org | NKBA MAGAZINE–SPRING 2011