i’ve been a chef for over three decades now! i trained in chennai and started off with the taj hotel group. i’ve owned nilgiri’s indian restaurant in sydney for over 15 years. i’m on a mission to dispel the myth that indian food is no more than a ‘curry in a hurry’! come with me as i try and educate. indian food is my passion (alongside cricket!) and i’m enjoying exploring the new social media to fulfil this passion! i’ve also published cookery books, been on tv, the radio, won awards! now i’m also moving into making cookery videos. these are simple and easy to follow and don’t go on for hours like some Bollywood movies!
Talk of a ‘team’ and you hear phrases like ‘having a goal’, ‘making sacrifices’, ‘blending in with the other members of your team’, ‘understanding one another’, and blah, blah, blah!!
For Chari, Deepak, Vivek and Ajoy we were the team that knew nothing about the above-said phrases, we just had FUN.
Cooking was terrific enjoyment for us. There were no ‘personality’ clashes, no ‘inflated’ egos, nobody was a ‘boss’ and nobody worked for the ‘boss’.
We had an executive chef, but we did not need him, we had a general manager, but he was the big boss and was too busy with his own stuff to bother with the likes of us. Then we had the food and beverage manager and it was this man who was the one who ‘ran’ the hotel. For him we were the ‘doers’. It did not matter who did the job as long as it was done!! So for PK Mohankumar we were all the same, we weren’t individuals, we were the team!!
The four of us worked for each other and had a ball.
We also had our fair share of troubles like this one, and it’s this one I want to share with you.
In 1985, Bangalore got its first ‘pub’, called The Ramada Pub, which sold draught beer and it was my ‘duty’ to try it out (every night!) as I considered myself a self-proclaimed ‘beer guru’.
So, without fail after my breakfast shift at the Taj, I would take off and reach my chosen destination, The Ramada Pub.
After the first week of my regular visits (there were no ‘off’ days, and never any ‘sick’ days for this shift!), I saw a figure sitting at the opposite end of the bar table. He wore glasses, had a mole on his cheek and kept staring at me over his glasses.
He was with another mate of his from the Reserve Bank (I think he called himself Murthy).
There was something familiar about this figure. I knew I had met this man before but I couldn’t place him till I had downed my fourth draught beer and then it was all clear. Sh–t!
This was my chef, the guy who looked after the breakfast at the Hotel and I was his commis!!
All the time he’d been sitting there he wasn’t so much interested in watching me but he was counting the number of glasses I had consumed!!
He was thinking about tomorrow and about the breakfast that the hotel was to serve to the 200 or so guests who were staying at the hotel.
I quickly finished off my self-proclaimed quota of six glasses of draught beer and headed off to the Shanti Apartments in Ulsoor where we lived. I needed a good sleep as I had an early morning shift starting at 6 am. At this time of day they call this shift the ‘form an impression’ shift. Know why? Because if I was late for this shift I would remain a commis for the rest of my life, or at least till I survived in the Taj group of hotels. I wanted to grow and grow fast but this damn’d Ramada pub was . . . well, I can leave it to you to guess that one!
Anyway, I made it back to work early the next morning and was late by about 10 minutes and guess who was there to receive me in the kitchen?
Yes, that’s right, it was the chef with the mole, no less than chef Chari himself!!
“Bu…er!”, I thought to myself as I gave him a cheery “Good morning!” kind of smile.
But he was having none of it, chef Chari calls me aside and says, “Ajoy, what you do in your personal life is none of my business, but if you are late for work, then it is the hotel’s business and I am the hotel. Get it?”
“Yes chef,” I mumbled.
But there’s no time for remorse. Breakfast is done and so is lunch. We are on our way home when chef Chari says to me, “Mate, I am off to the Ramada Pub, want to join me?”
That was 28 years ago and we are still having a drink in Sydney today!!
Chari was the mentor of the team, if such a hierarchy existed!
But there were other men in the wings.
Enter Deepak Mohan Rao.
He is the short guy in the picture with no hair. (Say it how it is, Deepak.)
Now, this guy could have been a head chef anywhere in the world, and I mean anywhere, yes, even in France!!
It’s like he has the Larousse Gastronomique at the tips of his fingers. Name a sauce and he can list all the ingredients.
French Food was his forte. He made the best blo..dy steak in Bangalore back in those days. No, not the Aussie way but the classic, French way.
We started in the hotel industry on the same day and moved up the ladder the same day.
Deepak was the ‘banker’ in the team. He lent money at no interest!
He was a teetotaler, well, back then. He was my personal banker and my personal chauffeur, too, as he’d always drive me back home after a party!!
So, as you can imagine, on the job Deepak was punctuality personified! You could set your watch based on Deepak’s arrival. He was also very conscious of quality. He wouldn’t receive any food that did not meet the standards set by the hotel. I remember, on one occasion, the fish supplier had brought some lobsters that did not have any eggs attached to them, so they were promptly returned. The fish supplier returned later that morning with the eggs carried in a separate container saying that they had been removed from the female lobsters just before being delivered. Deepak took one look at the lobsters and said that they were males and not females, as claimed by the fish supplier. When we asked him how he knew something so specific, his reply was that the first pair of legs (or swimmers as he called them) are soft in a female lobster!!
So this guy, this short fella, isn’t just a cook he’s a total Chef (capital ‘C’)!
Now, onto the third member of the team, he’s the other baldie in the picture and he’s called Vivek Anger, oops sorry, I mean Angre!
So, this guy came to our hotel and had much to live up to. It was said that he had worked in a number of hotels around the globe as a baker and as a pastry chef. Now, that is a tall order as you are either a baker or a pastry chef, but this was both métiers in the one guy!!
We had high hopes of him and we just hoped he could deliver. He was also a big fella, around 120 kg, and he had a big voice, to match his size, that could travel to the general manager’s office when he used it. So, if you got into trouble with him, you also got into trouble with the bosses as they didn’t want all this extra noise and carrying-on.
He rode a Java motorcycle that would ‘fly’ really low to the ground and if you were riding pillion it could be your last ride to he.. you were so close to the ground!!
But come Christmas of 2005 and Vivek showed his true colours.
We had a pastry shop in the lobby at the Taj and I still remember the pastries and the breads that were made that year; they were to die for. The best dessert sold there was crème brûlée. I still think he makes the best bl..dy crème brûlée in the world!!
My close interaction with Vivek was when I had this big wedding to cater for, spread over three days and catering to about 4500 people. Vivek was given the biggest challenge yet when he was asked to create a wedding cake as big as a billiard table with the theme of a stud farm!! The wedding has long been forgotten but Mr Cawas (whose daughter’s wedding it was) spoke about the cake as late as 1996 when I last met him in Mumbai at the Taj!! I wish I could show it to you now.
And as for the fourth guy in the picture, well, I think you might know him by now, his name’s Ajoy and he has been hanging around these fellows for the past few decades still having a ball. By the way, all of us now live in Sydney and all of us are still cooking!
In 1985 this ‘team’ gave Bangalore its first ‘fine dining’ restaurant, The Jockey Club.
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhava!!