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!
I am in Bangalore on my last leg of this journey which is never complete without a trip with my son to the ‘hotel’ where I started my professional career as a chef.
We have been here every single time iI have visited Bangalore since 2000.
It just feels like coming back home, till this time. . .
I take Aniruddh on a Friday afternoon for what is going to be a memorable lunch, just me and him, father and son!
We are excited about this, no mum and no one to tell us what to do. It is our independence day!!
We take a ‘green’ autorickshaw, this is an addition to the new ‘pollution free’ India. We are excited.
We reach the hotel after a brief stopover at the Ulsoor lake, the ‘shanti apartments’ where I spent many a night sleeping on bunk beds whilst working as a commis chef all those years ago. We are so excited!
We finally reach the hotel. We are hungry and eager. Just as we enter the hotel we are stopped and asked to enter through the metal detector.
My son is stopped.
He is carrying a Swiss army knife that he was given just the day before. He slept with it the night before, had breakfast with it in his pocket the next morning. This knife was, after all, a gift from his favourite grand-uncle!
We are asked to leave the penknife behind or return to the hotel without the knife. This isn’t much of a choice but we decide on the first option. Inspite of this we are still excited.
We go past the restaurant where I once worked as a chef with Deepak and Chari (remember we started this restaurant in 1985 together?!!) and reach the coffee shop.
This is where we are going to have lunch. We are brimming over with excitement!
We are received at the entrance by a group of ‘uniformed staff’, who all attend to us at the same time. Great!!
But hang on, no one is smiling. This is not how it used to be. We are not sure if we are really welcome here.
Before this place, everywhere we went in India we were welcomed with a big smile and a namaste. But not here. Things have changed radically since I last came here in 2009!
We are asked to take a look at the buffet, but I am interested in having appam and vegetable stew. I don’t want the buffet. However, the manager is still showing us the buffet which is manned by a single ‘chef’, possibly a trainee. There’re no problems with that. I ask her what the kebab she is cooking is and abruptly she replies hariyali kebab. Where’s her smile?
Inspite of my initial reluctance, we decide to have the buffet as the food looks great and there’s a huge variety.
There is a salad counter with plenty of salads featuring “home made salami and cold cuts.”
However, we are disappointed as the salads are missing and the cold cuts look dried out.
There is a waiter hanging around but he is totally uninterested in what we want.
Undaunted by his lack of interest I simply skip the salads.
We then walk on to the soup section which offers two different kinds of soup. My son looks at both and decides he wants to have both! But hang on, where is the rasam? So we decide to have the other soup. My son still wants the rasam. We have the thick residue. It tastes great!!
We’re still enjoying our jaunt and the excitement created by the dishes is infectious. So, we leave the soup area and head for the mains on the hot buffet.
What a feast!
There is steak with pepper sauce and my son goes straight for this! He loves his steaks and these look juicy and tender.
I head for the next area. Here there are two pieces of fish served in a Goan style sauce. It looks good but this is not how it was served in the past, the containers were never allowed to reach this stage. Replenishments were quick. Two pieces of fish in a large serving dish would never be allowed to happen. So, I ask the waiter for more fish. “Sure Sir.” he replies and he disappears immediately never to be seen again and there is still no bl…y smile!!
We decide to have the rest of the hot food with breads which are being cooked ‘live’ by a chef without the merest glimmer of a smile on her face.
We have the most succulent pieces of chicken cooked in a tandoor, we also sample tandoori paneer, chicken hariyali, lemon rice and green peas pulao. We are served bread at the table by a waiter who has gone through three years of training, but possibly, perhaps just possibly someone forgot to tell her to smile.
The manager who we met as we first entered the dining room and who showed us around the buffet has now disappeared behind a pillar and is having his lunch with another uniformed person, possibly the food and beverage manager of the hotel.
Behind that pillar was exactly the same spot, 28 years ago, that Jai Kumar (the restaurant manager at that time) and Mr PK Mohankumar would have their lunch and take it from the buffet themselves.
Fast forward to 2012 and this isn’t happening. Not here, not in this case.
The food for these two gentlemen is plated from the kitchen and then served to them at their table. Mohan Kumar would eat what the guest ate. This was his way of spot checking the food and making sure the quality of the food was top class.
I meet these two gentleman as I go back to the buffet for my next helping of hot food and we pass by one another within inches. Neither wants to know about my experience, neither gives me eye contact and neither is smiling.
What’s going on here? It really does seem as though everyone working in this restaurant is under pressure to perform and is working under duress and tremendous stress!! If the ‘top brass’ aren’t happy then how on earth can their staff be?
The young waiter who brought the breads on the table is not smiling, possibly because she has not been told what her exact job is and she expected to be in the manager’s shoes by now but instead she is employed as a waiter.
The young chef who made the chicken kebab for us isn’t smiling either but not just for work reasons. This woman thinks the whole world is her enemy. However, on top of this burden she also wants to be in the sous chef’s shoes and not cook some damn’d kebab for some irritating father and son who have the audacity to come and ask for food at a buffet. She never, ever appears to smile.
The manager doesn’t smile because he thinks he deserves to be in the food and beverage manager’s shoes and he is not happy doing what he does, so it’s not surprising that he isn’t smiling.
The gentleman in the black suit (the general manager) is not smiling because he has been doing the same old sh.t for so many years and therefore sees no reason to smile. Ever. He should be the general manager of this hotel, or so he thinks.
So, the father and son are having their food. They’re loving the taste of it but they’re not enjoying the ambience.
You see, suddenly I realise that we are also not smiling at each other! The non-smiling visage is catching.
You see, this is what I was told when I worked here, a long time ago now: it was to serve everyone with a smile because “you can’t give away a smile, it always comes back to you!!”
A smile turns a customer into a friend and a friendly customer is a happy customer!! And so it follows that this customer keeps coming back not only for the good food but for the atmosphere and the friendliness!
As I make my way towards the cashier counter to pay our bill my son points towards the sign at the entrance, this was ‘Southern Comfort’ then. Well, it isn’t Southern Comfort any more.
The ‘comfort’ from this coffee shop has disappeared and is now called. . .
Well, I don’t know if this was my last visit to the place where once Nauzer Daruwalla was the general manager, Mohankumar was the food and beverage manager, Anil Mohan was the executive chef and all of us had a ‘ball’ working together.
The hotel back then was called the Taj Residency. Today it is called. . .
Well, I’ll leave it to you to work out what I think it might be called today but I want to leave you with a little message:
A smile costs nothing but gives much. It enriches those who receive it without making poorer those who give. It takes but a moment, but the memory of it sometimes lasts forever. None is so rich or mighty that he cannot get along without it and none is so poor that he cannot be made rich by it. Yet a smile cannot be bought, begged, borrowed or stolen, if it is something that is of no value. Some people are too tired to give you a smile. Give them one of yours, as none needs a smile so much as he who has no more to give. (Anon.)
Anah Daata Sukhi Bhaava !!!