Club Mahindra – Taking desi flavours abroad
Chennai-based P. Soundararajan is the first Indian chef to hold a lec-dem at the Culinary Institute of America.
CIA IS a name recognised the world over. Only, this CIA is not part of the Pentagon. It is the Culinary Institute of America, a 55-year-old organisation in New York, which has 120 instructors and master chefs and trains 2,000 students from 49 countries in different cuisines. The CIA’s library boasts of 6,000 volumes on various world cuisines. The culinary museum displays kitchen tools and equipment since pre-historic times. One exhibit that has the pride of place is the first cookery book written way back in the 18th Century.
What is India‘s connection with the CIA? Well, P. Soundararajan, corporate executive chef, Mahindra Holidays & Resorts India Ltd, is the first Indian to hold a demonstration at the institute. He conducted a one-and-half-hour lec-dem on Indian cuisines at the CIA’s famous culinary demo hall. The others who have held similar lec-dems read like a list of luminaries from the cuisine world — Julia Child, Paul Bocuse, Allen Roux and E. Merrill. In an interview, the Chennai-based chef talks about his experience:
How did you get this opportunity?
I was attending a seminar on world cuisine sponsored by Club Mahindra at the Institute. The seminar, attended by leading chefs from seven countries, was a great exchange of ideas with the latest trend in 30 different cuisines. They knew I was a senior chef from India and the general secretary of the Indian Federation of Culinary Association, and hence the invitation.
What were the cuisines chosen for the lec-dem?
I chose cuisines from Kumaon from North India, Goan food from the West, Chettinad, Malabar and Kongunad from the South.
Why not the more glamorous ones such as Awadhi or Hyderabadi?
I was asked to cover ethnic cuisine. Indian food abroad is usually associated with North Indian cuisine, and moreover, at the CIA, they already had an idea about it.
What was it like to work in the institute’s kitchen?
The kitchens are state-of-the-art and hygienic. They are ideal to cook up any kind of cuisine. The chefs were helpful. I was assisted by three Indian students studying there.
Comment a little more on the lec-dem.
The programme included a PowerPoint presentation on food culture, habits and ethnic flavours profile. Topics included food ingredients available in the sub-continent, religion and food, and Ayurvedic principles of food. Three dishes were demonstrated in front of student chefs, professors and visiting chefs from various organisations. This was followed by a food-tasting session where every participant was served seven items from each region on a banana leaf.
Was there an interactive session?
Yes. Most of the questions were about garam masala and why so many spices were used in our cuisine.
What is the teaching methodology at the CIA?
At the institute, history, humanities, culture and geography of a country are taught before taking up cuisine. Even full-fledged chefs come to the CIA to upgrade their knowledge. Beer, wine and cheese tasting, visits by leading chefs and seminars on writing skills by successful cookery book writers are part of the curriculum.
Now, Soundararajan has been invited by the Italian Culinary Institute, Mexico, to give a similar lec-dem. Indian cuisine is really going places!