Food industry has grown all over the world, yet community cooking for big events is still an art of its own in India. Talking about this particular practice brings beautiful memories, if one hails from a village where traditions still continue to help its brilliant existence in spite of modern methods of cooking.
Unlike many other countries, India is a land of festivals and auspicious events, where food has always been the centre of attraction. Planning the meal for weddings is a huge task and people spend huge amounts of money just to get the best cook from their own distinct communities. Normally, the famous cooks of the region control the market and they do incredible volume of food. During wedding season, hundreds of marriages happen and our expert chefs work tirelessly round the clock to satisfy the demand of events and people.
Wholesome taste of a feast stays long in our life, it transcends those sublime flavours into sweet words, and people spread the news as much as they relish remembering it. In 1991, there was one such success story in Cochin. A young Brahmin cook called Anandaraman, utilising his local cooking experience of authentic Brahmin meals, had emerged in the heart of this growing city. Anandaraman was a highly talented and enthusiastic cook with a burning desire to promote vegetarian food through his catering business, Vinayaka Catering. From a humble start, he rose to fame and became an important destination point for people seeking wedding sadya (feast) or special meals for festivals like Onam and Vishu.
Vinayaka’s kitchen could still be one of the largest working kitchens in the state where hundreds of people work together and mostly prepare 10,000 meals per day on an average. With his hard work and pleasing personality, Anandaraman diversified his successful business beyond just cooking meals. He constructed a wedding hall, and real estate towers, and started exporting ready meals to the US etc. At 55, after a long struggle with cancer, Anandaraman passed away saying farewell to his amazing enterprise, which controlled almost all food-related events in modern Cochin.
History had to be made, and his 22-year-old son, Mahadevan Iyer, had to take over the family organisation. I had the pleasure of visiting his kitchen and observing him making their famous Palada Payasam with extreme devotion to his father and following his spiritual way of cooking. Mahadevan remembered, “The year before his sad demise, my father used to encourage me to learn cooking and shared lot of his secret recipes. I realise everything now that he sensed the imminent departure and believed I could take the business empire forward. I want to maintain my father’s reputation.”
It’s very hard to find younger generation interested in traditional cooking, and many successful veteran cooks don’t motivate their kids to follow their footsteps. But Mahadevan stepped into the kitchen, and physically spearheads his troops in traditional cooking. His corporate vision parallels in the growth of food industry. He’s even prepared to use modern technology to expand his business.
People say it’s easy to run a successful business, which is not true with food business. One has to deliver the best every time. I saw that readiness to work hard, eagerness to listen and learn, and the innovation to challenge oneself in Mahadevan’s sparkling eyes. Food industry needs many stars like this youngman who could feed, educate and inspire the future generations. With his sweetest smile, Mahadevan acknowledged as I said, “This’s the best payasam I have tasted.” The author runs the London-based Rasa chain of restaurants