“If you are ready to donate food, then prepare fresh food and give it to them. This is charity!” -
Dr. Chef Damodaran is the first Indian to have received a doctorate in hotel management and catering technology. He is also the holder of Guiness Record for Longest Cooking Marathon.
He has been drafted by the social welfare department to provide healthy, lip-smacking food to children in State Government and Corporation Schools. With the government introducing variety rice and dishes made of pulses and vegetables in the menu, Chef Damodaranprovides training to noon meal cooks and helps them to add spice to the lunch served to the students.
In an exclusive interview, Dr. Chef Damodaran shares with Marie Banu about his passion for cooking.
As an internationally acclaimed chef, when did you realize that you had a passion for cooking?
I started cooking when I was seven years old. One day, when my mother went out, I cooked uppuma. It got stuck to the kadaiand I got a good spankingfrom my mother when she returned. At that time,we only had kerosene pump stove and firewood stove, and used mud pots, bronze and aluminium vessels.
I used to wonder why my mother and my aunt spentover two hours in the kitchenjust to cooksambhar and potato masala.They used to get tired after cooking just two dishes, which would noteven be good.My inner mind always wanted to do something for this.
When I joined BSc Chemistry at Presidency College in Chennai, I told my father that I wanted to do Catering Management. My mother was against it as she wanted me to finish my graduation. I convinced her, and joined Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition at Taramani in Chennai.
Can you please share your learning experience in Institute of Hotel Management? Was your career path easy?
I had a lot of interest to bring about innovation in kitchen and had an opportunity to work part-time at Hotel Sudarshan International (now Ambassador Pallava). I started making mocktails and fruit salads and was also involved in outdoor catering. I observed a lot of things,learnt how to spread a buffet, andeven tasted a few dishes without the knowledge of the hoteliers. We used to serve the Indian cricket team when KapilDev was Captain. I was thrilled to see VIPs while I was still studying, and felt happy to have the opportunity to serve them.
When I was pursuing my third year of Catering Management, Mr. AravindSaraswath, Executive Chef of Taj Coromandel was my examiner.He asked the recipe for adish that I prepared and said that it was not the actual procedure that is usually adopted. He appreciated me and I scored 147/150.
After a year, I joined Taj in Chennai. The Executive Chef from Ashoka Hotel in Bangalorevisited Taj and after tasting my food asked me to join his hotel. During this period, I earned maximum and also did my best. I was happy when customers called me from the kitchen to give me money as a token of appreciation for my food.
I joined Sangam Hotel in Trichyas Executive Chef cum F&B Manager. I did a lot of innovation here.In 1986 I got marriedand had to return to Chennai. I joined Asan Catering College as Vice-Principal.I always had the ambition to create a record and worked hard for six years to achieve my goal. I moved on to be the Principal of MGR Institute of Hotel Management and worked for over 17 years.
About your Guinness record?
I wanted to set a Guinness recordand worked on it for over two years. For this, I required 24 lakh rupees, and could only source sponsorship of 18 lakhs from CavinKare and Jaya TV. I spent the rest of the money and sent about 500 recipes to Guinness World Records.
I was 52 years old then, and the Guinness team was worried if I would be able to stand continuously for 24 hours. I trusted in God, and with the help of my boyscreated the Guinness record.
It was a record for longest cooking marathon which lasted for 24 hours, 30 minutes, and 12 seconds; and preparing 617 dishes—one dish every two minutes. My family was thrilled and my wife cried when I received the award. She was worried that I would faint as I have never stood for 24 hours at a stretch.
After winning the record, I underwent physiotherapy for three years to recoup my health.
About the change in food culture. What are your thoughts?
I will always blame the parents for the change in food culture, because both of them are mostly office goers. They have the choice of tasting a pizza or a burger instead of cooking sambar or rasamat home.If this trend continues, then in 20 years’ time you will not find a kitchen in any of the houses.There will only be a micro oven and re-heatable food.
The youngsters today are getting lazy and it is the elderly, middle-aged people, and housewives who cook at home.Everyone is capable of cooking well; all we need is just one hour in the kitchen. I have written 26 cookery books so far. I am now writing a book based on millets based cooking. Millets has 14.5 percent fibre content and is healthy for people.
Talking about food, what can one do to eradicate starvation in our country?
Starvation is due to people not having access to food. People have got money, but do not know whom to donate it to. If ten percent of our population engages in charity, there would be no starvation. Nowadays, subsidized food is available for the general public and 10 rupees would suffice to feed a person.
You had recently trained noon meal scheme employees across the State of Tamil Nadu. Can you share more information about this?
I visited all the 32 districts and trained 125,000 employees in preparing different types of variety rice—channapulao, lemon rice, curry leaf rice, bisibelabhath, sambar rice, and different kinds of boiled eggs—masala egg, pepper egg, and tomato egg.All these are of good taste and have high protein content.
We sat with the children and ate the food along with them. They were very happy as they tasted it for the first time.
You have been engaging in a lot of charitable activities. Which of the social issues are you passionate about?
I do not like people giving away left over food to the poor. If you are ready to donate food, then prepare fresh food and give it to the needy. This is charity!When we have a domestic function and have food wasted, we donate it. This is not charity, but disposal of wastage.
My passion lies in supporting the elderly and special children. Every month, I visit an old age home at Pallavaramwhere 80 inmates belonging to the age of 70 to 90 live. I prepare food for them, and also entertain them. I also train spastic children in baking, and support a special school in Villupuram.