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He's a jolly good fellow!

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Food Chef Damodaran conjures up visions of tasty food as he speaks with passion about his great love

Focussing on food Chef Damodaran Photos: K. Ananthan
Focussing on food Chef Damodaran Photos: K. Ananthan

I magine a seven-year-old standing in the kitchen, with apron and all, making semiya upma for the rest of the family! Unfortunately for the little boy, the dish got stuck to the kadai and was far from edible.

That was perhaps, the last dish Chef K. Damodaran ever messed up. He chuckles at the thought of his first cooking experience. “My mom's spanking made sure I never forget semiya upma!”

The chef was in Coimbatore recently to take part in ‘The Taste of Coimbatore', a food festival.

There is something about the demeanour of the man, people instantly warm towards him. He makes even the most complicated of dishes sound like a breeze.

“The most important rule of cooking is concentration. Even if you spend only 20 minutes in the kitchen, make sure you apply your mind to the dish at hand,” he urges the audience.

Says the chef, “It is disheartening to see young girls starving themselves in the name of dieting. Eat heartily; it is to fill our stomach that we toil day and night. You can always burn off the extra calories with exercise,” he adds.

Only a few days ago, Chef Damu cooked 617 dishes continuously, winning the World Guinness Record for the longest cooking marathon by an individual.

“It was exhausting. I often thought of giving up. But, it was all worth it, for, every last bit of what I had cooked was relished by the audience.”

Spectacularly south

Ninety-eight percent of the recipes were South Indian with the chef's innovative touches – dishes such as Karaikudi mutton fry and kathirikkai mochai karuvattu kozhambu disappeared the instant they left the stove. The record was such a morale booster that Chef Damu is planning to take it further by cooking for 36 hours continuously. “I've decided to attempt it after three or four months,” he says.

Chef Damu has travelled widely, learning traditional recipes first-hand from the grand old ladies of the villages of South India.

“Women there are unbelievably efficient. They leave home early in the morning to work in the fields. Lunch consists of pazhaya sadham (rice from the previous night soaked in water) with pickle and onions. It will be heavenly after a long day's work. It is only after they return home at dusk that they cook an elaborate meal,” he explains.

The simple life

“Village folk can conjure scrumptious dishes with the simplest of ingredients. Most of us don't know how tasty kootanchoru can be. It's a simple dish of rice and vegetables boiled together and garnished with mustard and oil,” says Damu. “A lot of traditional recipes have become extinct and we are to blame for that,” he shakes his head.

Chef Damu has written 18 cookbooks that have a whopping 2,720 recipes. “Every night before I go to bed, I conceive a new recipe and document it the next morning.” The chef holds Chettinad cuisine close to his heart. “The cuisine is rich and so full of spices such as pepper, dhaniya and jeeragam that are good for the body. During my travels, I have tried out the most exotic of dishes. But, there is nothing quite like South Indian cuisine that combines medicinal qualities to everyday food.”

Good food can make life so much better, according to Damu. “You won't believe how hot uppu urundais and ribbon pakodas can transform a boring Sunday evening.” So, who is his favourite cook? “My mother, of course! She is 80 years old and still cooks with interest. There's nothing to beat her prawn masala and mutton cashew curry. ”

AKILA KANNADASAN

“You won't believe how hot uppu urundais and ribbon pakodas can transform a boring Sunday evening”

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