Chef K Damodaran, affectionately known as Chef Damu, is characteristically warm and chatty, despite being in a London cab en route to the airport. On his way home to Chennai, undeterred by airport lounges and transfers, the popular TV show host and cook book author, enthusiastically chats on the phone about his latest triumph: The Culinary Legend Lifetime Achievement Award at the Global Food, Hospitality and Tourism Achievements Award 2021.
It is this unflagging enthusiasm that has kept him focussed and driven for the past 40 years in an extraordinary career, which was celebrated at a recent event organised at the House of Commons, British Parliament, Westminster.
Damu says it all began when he received a telephone call, a month ago, from the World Tamil Organization UK, requesting details on his career. (A registered charity organisation, the WTO was established in 2005 with the aim of promoting the welfare of the Tamil community, with a focus on arts and culture, in the United Kingdom.)
Currently the president of South Indian Chef Association, Damu is a member of the World Association of Cooks Society. He says he has judged over 10,000 cooking competitions, including the popular Cooku with Comali which aired on Star Vijay. The chef has also authored 29 cookery books.
Two weeks after that call, the organisers invited him to London, as he had been selected for a Lifetime Achievement Award. “I feel greatly honoured to be selected by the WTO for this prestigious award,” he says, adding that the Global Food, Hospitality and Tourism Achievements Award was instituted this year. He adds, “This category was launched this year by the WTO and I am the first person to be selected for this award.” The award committee recognised Damu’s earlier achievements, Guinness record, academia research and cook books.
“I feel elated that I got the chance to meet the who’s who of the hospitality industry from across the world,” he says, adding that over 40 internationally renowned chefs and restaurateurs were invited to the event. This included John Wood, director of Kitchen Cut, who is a former executive chef of the iconic Burj Al Arab in Dubai. Also Chef Sydney Aldridge, the chef director at Fortnum and Mason, and Chef Ellan Prem Appadurai, head of hospitality projects, WTO UK, who was formerly head chef at Harrods, London.
He adds with a chuckle that he also enjoyed the dinner that was served at the ceremony. “There was lobster bisque, as well as roast chicken served with mashed potatoes.”
The 62-year-old chef who was home through the pandemic and the subsequent lockdowns, says that he made the best use of the time. “Making a meal for my wife and daughter, eating every meal with my family and making periodical visits to my ageing in-laws were the best part during those days. I never had the time to spend with my family all these years and lockdown provided the best opportunity for that,” he says.
He was also working on an upcoming cook book Kalvettu Samayal , which is a compilation of traditional Tamil cooking from the Sangam period. “I spent my time on research and developing recipes. I have documented even 3,000 year-old-recipes which I stumbled upon during my research. meen kartuthakari , originating in Tirunelveli region, and jeera a temple offering for Lord Vishnu, made using rawa and palm sugar are just a few examples,” says Damu.
He reached out to a large number of catering students across the globe during the pandemic via online classes. “I also provided consultancy on COVID-19 meals for families and restaurants.”
- Longest cooking marathon (Individual), 2010, Chennai, India.
- Longest Dosa in the world, 2012, Madurai, India.
- Largest Curry in the world, 2014, Little India, Singapore
Damu is now working towards popularising traditional South Indian and ancient dishes through his book as well as his You Tube Channel Chef Damu’s Multi Cuisine , where he will prepare simple, healing meals. “Rice with rasam and a thogayal is healthy and high on medicinal properties. Unave marundhu (food is medicine) is our food philosophy,” he says.
Damu adds that one of the highlights of this year was participating as a judge in the cooking reality show Cooku With Comali . Well received by audiences across the world, it earned him the nick name, appang (Dad). Even when he landed in London, he says, people were fondly calling him appang.