“Twenty years is a significant milestone. We’ve seen ups and downs, cyclones and a pandemic. The Park, Chennai, has weathered the last few years very well,” says Priya Paul, chairperson of Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, over a call from Kolkata.
With The Park Chennai turning 20 on May 15, Paul recalls how they bought it as a shell hotel in 1999 and used the 230-room property to showcase what they meant by a boutique hotel. “We used art, design and music to define ourselves,” she says.
One of her first briefs to the design team was to commemorate the history of the place — the erstwhile Gemini Studio — in a contemporary manner. “We wanted to make it a fun and vibrant place. A hotel that keeps on innovating and surprising customers,” she adds. Interestingly, of all The Park Hotels, this is the one where she has stayed for quite some time. “My husband is from Chennai,” she says.
Among her favourites here is The Leather Bar. Much before Aqua became what it is today, Paul says she used to go up to the rooftop, enjoy the breeze and she knew then that this space had to become Aqua.
Paul is now looking forward to the birthday bash which The Park has of course planned in its typical fashion. Spanning five days, the celebrations include music, DJs, a pool party, shopping, food, and fitness even. She is however most excited about their The Fire Fly Supper on May 13.
Imagine watching an episode on bioluminescense on NatGeo: Except, it is on a dinner table. This is a dining experience where the food, flavour and texture are steered by light. “Like a glow in the dark light. It is inspired by fireflies in the forest, since the concept is more like gratitude to the planet,” says Rajesh Radhakrishnan, general manager. The dining space will be dark and everything right from the food to drinks will have an orange, green or blue glow.
Chef Ashutosh Nerlekar, Kiron Kumar (director – Food and Beverage) and team have been working on this concept and the five-course menu for three months now. They put in a lot of research to identify what foods and drinks work in this setting. “For example, tonic water really glows in this kind of light,” explains Radhakrishnan. With the diner not being able to see the actual colour of the food, it will be interesting to note if it changes the perception of what they are eating.
Radhakrishnan, who has been with The Park Chennai right from its inception in 2002, first as a sous chef, then executive chef and now the general manager, has seen numerous such innovative dining experiences at the hotel over the last two decades. “Right from starting off with square plates and working with the late chef Antonio Carluccio here, to an ‘under the table’ dinner, the most exciting part of my life has been with The Park,” he smiles.
Plans are afoot to launch a new restaurant. A project, delayed by COVID-19, but bound to happen in the next two years. Till then, says Paul, “It’s a surprise.”