The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | A recipe for success

From social media trends to sustaining businesses and staff, and answering questions about food safety and obesity, the chefs covered a large gamut of topics with quite a few laughs thrown in

Updated - January 27, 2024 08:07 pm IST

Published - January 27, 2024 07:02 pm IST - CHENNAI

Beyond the kitchen: Chefs forging a fresh culinary landscape Chef Manu Chandra, Chef Sashi Cheliah, Chef Thomas Zacharias in conversation with Shonali Muthalaly, at The Hindu Lit for Life 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday.

Beyond the kitchen: Chefs forging a fresh culinary landscape Chef Manu Chandra, Chef Sashi Cheliah, Chef Thomas Zacharias in conversation with Shonali Muthalaly, at The Hindu Lit for Life 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

Chefs, over the last few years, have moved from lives of anonymity in the kitchen to a spot in the limelight. These days, though celebrity chefs may be rockstars, some of the biggest names remember and treasure those kitchens they started out in.

On Saturday afternoon at The Hindu Lit Fest, chefs Sashi Cheliah, Manu Chandra, and Thomas Zacharias received loud applause as they discussed a new era of culinary creativity in a conversation with The Hindu Metroplus Editor Shonali Muthalaly. The panel, titled ‘Beyond the kitchen: Chefs forging a fresh culinary landscape’, discussed food trends, social media, and the challenges of running successful businesses while diversifying and creating new culinary spaces.

Glamorous expectations

“When I got into cooking, it was with the desire to cook and feed people great food. Today, all the awards and glamour draw the youngsters in. There’s a difference between the expectations they come with and what they face,” says Mr. Zacharias, who left Mumbai’s popular Bombay Canteen to launch Locavore, through which he aims to provide an in-depth understanding of where our food comes from, who grows it, and the impact of our food choices as consumers.

“People ask me, how do you become a celebrity chef?” laughs Mr. Chandra, who now wants to step back from the limelight himself. He started Single Thread Caterers that catered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, and more recently, Lupa, an elegant Italian restaurant in Bengaluru.

Read our live updates of The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, Day 2

Narrating an incident that left him partly amused and extremely angry, he says, “A Bollywood couple asked me to do a house warming family lunch in Mumbai. I asked a five star hotel to provide me a few chefs. I got this sous chef slowly cutting one onion. The other two cooks who had come to help each had a camera in their hands. I was like what-what the... and they said ‘content’. You don’t need content for cutting onions!”

Social media trends

Given the day to day challenges, including changing customer behaviour, what is it that keeps them going? “When an empty plate comes back to the kitchen, and I see a smile on my customer’s face and they walk out talking about food, that’s what keeps me going,” says Mr. Cheliah, who did not even have a social media account till five years ago, given his job in Australia’s secretive law and enforcement department. Today, however, social media is what helps him interact with his audience. “Some of the trends you see on social media are ridiculous,” laughs the winner of MasterChef Australia’s Season 10, and co-owner of Chennai’s Pandan Club.

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