HOPE on a platter

FOR THE first time in South India, approximately 2,000 hungry people and 20 top chefs of the city with 10 varieties of cuisines came together. Can't you guess the rest? This explosive combination was the Chef & Child Culinary Extravaganza-'04 held at the Vel's Institute of Hotel Management, Pallavaram last Saturday. The South Indian Culinary Association (SICA) hosted the event in aid of HOPE Foundation an organisation that takes care of HIV-positive children and women.

It all began in 1998 when a few chefs from star hotels came together and decided that they ought to do more than feed the moneyed and remain in the background; they wanted to reach out to society at large. Thus came SICA and now the Chef & Child concept. Like all the perfect dishes, it took time and a lot of effort to happen.

Besides its obvious attractions, the event had other interesting aspects. It was a different ball game for the chefs. Organising, finding sponsors and marketing an event are usually done for them. Besides, hotel chefs do not cook for such numbers. Yet the reaction from the very beginning was, "Boss, let's go ahead and do it," said P. Soundararajan, SICA general secretary and corporate executive chef of Club Mahindra Holidays.

Everyone was willing to go that extra mile for those marginalised by society. HOPE Foundation is an affiliate of the UN-recognised HOPE Worldwide. The foundation runs a home for the destitute HIV-positive women and children at Sembakkam, near Tambaram. According to N. Sheetharam Prasad, SICA joint secretary and GRT Grand executive chef, "The cause was easy to market. No further detail was asked."

Nestle which has been with the SICA from the very beginning led the sponsors' brigade. Another notable name behind the event is chef Sanjeev Kapoor of "Khana Khazana" fame. "I have got so much more from this profession than I had ever imagined. It is now time to give something back," he made his stance clear. Unfortunately due to a bereavement in the family, he could not make it to Chennai. There was palpable excitement in the air at the Vel's College on Saturday morning. Things were in fast forward mode. Students ran up and down in the hot sun pinning saris on the wire mesh around the ground, moving things around and putting up posters and buntings. R. Bennet, SICA vice-president and principal of Vel's College, said the college snapped up the opportunity to host the event because of the exposure that came with it. The night started on a poignant note. The chefs came on the stage holding the hand of a HOPE child. With a lighted candle in hand they stood while Michael Jackson's famous "We are the world" played in the background.

Entertainment followed and the dinner counters opened at 8 p.m.

The top chefs in the city who have put in at least five years of experience as executive chefs were honoured with the SICA Golden Hat Award. M. S. Gill, corporate chef of ITC group of hotels, Gerard Mendis, president of the Chef Guild of Sri Lanka, and Mooroogen, vice-president of the Mauritian Chefs' Association, were the guests of honour on the occasion. Ramesh Javvaji, SICA president and executive chef of Chola Sheraton, and Soundararajan handed over the cheque to Dr. Ashok Prabath, CEO, HOPE.

There were flaws, but it was easy to overlook them. The cause was a worthy one and what stole the show was the enthusiasm and camaraderie of the chefs.