Through his long and illustrious career in the hospitality industry, Dr Chef Soundararajan has accomplished numerous accolades. Along with Chef Sanjay Thakur, he established Project Tiryagyoni, whose mission was to cook a fine dining Indian meal at the world’s highest altitude, which just so happened to be the base camp of Mount Everest. This accomplishment went on to become a Guinness World record while drawing attention to the primary aim – establishing sustainable living in the Himalayan Reserve.
In addition to this, Chef Soundararajan has catered for several Heads of States, including the Prime Minister of India. Now a Corporate Executive Chef at Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India Ltd, his journey with the holiday chain started in 1998. Here he talks about his journey, his love for food and more.
What is your culinary philosophy and has it changed throughout your career?
Food is all about combining the art and science of culinary skills and must be made with passion and served with flair. Every cuisine is unique, and people of a particular place adapt to their regional cuisine rather than prefer it. To keep to authentic flavours, I always use fresh, preferably authentic ingredients that can be sourced locally. I like to taste the dish before adding salt to it so that I can sense its real flavours. These beliefs and habits have not changed over the course of my career as a culinary professional.
Can you walk us through your journey as a chef?
I joined the diploma in Hotel management in 1979 in Institute of Hotel management Chennai. Then I trained under a French Chef in Ashok Hotel New Delhi under the ITDC. Later, I had a brief stint with the Prime Ministers official catering in Hyderabad house during 1990. After that, I joined Guestline Hotels and then shifted to Mahindra Holidays in 1998. I was instrumental in setting up F&B operations for its 50 resorts across the country, including conceptualising, pre-opening training and standardisation.
What were your thoughts when you started Project Tiryagyoni?
The idea started to take shape in 2016. We realised how much the forests impacted our futures and thought it was essential to encourage people to save them. Mother Nature offers us abundant valuable indigenous ingredients. But we continually deplete these treasured reserves, and that is creating an adverse effect on our environment. What people do not realise is that globally, there are many unscientifically framed organic dining ideas. Tiryagyoni aims to preserve Mother Nature and renew the respect for the Indian and Nepalese cuisines, which date back to thousands of years ago.
How has your journey with Club Mahindra been so far?
I joined Club Mahindra Resorts as a corporate Executive chef in 1998. Since then I have seen the resort chain grow to more than 50 resorts, and it has been wonderful to witness this growth. The quality of food and beverages have improved over time, and our menu now is a panorama of various cuisines no matter which resort travellers choose to stay in.
In your opinion, what are the qualities that make a successful chef?
Apart from being able to cook up gastronomic delights, to be successful, a chef should have the potential to inspire, train and manage a team of cooks and deliver what guests want. A chef must be hospitable and impeccable when it comes to hygiene and cook with a passion for attaining perfection in addition to encouraging his team members to follow his lead.
You have been in the industry for 39 years. Tell us some of the most important lessons you have learnt?
You must be ready to learn new things every day. You have to keep yourself updated on the trends and make sure to establish a brand for yourself.
Your first assignment was catering at the Asian Games. How did you approach a job of this magnitude?
It was quite challenging to cook a nutritious and well-planned diet for 8000 athletes. Working for more than 16 hours for 20 days was tough. But at the end of the day, knowing that I was catering to some of the most well-known athletes was quite satisfying.
Which world cuisines have inspired you or your food the most?
Indian cuisines have been a significant source of inspiration for me. Outside India, the French cuisines have taught me culinary techniques which are the base of any cooking.
What are the 5 essential appliances you think every kitchen should have?
• Combi Oven
• Tilting pan
If you were stranded on an island what foods or condiments would you want?
If I were stranded on an island, I would want onion, ginger, herbs, edible oil, garlic, salt, pepper powder, coriander leaves and curry leaves, chillies, coriander powder, chilli powder, and turmeric powder.
What was the moment you are most proud of in your career?
I consider the incorporation in the Indian Federation of Culinary Association and its inclusion into the WACS as one of the landmarks of my career. This has given me the opportunity to learn and adapt to new developments. In the bargain, I have also made some great friends for life, whom I could have not possibly met if not for the association. And of course, being awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the hands of Dr Abdul Kalam.