Cleanliness and hygiene has been a part of the Indian culinary system from age-old times. However, with time, this natural habit has become a forgotten heritage requiring a refresher course today. P. Soundararajan, Corporate Executive Chef of Mahindra Holidays and Resorts India Ltd and General Secretary of the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations, discusses ways to revisit and revive best practices in an interview with Vijayalakshmi Sridhar.
[box type=”shadow” ]Soundararajan’s journey in the culinary field began at the Taj Hotel kitchen in New Delhi. Ever since, he has served at many hotel chains, organised several festivals and has been instrumental in getting recognition and accolades for his contribution towards culinary advancement. In December 1997, he joined Mahindra Holidays and Resorts as its Corporate Executive Chef and is continuing till date. He was pioneer in introducing the concept of waste management such as composting, Herb / kitchen garden, use of recyclable materials. He has been honoured with several national and international awards and is the recipient of the Golden Hat Award (2004) and SICA Golden Star Chef Award (2008) from the South India Culinary Association for two decades of Continuous contribution to the profession. In his 30 plus years of experience, Soundararajan has witnessed the evolution in the industry. [/box]
Cleanliness and hygiene has been imbibed into the Indian culture since the Harappa and Mohenjo Daro times. “Cleanliness is equally important when it comes to food and its preparation. Cooking, though a clumsy and multi-taskoriented process, needs to be carefully handled to ensure that the resulting product is palatable and contains no foreign material.”
Chef Soundararajan has been working towards establishing a thorough culinary system in the country, replete with the time-honoured cleaning and hygiene tenets that have been practiced for centuries in India. “It is important to revive the forgotten hygiene practices of yesteryears.”
The necessity is more pronounced today mainly because those getting into the culinary profession no longer possess the natural touch for cleaning. “One of the reasons could be the exposure to various others cultures and foods.” In fact, almost all star or good hotels have a scheduled cleaning regime and are well equipped with modern day cleaning products and processes. “In commercial establishments, cleanliness in systems and well-cooked and well-presented food that is brought to the table and it instills confidence in the consumers’ minds.”
“Consumers pay for hygiene which comes at a cost. If cleanliness is not on the agenda, people will walk away even without telling,” says Chef Soundararajan. Hygiene also brings in recognition. Mahindra’s Pondicherry resort is the first to receive the BHC (Branch Hygienic Code) Certification after Chef Soundararajan advocated hygiene practices at the premises. He believes that the elaborate SOPs of these certifications, that cover all areas and aspects, inculcate hygiene in the employees’ minds and routine. “We need to bring in a system to instill these even in places which are yet to receive certification to enable to get certified in due course.”
Behind Mahindra’s 45 resorts is Chef Soundararajan’s idea and planning. He works right from conceptualizing the cuisine, working with the project team for establishing facilities, training, pre-opening and launching and of course setting the hygiene regime. Post launch, he provides continuous training and monitoring too.
Cooking in resort kitchens is much different than commercial kitchens of hotels. Right from the quantity prepared to the inventory stocked is much less. For the three courses of meals prepared each day, Chefs strive to make it interesting, healthy & hygienic and safe too. The food prepared is more like home food – low on oil and spices. The quantity prepared too is much less and the inventory is about a week old. “In fact, most resorts don’t even have cold rooms. Everything is prepared al fresco,” he explains.