A staunch hygiene advocate, Soundararajan drives fool proof practices at Mahindra. Hand hygiene is something that most kitchens emphasise, mainly because not all food gets prepared using appliances or get eaten using forks and spoon. If it were to make a choice of cooking with clean hands or appliances, which would be it be? “It varies, depending on the kind of stuff you cook and present. When it comes to eating, the Indian culinary heritage always calls for use of hands so the entire process is coordinated and enjoyed thoroughly. It is flexible too. If it is a dosa you eat with hand. If it is a salad, you prefer using a fork. Spoon and fork are superficial and civilized additions to cooking and eating. Same applies to use of gloves. When you handle different kinds of food, gloves turn out to be more unhygienic and in such a context, using hands or appliances would be the best.”
Whether the food is cooked with appliances or using hands, kitchens tend to get messy with the food remains generated while cooking. While most of the cleaning happens post preparation, Chef’s kitchen has a thumb rule. “I believe in attributing equal importance to cooking and cleaning. A ladle in one hand and a towel in another would be the protocol in my kitchen.”
Most properties, invest in good processes and training, but the challenge lies in making people follow it to the T. “It is a human tendency to skip the routine. Suddenly, when I inspect, the table may not be clean. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it all depends on individual attitudes and willingness to follow certain set practices.”
Besides, cleaning practices, Chef Soundararajan’s training focuses on zero or minimum waste. Waste is created only if the quantity of consumption is not clear. However, even a well planned portioning may not contribute to waste reduction in certain cases. For example, even though the standard a la carte items have standardized portions, preplanning is not possible in case of a buffet that has many varieties of food. Even if smartly planned, at least 10% gets wasted. In such times, while recycling is the saving grace, “the best way to minimize waste is to create awareness among customers”. As a practice, most restaurants send food waste to various agencies for recycling or to the piggery.
Culinary hygiene is a winning trait that is bound to take chefs to places. Being a member of the jury in international, national and global culinary competitions such as International Culinary Challenge, Sri Lanka FHA Salon Culinaire at Singapore, Chef Contest of the National council, and Nestle Young Chef of the Year contest held at Mumbai, India, Chef has seen how cleanliness and hygiene are evaluated in these competitive platforms. Right from personal hygiene, how well the contestants clean the vegetables, fruits and also their cooking platforms after every process and how well they store cooked food are marked.
Being a member in the WACS education committee and secretary in IFCA helps him identify and create the right platforms to promote deserving talent and active idea sharing among the fraternity. The biennial National Culinary Congress now called as the International Chefs Conference has inspired six congresses that has been bringing together Chefs nationwide.
Bringing awareness to cleanliness through proper teaching methods on the how-tos and what-tos is the best way to crack this ignorance. Students entering the culinary colleges need to be taught culinary arts along with cleanliness. Hygiene should be a part of food preparation.
Creating a world class culinary training to cater to and compete with the changing global requirements is Chef Soundararajan’s dream. “We require talent which can be nurtured through all round training.” A recent resounding defeat faced by Indian chefs at the Bocuse d’Or International Culinary Challenge and a bronze medal in the pastry challenge have further fortified his efforts towards training. Also in the last two years, very less young talent has entered the profession. “The industry needs young, passionate and committed people.”