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Winning flavours

Meet Rajesh Radhakrishnan and Jacob Sahaya Khumar, winners of the Young Chef and Chef Instructor of the Year awards

Photo: R. Shivaji Rao

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS Jacob Sahaya Khumar and Rajesh Radhakrishnan

It was the studied casualness of the man that fascinated me. He was dropping a piece of confidential news in my ears; he had been nominated for the awards. "Congratulations!" I responded promptly. "When will they announce the result?" "Only tomorrow," he said. And I wondered how he would survive the suspense till then.

This conversation happened outside the conference hall on the first day of the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations meet. It was the awards, Young Chef of the Year and Chef Instructor of the Year, that had been giving stomach ulcers to the six nominees to these categories. What makes the recognition more than a pat on the back is that it is not about excellence in craft alone or success. The parameters include social responsibility and the individual's contribution to the trade.

At the end of all the sifting and sieving the screening committee did, with the applications from all over the country, the nominees were chosen and then the ball went to the court of the IFCA Executive Committee, which comprises top notch chefs of India. Now you know the reason why the nominees had clammy hands on the award night!

Take a look at the winner of the Young Chef Award. Talented, upwardly mobile, confident, personable and only 31 — Rajesh Radhakrishnan, Executive Sous Chef of The Park.

"Yeah, I was expecting it," he said. He is obviously an exception to the sweaty palm brigade. He had a few people to thank — Chef Willi, his boss, who shared more than the secrets of a good soufflé; he gave the junior freedom to meet other chefs and network through the IFCA; Chef Natarajan, his guide in the early days at the Taj Coromandel; and The Park team to whom he owed much.

Hospitality wasn't his first choice. It was when the dream of being a doctor crashed that he turned to hotel management. Jacob Sahaya Khumar, winner of the Chef Instructor Award, said there were two people who had left an indelible impression on him. A. Jeyachandran, the then Regional Training Manager for the ITC group, was so good at pep talk that one day Jacob gave up peeling onions at the Park Sheraton kitchen and decided to lecture others! The other was Singaravelavan, Head of the Department, SNR Sons College, Coimbatore (his alma mater).

Jacob, who heads the Department of Catering Science and Hotel Management at the Cherraan's Arts Science College, Kangayam, didn't stick to the curriculum and taught his students some of the forgotten recipes of Kongunad. The cuisine of this region is touted as the next big wave in the market. Without the generous support of the Chairman of the college, K. C. Palanisamy, he wouldn't have managed the feat, acknowledged Jacob.

The man got the calling when he was in the fourth standard itself and so didn't think twice to give up a seat at the Madras Medical College.

Marien Mathew

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