April 8, 2010

INDIA: They are wedded to catering profession - Excess food goes to old age homes

. CHENNAI, Tamil Nadu / The Hindu / Lifestyle & Leisure / April 8, 2010 By S. Aishwarya APPETITE FOR WORK: Wedding caterers make sure taste and authenticity are maintained to make food click at marriages. Arusuvai Kumar cooks at weddings at Sholinganallur, Rajiv Gandhi Salai in Chennai. Photo: M. Karunakaran The scrumptious thalai vazhai feast has for decades been a yardstick to gauge the extravagance at weddings. Any wedding, however swanky, gets a positive comment only when the food served passes the edibility test of the invitees. Tradition has it that the people invited to the wedding are led to the dining hall by the close relatives of the bride or the groom. Behind all the lavishness of a wedding is the nerve-wracking job of steaming and stirring by cooks. “What keeps wedding food apart from the hotel fare is the tradition we follow. We stick to the practices of the families of bride and groom. The cooking pattern varies even within the same caste. We prepare accordingly,” says Arusuvai Natarajan of Arusuvai Arasu Caterers. However, the tradition has given way to modernism, with the parents of the brides and the grooms opting for exotic dishes. To bring in authenticity in the cooking, caterers network with cooks from regions that boast of speciality cuisine. “We call up someone from Karaikudi if the family wants a Chettinad spread or hire a cook from Dindigul to make biriyani,” Mr. Natarajan says. Smartly dressed students from catering colleges take the place of dhoti-clad men in the dining hall. While fresh graduates from colleges join the team of wedding cooks, the shortage of staff for wedding caterers remains a nagging problem. “I train around 60 people, each specialising in one dish. But still, we fall short of people,” he adds. The preparation for a wedding begins a day in advance. If the menu contains non-vegetarian items, extra care has to be taken to preserve the food. “We need 40 kg of ginger-garlic paste, 80 kg of onion and 100 kg of tomato for 1,500 people. Preliminary works like preparing batter and gravy begin the previous day,” explains Prabu Lucas, proprietor, Bethel Caterers. What fazes these cooks who tirelessly dish out dosas and oothapams is the unexpected turnout at some weddings. “If it is 10 per cent higher than the quoted number, we could manage. More than that would be impossible. There have been instances when we had to run to buy provisions when an extra 100 members turned out,” says Muthuvel Azhagan of Srinidhi Caterers. Excess food, in most cases, is distributed to inmates of old age homes and orphanages. Mr. Lucas recalls an incident in which a wedding took place a day after tsunami. “The wedding hall was hardly filled. But we were stubborn that the food should not be wasted.” Minutes after the wedding, he called for a van and went to places of tsunami-affected places and distributed food in packets for the needy. “There is something that makes me love my job,” says Rengarajan, who has just taken over his father's catering unit. “We make marriages work. At least on the first day.” [rc] Copyright © 2009, The Hindu