By Venkatachari Jagannathan, Chennai, April 2 IANS | 8 months ago

"It is going to be a glorious failure," was the tasteless comment by a woman from an industrial family who was invited to taste the food at the newly-opened 'Dakshin' South Indian cuisine restaurant at the ITC Sheraton Park Hotel and Towers here a quarter-century ago.

As it were, the comment turned out to be a good omen for the restaurant and spurred successive chefs to prove her wrong.

"The restaurant was opened on April 14, 1989, on the Tamil New Year's Day. Twenty-five years down the line, Dakshin is going great guns not only in our property but also in five other properties of the group," Praveen Anand, executive chef at the hotel, told IANS. (The other outlets are in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Mumbai and New Delhi.)

"For the first five/six years we never advertised Dakshin. The restaurant had a steady growth graph. It never dipped. We did not face any challenging times. All the chefs who had headed this restaurant have gone abroad," said Anand, who has been with this five star hotel for a long time.

Amongst the nationally-branded restaurants of the ITC hotel group, Dakshin is one of the two largest chains, the other being Peshawri that serves NorthWest Frontier cuisine.

Some of the key attributes of a branded product/service is the uniformity in quality and price to some extent.

Queried about how the group maintains uniformity in dishes, their tastes and prices, Anand said: "The 11 dishes under the head Sarvothamam in all the Dakshin menu cards would not only be the same but also taste the same. But the price of dishes varies from market to market."

To a question how the taste could be the same while the quantities of ingredients remain the same and the water differs from one city to another, he quipped: "That is why we are chefs."

Anand said a template is there for all the Dakshin chefs to follow which also gives them the freedom to cater to the tastes and preferences of their clientele. Each Dakshin has its own menu card and has its own hot sellers.

"While the Dakshin here has deleted and added new items over the years, around 20-25 dishes have not seen any change due to their popularity amongst the guests. Our Iyer's Trolley - a live station - has not changed though we have added new chutneys to it. Our famous Banana Dosa and Kozhi Rasam (Chicken Rasam) and several other dishes are part of our menu card since the restaurant was launched," he said.

Iyer's Trolley is named after Paramasivam Iyer, a former chef who manned the counter that served small eats like Adais, Banana Dosa, Kuzhi Paniyarams and others.

"Iyer was hugely popular with our guests. He used to interact well with the guests," Anand said.

The one major difference between the menu card of Dakshin here and the five other outlets is the presence of Pondicherry cuisine.

"We have done a conclave on Pondicherry cuisine amongst our chefs. Perhaps we will take a call on including the Pondicherry cuisine to Dakshin's menu card this year," Anand said.

According to him, the addition of Telangana dishes post the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh will happen in due course.

"South Indian cuisine is quite distinct from the cuisines of other regions in the country. In a commercial kitchen, cooking happens in cycles. So the dish is first deconstructed into different building blocks. The final cooking happens on the receipt of the order," Anand said.

He said his basic training in western cuisine - relying on weights and measures and a cooking sequence - had helped in whipping up South Indian items.

"The taste of a dish not only depends on the ingredients and their quantity but also when they are added and the time they are cooked. There is a sequence in cooking South Indian dishes. One should also know how each meat should be heated," Anand said.

To commemorate the 25 years of Dakshin restaurant Anand is gearing up to host a 25-day food festival April 3-27 serving food from different regions of South India.

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan@ians.in)

(Posted on 02-04-2014)

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