It was after enrolling in culinary school that Chef Arun Sundararaj knew he wanted to work in the food industry. He started his career at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, and eventually worked his way up through the rest of the Taj Group's five-star establishments. Now the Taj Mahal Hotel's Culinary Director in New Delhi, he has mastered his art and never ceases to amaze and delight diners with his exceptional dishes.
Excerpts from my epicurean chat with Chef Sundararaj about life, the world, and everything.
What inspired you to pursue culinary arts as your career
As a child, I liked cooking my meals. It started with a humble omelette - to add variety, I made my own innovations. I found that cooking gave me a lot of joy, and considered it as a career. Now, it has been almost three decades with IHCL. I have moved across cuisines and geographies I have spent the most exciting seven years at the iconic Taj Mahal, New Delhi, which is home to legendary restaurants. These have now been reimagined, and it is humbling to see the love and support of our patrons and guests. This keeps me going and motivates me to do more. My team has been a great support and are very talented too. I find happiness, peace, and passion in the culinary world.
While growing up, were travel and food important to your family life
My father used to work internationally, which gave me many opportunities to travel the world. I was exposed to various cultures and cuisines across the globe. Food was always a very important part of our family, as my parents were foodies. I was exposed to great food early in my life - my mother cooked the most amazing meals. My father cooked too, with a lot of help from my mother Some of my best memories are around food - I remember the special meals that would be cooked on occasions, and family members and friends would be part of the food celebrations. A lot of what I saw, observed and experienced, I carry with me as my secret ingredient at my workplace. These ideas inspire creativity at various outlets like Machan, House of Ming, and The Chambers that we have transformed and re-launched. Tradition, knowledge and passion are essential ingredients in the culinary field.
What role will sustainability play in the industry's adaptation of traditional cooking methods and old grains like cereal grains and millet
Sustainability is an important part of the industry as today people are aware of and are looking at that aspect in a big way. IHCL has already set new standards with sustainability at its core through various initiatives across our operations, and it continues to evolve as awareness around it keeps improving.
At Varq, the hotel's modern Indian dining destination, our menu celebrates the incredible flavours of India. It is seasonal and crafted with mostly locally procured ingredients. We are inspired by the treasured artwork on the walls by Anjolie Ela Menon and strive to innovate and present artistic and flavourful contemporary cuisine on the plate. We use various superfoods. For instance, millet desserts can be made very delicious and healthy. Our quinoa kheer and the panchdhan khichdi are great dishes too We also make bajra khichdi in the all-new Machan. We use the clay-pot cooking technique in the Machan kitchen. In our transformation journey, we have upgraded the kitchen equipment and technology, making it more energy efficient (also, no coal is used).
During your journey as a chef, who were you most influenced by
My focus has always been on the quality of ingredients, so what influences me is the ingredient itself, as it is the base of our cuisine.
When you travel, which two places are your must-go-to for a meal
In Mumbai, Mahesh Lunch Home is my go-to place.
What is the one trend in the global culinary scenario that you wish India to embrace
Chefs getting together and signing a charter in which they would support sustainability and do not serve meals that are not sustainable - that is the need of the hour.
What is your signature dish
Hyderabadi Lamb Biryani - the art of cooking it well with different layers of flavours amalgamated into one. The dish is a visual, olfactory and sensory treat, in its truest sense.