Give him any vegetable and he will churn out at least two dozen different dishes. That is the kind of challenge Chef K. Damodaran loves to take on. And the best part he makes it all appear so simple.
Damu, as he is fondly called, has endeared himself to thousands of fans through his cookery shows on the television. His celebritydom has not affected him at all. Rather, every action of his has a touch of pleasantness – from the way he cuts the vegetable or uses his fingers to pick up the various ingredients or sprinkling them on the dish. With nonchalant ease, he executes his style of cooking and inspires and motivates people to attempt his recipes.
'Concentration is the key in cooking,' he says, 'even a slight distraction can mar the entire effort.'
According to Chef Damu, a good cook is one who understands the nature of the ingredients and knows the best permutations and combinations. 'Even pazhaya sadham (cooked rice soaked in water overnight) tastes good if it is properly prepared and offered with a matching side dish like fish curry,'he says.
He also keeps a keen eye on the appearance, texture and taste of the dish he prepares. 'Any food cooked in proper heat with ingredients in right proportion will make the gourmet happy,' he says.
From where did he learn all the techniques? 'Three women in my life are responsible for shaping me as a cook. My 84-year-old mother Kothai Nayagi, my aunt Premakumari who is 76 and my mother-in-law, Devalatha, 72 years. Even now, when in doubt I seek my mother’s help,' he smiles.
An ardent lover of south Indian food, Chef Damu unfailingly presents them wherever he goes. He has also entered the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest cooking marathon by an individual when he cooked 617 south Indian dishes at the venue.
If today’s children love junk food, he says, only parents are to be blamed. 'Most of the working parents find little time to spend with their children and lack interest in cooking also. They are quite comfortable buying junk food for their kids. To stop this rot, parents should develop interest in cooking and take up the responsibility to teach their children as well this important skill.' Damu dismisses gender bias in cooking. He criticises stereotype cooking and is always chasing creativity to attract people. Always open for guidance and assistance, he has trained more than 4,000 students who are placed all over the world.
Chef Damu has also authored 26 books that contain a total of 2,927 recipes. He has travelled to tribal villages in Kalvarayan Hills (Villupuram), Javvadu Hills (Salem) and Kolli Hills (Kallakurichi), to collect information about millets such as varagu, samai and thinai. 'Rich in fibre content, calcium and phosphorus, millets are good for diabetics. People have moved away from traditional food, but will return to it soon,'hopes Damu, now busy writing two books on millet-based food.