Ramu Butler, the corporate chef, as well as the F&B Manager of the Ramada Cochin, who recently won the Smart Chef National award, talks about his experiences
By Shevlin Sebastian
Photos by Ratheesh Sundaram
A few years ago, at the New York Hilton Grand, 300 guests were present at the pre-Oscar bash for the Hollywood fraternity. There were a constellations of stars, including Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep and Pamela Anderson.
In the kitchen, Ramu Butler, along with a team of chefs, were working in a frenzy to make the dishes for the seven-course meal. For Ramu it was a moment of high tension. His immediate boss, a Swede, by the name of Franklin Gilles, was unwell. So Ramu, as second in command, had to take responsibility. And he oversaw the making of several dishes, including the classic Escargot Bourguignonne. “It consists of snails,” he says. “We use butter, garlic, shallots, parsley, and cognac.”
The end result: the organisers thanked the cooking staff profusely. The chefs came from countries like Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Switzerland, Germany, Sri Lanka, and the USA. “I was the only Indian,” says Ramu. “It was a make-or-break day for me. But it turned out well.”
At the Hilton, Ramu learnt European, Asian, American, and Latin American cuisines. “I also spent time at the Hilton in Mexico, so I was able to learn their cuisine,” he says. Things were moving smoothly for the Ooty-born Ramu, who is of Portuguese descent. But, owing to personal reasons, he had to relocate to India.
Today, Ramu is the corporate chef as well as the F&B Manager of the five-star deluxe Ramada Cochin Resort. And he is doing well. At the World Chefs Biennial Conference in Chennai in March, organised by the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations and the World Association of Chefs Society, Ramu won the Smart Chef National award, as well as one for Culinary Excellence.
“These awards were given for one's contribution to the hotel industry,” says Ramu. “I help the younger generation by holding classes and doing cookery shows on TV. I also go to disadvantaged schools and orphanages and teach children the joys of cooking.” Incidentally, Ramu has won the Smart Chef award for the second time in a row.
In his classes, Ramu stresses on the importance of presentation. “Food is not just about taste,” he says. “The first thing people do is to see the food. When they go close, the aroma hits them. When both are positive your senses start reacting. But the taste should be as good. Only then will guests enjoy the food.”
In Kerala, the trend is towards traditional food mixed with fusion. “So, for a chicken tikka, I will use the ingredients of a fish curry, and wrap it in a banana leaf,” he says. “I can also make an onion payasam. People get shocked when I tell them this. The method is a secret, but the payasam tastes as sweet as ever.”
Sometimes, he indulges in the latest international trend: sous vide cooking. It is a French method in which food is put in airtight plastic bags. Then it is placed in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment, and cooked longer than normal. “The advantage is that the inside is properly cooked, without the outside being overcooked,” says Ramu.
He also does slow cooking. “Slow Food is organic food,” says Ramu. “It is fresh, healthy, free of pesticides and chemicals, and produced and accessed in a way that is beneficial to all – from the farmer to the eater.” To demonstrate his allegiance, Ramu is a member of Slow Cooking, USA.
When asked for tips to be a good chef, Ramu says, “You have to be passionate about the job. In other words, you have to give your soul to every dish.”
(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)