Yesterday I met and spoke with another longstanding member of the Cardamom Country crew, Executive Chef, Mr. Pradeep. Having been affiliated with this resort since its inauguration in November, 1999 (in fact starting two months prior to that for training), he serves as a kind of memory box for Cardamom County, not least about its cuisine. But his family heritage is intertwined with this location in a fascinating way too.
Chef Pradeep explained that his family hails originally from the state of Maharashtra. His maternal grandfather came down to help construct the Mullaperiyar Dam 120 years ago, mentioned in greater detail in Michael’s post Damn Dams and Macaques. Thus, Chef Pradeep was born in Thekkady very close to where Cardamom County was eventually built, although he spent most of his life up until college in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. He moved back to Thekkady after he married his wife and decided to settle down at his place of birth. His wife had a government job, which is held in especially high regard here in Kerala, namely for its stability and the pension received later in life.
Originally specializing primarily in South Indian cuisine, Chef Pradeep later branched out to North Indian and Chinese cuisine. It was his wife’s grandmother, Yamuna Bhai, who was an excellent cook and teacher that especially inspired Chef Pradeep to commit to a motto of “progress through experimentation”. It was this motto that encouraged him to tirelessly update his recipes and take in new perspectives by reading many different recipes and watch master chefs different preparations of dishes in South and North Indian cuisine.
When I asked about what Chef Pradeep’s favourite ingredients and spices were to cook with, he immediately listed coconut, a staple in a great majority of Keralan cooking, being used in various fish, prawn, and chicken curries to the traditional Keralan dessert of payasam. He also listed his favourite spices as firstly the refreshing and flavourful homegrown pepper for its fantastic versatility and also cardamom, cinnamon sticks, and chili. Additionally, Chef Pradeep mentioned the Dosa Festival in Thekkady in which six of the resorts in the area participated in the creation of 40 varieties of dosa (a fermented crepe made from rice and black lentils and a staple of South Indian cuisine), ranging from a chili chicken dosa to a salad roast dosa.
When we discussed the main issues within the food and beverage department of the hospitality industry, Chef Pradeep talked about his first concern being smelling and taste testing all dishes to retain a high level of quality control and ensuring standards were always met. Staff departures (though turnover at Cardamom County is very low by global standards, inevitably younger staff members get married and some of them move on) and menu planning also posed challenges, with menu planning for groups of course being the more exciting challenge.
Chef Pradeep described his first priority as his wife and three kids, but also described that his “life was here at Cardamom County”. The consensus of the warm and familial atmosphere at Cardamom County was once again confirmed by his description of his team in the kitchen as friendly, open, caring and at the same time dedicated to achieving culinary perfection. Chef Pradeep said that his main goal now is to pass on what he has learned over the years to his pupils and fellow kitchen staff to encourage them to pursue greater heights in the culinary world.