A few days ago I spoke with Varghese, the restaurant manager and head of the food and beverage department here at Cardamom County, who prides himself in running a tight ship and making sure that guests are at their happiest. Varghese is another long-time member of the Cardamom County family, originally arriving here eleven years ago, in 2000. Having taken a two-year hospitality course in Ravipuram in Ernakulam (the same district housing Cochi), at a school that has now shifted to become the Fort Munnar Catering College in the misty mountains of nearby Munnar, and training with Taj Group of Hotels, he arrived to fill the role of a restaurant supervisor.
Varghese told me about his Uncle Phillip who was one of the many well-educated people from Kerala who went over to a Gulf country, in this case being Bahrain. We talked about this brain drain, which Varghese mentioned had been going on since as early as the 1970s. The highly educated people and professionals of Kerala go in search of new opportunities, higher living standards, and money to send back home. Varghese also talked about Arabic being a language that is not too difficult to pick up, especially because of the difficulty and speed with which the native tongue of Malayalam is spoken. However, what is interesting to note is the stark contrast of climate between the Gulf countries and Kerala, the former being very dry, arid, and hot with the latter being humid and comfortably cooler especially at higher altitudes near the Western Ghats such as here in Kumily, Idukki. This aside, his Uncle Phillip worked for Ramada in Bahrain and it was he who first recommended and inspired Varghese toward a career in the hospitality industry.
We briefly talked about the rapidly growing population of India and Kerala’s government initiatives beginning around fifteen years to recommend less growth and greater stability of population. This explains the current average of two children per family, as compared to previous Malayali generations where three or four were more common. This is supported by an Indian Census which states that the percentage decadal growth rate of Kerala’s population during 2001-2011 was 4.86, compared to 17.64 for India as a whole. This is also logically interpreted as an expected phenomenon because of the number of women who have entered the workforce due to weaker lucrative opportunities of the agricultural sector in India compared to the service sector, which the highly educated Malayali women take full advantage of. In many previous generations women’s primary jobs was at home, keeping track of the household, raising a higher number of children, and supporting her husband’s career.
When I asked about how he ran such an excellently supervised and well-maintained operation, Varghese replied with the simple and confident answer of “years of experience”. We also discussed the concept behind the All-Spice Restaurant and Varghese told me that he and Chef Pradeep have worked together over many years to construct a fusion of cuisines, combining and accentuating the flavours of Kerala in conjunction with the rest of Northern and Southern India cuisine. For example, the Gavi Korhi Roast is a very popular item that combines the Northern Indian recipe for butter chicken with a variety of masalas from Kerala to create a mouth-watering thickened gravy with chicken that is topped with a boiled egg. Additionally Varghese mentioned a standard roast beef being given new life through an infusion of the Keralan coconut (after all Kerala translated does literally mean “Land of the Coconuts”).
Varghese’s primary focus is addressing guest concerns and menu preferences from the dietary requirements of Christians, Hindus, Jains, Muslims, vegetarians, and non-vegetarians. What Varghese wishes to instill in his staff is a sense of hard work and loyalty that he explained he could tell by how often an employee looked at his watch to see how much longer he or she would be on duty. To Varghese, the service of his guests transcends being a simple job to complete but instead encompasses something much larger that requires full and constant attention to detail, individual care, and giving your best effort from your heart.
In terms of eco-friendly initiatives Varghese makes sure that all materials used in the restaurant are organic materials including a large quantity of wood, natural fibres, clay heaters and receptacles, and most importantly not allowing synthetic or plastic materials to plague the dining experience. Additionally, paper napkins are provided as minimally as possible, opting instead for cloth napkins to ensure that there is as little wastage of resources as possible. All water is thoroughly filtered and in the case of the specialty of jeera (cumin) water, a beverage that promotes good digestion, it is also boiled to provide maximum safety and comfort to guests. Varghese explained that he is happy knowing that he is a member of Cardamom County because of its persistent efforts to set a new standard for sustainable operations and respecting the environment of the area and the Periyar Tiger Reserve that it relies upon so closely.