Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cooking Solo for 500 - The Story

Hiya fellow bloggers, friends, Couchsurfers, Chennai Food guide members and critics, 

First of all, a big thanks. Thanks for your blogs and good wishes. Thanks for spurring me on. The cooking Solo for 500 really exceeded expectations. 

The event stemmed from an argument with a few professional chefs who claimed One page cookbooks were over simplified and are not practical. I know one page cookbooks work flawlessly on a small scale - I've been cooking with them for years and my friends swear by it. But I was not sure if they would work on a large scale. On impulse, I challenged them that I'll follow the One page cookbook recipes exactly, to cook up something never attempted before - cook solo a 10 course marriage feast for  500 people in under 3 hours. By then I was worked up and also added that there will be dishes from all four South Indian states - Tamilnadu, Andhra, Kerala and 

Karnataka. The bragging felt so good that I got carried away and bet that I'll start from scratch - which means cutting up vegetables, blending chilies, pureeing tomatoes etc. The only help I would take would be to remove the huge cooked pots from the fire. So the challenge was on – start from scratch and cook solo a 10 course marriage feast for 500 people in under three hours. I have cooked for people from over 25 countries and wanted to use this event to dispel the myth that South Indian cuisine was too spicy for foreigners.

My main concern was that I have never cooked for a party larger than 20 and have never handled the huge vessels and other equipment used for large scale cooking. But I was convinced that my simple recipes would work. So the challenge was on.

I then compiled 10 simple recipes , from all four southern states, which are relatively fool proof and can be cooked fast. The next big challenge was to raise the huge amount of money to book a respectable marriage hall, hire equipment, invite people and do the thousand odd things you need to do to assemble 500 people, media and invite friends from across the world.

I badly wanted to do a dry run, but it meant another large outlay of funds and so it never hapened.

So finally, on Jan 17, the show was on. With the media and a crowd of volunteers inspecting the kitchen and verifying that nothing was prepared, I started cooking at 3.15 PM. Handling the heavy 40 Kg vessels and the 6 foot long ladles was much tougher than I thought. It took me over two hours to get comfortable with the equipment. But things started easing up and I got my rhythm back. By then the kitchen was packed with people and media. Finally, after 2 hours, thirty seven minutes and forty seconds, I lifted the last cauldron of Semiya payasam ( vermicelli  milk pudding ) off the fire and wild cheering broke out.  Yes, One page cookbooks work !

A short bragging session,  photo shoot and a couple of interviews later, it was feeding time and I held my breath. Over the next two hours, the stack of 500 plates shrunk and vanished. This was the only way we were keeping track of the number of people. A small pile of around 100 plates was washed and stacked again. After 523 plates, there was still enough food for around 100 people, which was distributed locally.  I was thrilled that people from across the country had traveled huge distances to attend and that people from 10 different countries tasted South Indian marriage cuisine. Feeding so many people gave me such a big rush !. 

Here’s the event in pictures.

BTW, I now am cocky enough to bet that I can repeat this for twice the people in  half the time . I'm convinced that One Page Cookbooks are so simple to follow and are so fail proof , that I'm betting I can teach a novice cook to repeat this, with just a one day training session - any takers ?  

Here's the proposed menu

1. Ash gourd Olan 

2. Majjiga pulusu

3. Jeeragae Tambli

4. Shallot Sambar

5. Pepper Rasam

6. Garlic Kulambu 

7. Cabbage Kootu

8. Potato Podimas

9. Tomato pappu

10. Sago payasam

20 comments:

Sudeshna said...

Hi Ramki,
This is just so wonderful. Hats off to you.

Sudeshna said...

Hi ramki,

For all your great work there is a little present for you, check the awards page on my blog.

Anonymous said...

All the very best for your future endeavours... your cookbooks or pages, should i say, are really interesting, inspiring, and very helpful. Keep going..... - Umaraams

PJ said...

Hi Ramki.What a feat!!!Congrats and best wishes for the future endeavours...

Barani said...

Dear Ramki Sir,

I am amazed on seeing your passion to research on food recipes and commitment towards the challenge. I am really proud that you have done this big task very easily. Hats off to you!

Wish you all the best!

Mukesh said...

Awesome work Ramki ... no amount of cheers or commendation can come close to your amazing feat. I'll check if there are any records and lets try to get his formally registered. Though I know you didnt do this for any records but if we can get it in the books ... whats the harm ?

Cheers
Mukesh
www.humanecstasy.in

Albemuth said...

Hi Ramki,

you really did it!!! There seem to be no limits to your revolutionary "one-page cookbook" way.

And it's all about sharing. Great food, lot's of laughter and interesting talks and connections to people all over the world. Awesome!

Best wishes from cold rainy Germany
Hagen

Anonymous said...

Excellent Ramki . Came to know about this event from Anu's Blog .

I missed the event , but relish the achievement that is put in ur blog

Great work

Laks , Chennai

pedatha.com said...

This is awesome...wish we were there to see the event. Are you now in the Guiness book? You should be! Congrats!

The Narcissist said...

I seriously regret not being able to make it for this. But then you mention that there's going to be a bigger fest in the future. So count me in for that. :)

Wish you all the best and looking forward for the one page cokbooks to change the paradigm of cooking altogether.

Sameer

Nithya Praveen said...

This is the best thing i've ever heard of.Hats of to u Ramki,great Job!

easycrafts said...

Congrats sir...this is truly wonderful

Dharsh said...

hi ramki...
came to knw abt ur site frm magazines...though i hav missd ur site all these days,i am happy i found the one,which i was really in search of...
hats off to u....
gr8 work n ur one-page cookbook rocks..makes cookin easy for beginners like me...
thank u...

Sukanya said...

Hi Ramki....Congrats on winning that challenge. Truly a great achievement.

sunshinemom said...

Just out of curiosity, did you make it to Guiness? If you haven't take up that challenge you have posed and make it. Best wishes:)

Madhuram said...

That's really a ginormous achievement! Congrats and all the very best wishes for future endeavors.

veena.kg said...

Bravo!! Bravo!!
Veena(veenank) from twitter.
Thanks for the detailed description. We wish we were in Madras to eat your feast.

Vijayashankar said...

Wow!

Vikram said...

Hi Ramki

Sounds incredible.
I definitely want to be around the next time you repeat this.

Vikram

Vikram said...

Hi Ramki

Sounds incredible.
I definitely want to be around the next time you repeat this.

Vikram

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Cooking is fun - Duplication is a pain !

"It is extraordinary to me that the idea of creating thousands of recipes by mixing building blocks takes immediately to people or it doesn’t take at all. .... If it doesn’t grab a person right away, ... you can talk to him for years and show him demos, and it doesn’t make any difference. They just don’t seem able to grasp the concept, simple as it is". ( Thanks Warren Buffett !)

"What's angering about instructions in many cookbooks is that they imply there's only one way to cook a dish - their way. And that presumption wipes out all the creativity." Cook dishes your way - Download  1001 South Indian curries now and learn to cook, not to duplicate ! ( Thanks Robert Pirsig !)

"Recipe purity is no different from racial purity or linguistic purity. It just does not exist. Cuisines are alive and change all the time. What is traditional today was esoteric just a few decades back. So being a 'foodist' is as bad as being a racist !

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Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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