Five chefs and a service professional, who all used to work in star hotels and restaurants prior to the lockdown, started a restaurant in Kollam.

Kerala chefs who set up a restaurant after losing jobs owing to lockdown
Coronavirus Startup Thursday, September 24, 2020 - 20:06

Arun whips up a chicken cheese salad, which he serves with delight. Sandeep is quick to make a date paste with garlic essence that one would swallow like a small piece of sweet halwa. The four others stand near them, visibly cheerful about their venture.

All in their 20s, the six-member team is on the path to revival after losing their jobs individually. They all worked as chefs in various star hotels and restaurants and lost their jobs during lockdown. They came together and began a restaurant named ‘Donal Duck’, at Thoppilkadavu in Kollam city with duck cuisines as the specialty.

Claimed to be the only one with duck dishes as the main attraction in the state and perhaps even in south India, the restaurant means survival for them.

The restaurant has been conceptualised as a profit sharing venture with an investment of Rs 20 lakh, of which half is a bank loan while the rest has been borrowed.  

“We all sit at home idle for six to seven months. I had nothing to think much when the idea came,” Sandeep says. The 23-year-old Palakkad native was a chef at a five star hotel in Kollam for two years. His specialisation is south Indian dishes.

“For us, it’s a return to what we used to do and I had no concerns as I knew the others earlier,” 24-year old Justine says. He is a chef with specialisation in north Indian cuisine and tandoori. Belonging to Pala in Kottayam, he was also chef at the same five star hotel in Kollam. 

Duck biryani, duck roast, duck mappas, grilled duck, duck tandoor (as opposed to the popular chicken tandoori) are the main attractions. Donal Duck has chicken dishes too. Apart from ducks, the chefs focus on fish varieties for they believe that even in Kollam, there are hardly any that solely attract a food connoisseur to eat out from a particular restaurant. The availability of fish in Kollam is one the highest in the state where fish curry or fish fry is part of daily meals for the majority.  

The fish varieties include Ashtamudi, named after the regions surrounding a lake by the same name. “The fish is bought directly from the fishermen. The one used is that with less bones, thick meat. If there is no such fish available, we won’t cook fish dishes that day,” says Arun. And of course they serve parotta and beef as no non-vegetarian eatery is complete without the combo in the state.  

Arun used to work in the five star hotel in Kollam and in a US ship after that. “I was at home when the lockdown declared and couldn’t return after that. My savings got over being jobless for over six months. Now I am confident that I can start everything all again,” Arun says. The 29-year old hails from Angamaly in Thrissur.

The team is also looking for assistance from the Kerala Financial Corporation to repay the debt and to sustain the business.

“We are confident of getting the assistance,” says Titus S Kumar, a journalist who conceived and coordinated the business. “The lockdown impact on the tourism industry is the worst. The six chefs are my friends whom I befriended while traveling in search of variety food,” he says.

23-year-old Amit nods as Titus talks about how it all began.

“It had been a huge mental struggle living at home without being an earning member. The expenses were much and slowly, it began affecting mentally too. Now we all are relieved and hopeful” he says. He used to work in an outlet inside the Bengaluru International Airport. A Palakkad native, he is a specialist in continental cuisine.

Kiran, also a native of Palakkad, had been going through the same struggle as Amit after he lost his job as chef at a star hotel in Fort Kochi. Kiran is also a continental specialist. 

21-year-old Ajith Mohan of Kottarakkara in Kollam used to work in the service wing of star hotels both in Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. He looks after the service part of the restaurant. 

Also Read: 6 Kerala chefs who lost jobs during lockdown set up their own restaurant


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