Popular wedding caterer ‘Arusuvai Arasu’ Natarajan passed away on Monday in Chennai at the age of 92. His career spanned over six decades and the chef served up lakhs of meals at thousands of weddings, building a catering empire under the Arusuvai brand.
Natarajan Iyer became a much sought-after caterer for his delectable ‘kalyana elai saapadu’, the traditional banana leaf platter served at Tamil weddings. Natarajan began his cooking career as early as the age of seven, helping his grandfather at the Sankara Mutt in Kumbakonam.
Speaking to The Hindu in 2016, he revealed that he worked as a server at Modern Hotel, Trichy, and later with Ambi Iyer Hotel and Adikudi Hotel.
He moved to Madras in 1952 and worked at the MIT Hostel, Chromepet, before Jayaram Iyer brought him over to Geetha Café, Pondy Bazaar.
In 1956, he was offered his first opportunity to cater a wedding by MN Sambamoorthy Iyer.
Natarajan Iyer was given the famous moniker 'Arusuvai Arasu' or ‘king of the six tastes’ by former President VV Giri. The name 'arusuvai' comes from the traditional belief that a full course of a meal ought to contain six distinct tastes - sweet, salt, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent.
In addition to catering at over 75,000 weddings during his lifetime, he has also catered for former Presidents like Dr R Venkataraman and Dr APJ Abdul Kalam.
Natarajan remained active well into his 90s, occasionally visiting wedding halls to supervise the operations of the empire that he had built over the decades.
Arusuvai Arasu Caterers is now run by his children and grandchildren. His eight children, daughters-in-law and grandchildren handle various aspects of the business. In 2017, Narayanan, his grandson, launched the Arusuvai Arasu Fresh Foods range. In addition to their trademark south Indian delicacies, their menu has also adopted North Indian, Mexican and Italian dishes.