Pazhayidom Mohanan Namboothiri has been culinary wizard at the Kerala School Kaloltsavam for 12 years now.

Real life Nalan Kerala chef whips up meals for 15000 guests at Kalolsavam
news Kerala School Art Festival Tuesday, January 17, 2017 - 09:59

With the 57th State School Kalolsavam kicking off to a colourful start in Kannur on Monday, Pazhayidom Mohanan Namboothiri is back with his culinary delights to feed a whopping 12,000 participants.

“This is my 12th successive Kalolsavam,” Namboothiri grins, while speaking to The News Minute. As he and his team of 100-odd members gear up to cater to around 15,000 hungry stomachs including the organizers, media and the rest, the next nine days are guaranteed to churn out one big meal after the other.

Smiling affably, he tells you in a conspiratorial whisper: “Do you know that when the Kalolsavam is held in the southern districts of Kerala, I can afford to have 10-20 less people in my team? That’s because if let’s say, Kollam or Thiruvananthapuram are the hosts, and they tell you to prepare for 10,000, hardly 2000-5000 actually come. But shift the venue to North Kerala, and you believe 10,000 will turn up, next thing you have is juggle for around 20,000!”

Namboothiri cannot hide his glee at the prospects of cooking for such a huge palate in toto. “It is actually a thinking man’s game….a sort of Kuttuni’s Circus (referring to the colloquial version of ‘jugaad’ where you need to make decisions on the spot, and work with whatever is available)!” he chuckles.

The Master Chef prepares the daily menu depending on whatever is available at that point of time. “We need to ensure that apart from rice, there are eight side-dishes for lunch. We do our best to vary these eight with a mix ‘n match combination.

As the festival will wind up only after a week, it is not at all practical to store up vegetables for the entire duration. These would naturally begin to rot. Three days are the maximum we can stock. When it comes to rice, we have asked for around 24 tonnes i.e. around 24,000 kilos in total,” he informs.

According to Namboothiri, procurement and supply are matters best left to the organizers, as he prefers to stay solely focused on his field of specialization, namely cooking and serving.

And with the festival kitchen being declared a ‘Green Zone’ area, food is being served on plantain leaves, while water is offered in steel glasses. What sets this year’s festival apart is also the fact that the schools in Kannur have contributed their ‘produce’ to ensure an organic meal for one and all.

Ask him whether he prefers to supervise or actually cook, Namboothiri flashes yet another charming smile: “I believe in being a very hands-on person. I am right there beside my team, working as long as they do. You cannot ask others to work, if you are unwilling to do so yourself. They need to see you work, for them to give their best. So, you will find me all over the kitchen.”

Any particular dish he specializes in?

“I guess it has to be the paayasam (traditional Kerala sweet-dish). I simply love to experiment with the various available ingredients. And if one is innovative enough, you can be sure to whip up something everyone would love to taste at the end of the meal.”

So, will the children follow in his footsteps? 

The cooking maestro ponders for a moment. “Despite being a post-graduate, I failed to pick up any job, even after writing countless tests. And as you know, being a Brahmin, the traditional jobs on offer are either priestly or culinary.

Life pushed me into this. I really had no choice in the matter, as I was willing to do anything to make both ends meet. But I am the only one in the family in this profession. My wife is a home-maker. My son runs a business of his own, while my daughter is married. As of now, I am the only one to take this forward. But then I am happy to follow, wherever life leads me,” the 61-year old grins wistfully.

Show us some love! Support our journalism by becoming a TNM Member - Click here.