When the Taj group stole cooks from Amaravathi

Vir Sanghvi in the Hindustan Times:

It was in Bangalore – and not, sadly enough, in Hyderabad -– that I first encountered fiery-hot, non-vegetarian Andhra food at such restaurants as Amaravathi and RR. I had my first Chicken 65 – a dish unknown north of the Vindhyas in that era – in Bangalore, the city where it was invented. And the South Indian vegetarian food at small restaurants and some larger establishments (Hotel Chalukya, for instance) was a revelation.

I wondered if any of the dishes I encountered in Bangalore would ever make it on to the menus of more up-market restaurants or whether they would make it to Bombay at all. Clearly I was not the only one to have had the same idea because in early 1984 when the Taj group opened the Taj Residency (now called Vivanta), Camellia Panjabi put many of the dishes I came to Bangalore for on to the menu of Southern Comfort, the hotel’s coffee shop.

It was, as far as I know, the first five-star-hotel restaurant to serve appams; the first to serve Andhra dishes, including a biryani and the first to give Chicken 65 the recognition it deserved. Southern Comfort did some Goan food too, which was fair enough, because the Taj had a strong Goan presence. But as for the rest, it came from cooks stolen from the best local joints, lured to the Taj with fancy five-star salaries.

Eventually, the owners of such restaurants as Amaravathi began to warn P.K. Mohankumar, the Residency’s food and beverage manager, of dire consequences if he stole any more cooks. But by then, it did not matter. The Taj had begun to understand South Indian food itself and its own chefs were mastering Mangalorean dishes and promoting such previously unfashionable fish as Kane.”

Read the full article: Bangalore diary