Chef Rakesh Raghunathan specialises in South Indian cuisine. He believes  food is a tasty icebreaker that helps people connect and engage with each other

For Chef Rakesh Raghunathan, working towards reviving the traditional methods of cooking and delving deep into our cultural fabric to retrieve culinary gems is only part of his calling in life. Dipping into the centuries-old customs that surround the making of prasadams at both little-known and famous temples fall into RR’s ambit. As does his fascination for tamarind rice. A rich, flavourful amalgam transpires and emerges to woo us in his telly show Dakshin Diaries on Living Foodz.

Rooted in traditions “Born and raised in South India, I always felt that the region has never been nurtured and represented, both in India as well as globally,” says Rakesh with a smile. “Like any other cuisine, there are intricacies aplenty involve in cooking South Indian meals. Often, regional cuisines have a lot of nuances behind the choice of ingredients as recipes were usually put together based upon the seasonal availability of vegetables or fruits, and their nutritional value. In the absence of a written recipe, it was passed down to us through the generations by our elders. Hence, South Indian cuisines are very special to me,” he shares as he has travelled across the region, pulling a leaf out of the local kitchens to enrich his own repertorie of recipes and treating us to wholesome preparations both on and off the television.

Prod him about his favourite ingredient and he responds instantly, “Sambar powder! It is a mixture of different spices, and each state in South India has its own version based on the locally available ingredients, spices, or even the communities staying in that region,” explains Rakesh passionately, his knowledge of the intrinsic understanding of the permutation and combination of southern spices in full glow.

“If you look at rasam, there are 75-80 different variations. Every region has its own recipe or technique of making sambar, pickles, masalas… and that is what I find absolutely fascinating.

For Dakshin Diaries, we shot in about nine places in Tamil Nadu, including Trichy, Madurai, Chennai, Kanchipuram. We also shot in Kerala and Karnataka. The entire journey of Dakshin Diaries has been very memorable for me but if I can call out one unforgettable experience then that it would be talking to the chakli-makers in Manapparai,” confesses Rakesh with humility.

Shilpi Madan for Deccan Herald

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