Chef Arun On His Endeavors To Create Something New And Unique
Image Credit: Chef Arun Sundararaj, Director of Culinary Operations - Taj Mahal, New Delhi

Chef Arun Sundararaj who heads Director of Culinary Operations - Taj Mahal, New Delhi, grew up in the city of Mumbai was fortunate enough to travel across shores which exposed him to different cuisines and ingredients.  Those travels were the base for this formative years that proved to be the building blocks of his successful journey in the culinary world. He began as a Trainee Chef at the iconic Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai where he acquired basic kitchen skills and learnt about the various cuisines offered by the Taj group. During his tenure at The Taj Mahal Palace, Chef Arun also got the opportunity to work in London, Paris and Switzerland representing the Hotel and introducing Indian cuisine at various events.  He also sees the launch of various Taj restaurants under this fine leadership and skill. Taj Falaknuma, that boasts of the longest dining table in Asia which seats 101 guest at one time and has been featured on the elite traveler top 100 restaurants in the world as the only entry from India under Chef Arun’s leadership. He has served many dignitaries and international travel and food writers at the Palace. Chef has also spearheaded several dining experiences for several names. At Taj Mahal, New Delhi, he has initiated several innovations at the Hotel including the introduction of the Lost Recipes of the Royals at Varq; launch of new culinary experiences including the Biryani Making Session and Luxury Ayurveda Dinner tailored to suit each guest’s dosha and Regional Cuisine Celebration at Machan. Under his leadership, the hotel also recently launched the new avatar of Machan in October 2020, new culinary concepts at the reimagined The Chambers and at Emperor Lounge - the city’s favourite living room.

From a traineee chef with Taj to Director of Culinary Operations today, how has been the journey been?

The journey has been a journey of learning and with each step you learn and they you realise there is so much more to learn. It sometimes feels that i just joined the hotel, and this great brand, a few years back as the job keep me busy and fully motivated. The initial days spent at IHCL’s flagship Hotel – Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai were days of learning, we worked hard and partied harder. As i worked my way through the system i was given many opportunities to prove myself and lead many operations which has enriched me in experience and am ever grateful for the same. The day one becomes a chef its a different feeling as we would be given scarfs which meant a sign of respect and it also meant that we get more responsibility. Leading teams to deliver great food and experiences has been the next step and finally when i became an executive chef there was this moment of being surreal but that when you realise everything is now on your head so a lot of work and a lot of responsibility. THe journey to Director Culinary operations at the iconic Taj Mahal, New Delhi is where i lead both teams service and food production so am still learning and its a lot of fun still. 

Having led various Taj restaurants across the country, which city appealed you the most in terms of food?

I think each city i have worked in has a special place in my heart and it shows in my work. Mumbai has been a food city for so many years, Goa another destination where everything is about the food the beverage and the ambiance. Taj Exotica, Goa is a truly beautiful resort and curating culinary concepts there was a great experience. Hyderabad is another foodie city the culture of eating out and the influence of the Nizam of Hyderabad plays a big role. At Taj Falaknuma Palace, the journey was so enriching and innovative, special it its own way. Delhi is ever evolving in the food space. To choose one would be partial as i loved the food of each city. Each city i worked in i have learnt the cuisine and the culture the local food and ingredients and have added it to my repertoire of skills that i have. Taj Mahal, New Delhi or Taj Mansingh as our patrons refer to the hotel has, is a home or destination of nostalgia, legacy and milestones. My learning here has been immense and interactions with our guests has led to many innovations and new concepts – it’s a balance of the classic and contemporary.

What does it takes to keep the spirit of Tajness alive in each plate that is served?

The spirit of Tajness is about creating that experience for a guest which will create a fond memory. One of the key ingredients to create a great experience is understanding the guests needs, if we match that need the spirit of Tajness is kept alive, so the order taking process is key. We may have created the best dish but that may not be what the guest wants to eat . Once we get that the rest then is about the curation of the dish.  The spirit of Tajness comes from first passion to curate a great dish then ensuring that the training process is strong and the associates are well trained. One of the key factors is that the person making the dish should at least once sit and eat the dish so he can understand the finer aspects of the food on the plate. The textures the changes in the dish if it is served cold or if it is held on the food counter for more than needed. 

These are some of the factors that keep the spirit of Tajness alive. And, this has also been our endeavor during the culinary transformation phase that Taj Mahal, New Delhi is undergoing – new avatar of the much-loved Machan, the stylish Emperor Lounge and reimaging the grand legacy at The Chambers; and the upcoming renovated House of Ming.

What do you think about when a diner comes back to the restaurant for part form food?

The food, the people, the ambience, the innovation and creativity…the flare of a culinary maestro or the efficient & warm service by the staff Aspects such as the address and location too play a large role. The various promotions that a restaurant holds and selection of culinary experiences it offers, also makes the guest return to that dining destination. I believe that quality of ingredients is primary to creating experiences that are meaningful and making guests aware of health, quality and seasonality is also part of our job. Customization and personalization are important aspects of guest service & the overall experience.

What has been the worst food trend of 2021?

I don't think there is a worst food trend. If the guest likes the food and it’s not harming anyone then its ok. Trends are created as someone like the food so there can never be a worst dish or food trend.

What trick and brainstorming goes when it comes to designing a new flavour or a menu?

I think that the beauty of a new flavour is when one decides to do something different, change is constant so one must widen their horizons, learns more, research more try different things. Eat and taste, work hard try try till you get it correct. 

Having served many dignitaries, who was your favorite and why and what did you cook for him/her?

I think every guest is a dignitary, I love cooking and making our guests happy. A happy guest is my favourite, a guest who is upset and if we can get him to be happy again because of the food and experience would be my favourite. My team and I have catered to various Heads of State – both on our land and overseas. We are privileged to welcome achievers and guests from various genres and it is always both engaging and fun to be of culinary service to them.

What is that one food memory that really makes you nostalgic?

Rice dal and fried fish, perfect combination as it has always been my go to food  brings back fond memories of my mum and my family.