Thursday, January 15, 2015
Today marks the 47th anniversary of the passing away of one of Chennai's culinary 'Gods'. He has been away from this city for longer than he was here, but in the couple of decades that he ran his business in Madras, he established a presence - and a reputation - that has transcended generations and international borders. That 'God' was Kuthethur Seetharama Rao, who began his foray into the food business by setting up Modern Café at Mysore. The success of his first venture emboldened him to strike out to Madras, and the second Modern Café was set up on the Esplanade. Business there was good as well, no doubt helped by the masala dosa that Seetharama Rao has been credited with popularising.
He believed that it was possible to strike a balance between the choultry that the ordinary Indian traveller was expected to put up with and the plush western hotels favoured by the not-so-ordinary folk. From that belief was born Hotel Dasaprakash, which was an iconic landmark of the city. In 1940, Seetharama Rao built a house for himself just a little way away from the hotel, naming it Dasaprasad. Seetharama Rao extended his culinary empire across Mysore, Madras and Ooty. His descendants have taken the brand overseas: the first Dasaprakash in the USA opened at Cerritos, Los Angeles in 1989. The overseas presence is all that remains - Modern Café and Dasaprakash are no more here in India. The Chennai hotel has made way for a residential complex and the hotel in Ooty is now Villa Park.
That house continues to be the seat of Seetharama Rao's family. The building is still Art Deco and the gateposts continue to proclaim this as the residence of the proprietor of Modern Café. The only thing I am wondering about is the spelling of his name: maybe it was too long to fit on the sign, so it has been modified to read "K. Sitarama Rao"!