Sunday, October 28, 2012

Six tastes

If a man has been called "அறுசுவை அரசு" (Arusuvai Arasu, meaning the "King of Six Tastes") by the President of India, there has to be something to his cooking. Nataraj Iyer has been at it for over half a century - and recognition from the President had come quite early in that career. It was V.V. Giri who bestowed that title on him sometime in the early '70s. Almost twenty years later, Nataraj Iyer, by then popularly known as 'Arusuvai Natarajan', was named as one of the official caterers to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, when R. Venkataraman was the President of India, between 1987 and 1992. 

But you don't have to be the President to taste Arusuvai Natarajan's cooking. All you need to do is to get invited to a wedding that he has contracted to cater for. Being friends with a family that has had Nataraj Iyer cater for all their weddings has ensured I get my share once every few years - and the latest occasion was yesterday. On earlier occasions, I had not got to see the man, but yesterday was special for him as well - he said it was the third generation wedding of the family that he was catering for and he had wanted to be there in person.

The entire ArusuvaiArasu team was present. The food was outstanding. Nataraj Iyer was there, supervising the preparation and the service. He made sure he was leading the service when the groom sat down for breakfast. Not only was he there in the dining area, he was all over the mandapam, making sure that things were going on in clockwork fashion, on occasion even checking on the priest's way of performing a ritual. Of course, nobody - priest or not - was going to argue protocol or process with an eighty-nine year old who has handled over ten thousand such weddings!

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