Teetotaler Chef Ananda Solomon gets high only on coffee; several cups of traditional filter coffee a day that the Mangalorean chef has grown up sipping. One wonders how strong this coffee is, for even at 61, after the usual retirement age, Solomon decided to take upon him the herculean task of setting up and running a restaurant, Thai Naam by Ananda in Andheri, Mumbai, which opened in February this year.
Solomon, known by many oldtime food writers and journalists as
a hands-on, no-nonsense leader, has always wanted to start something of his own. A dream he cherished even while working for the Taj Group of Hotels from 1993 to 2016. Hence, even when the opportunity came after he turned 60, he grabbed it. “I always wanted to open something of my own,” says Solomon, admitting that it’s not always easy and sometimes even stressful. “It sure has its risks and challenges but if you are passionate about cooking and have a good team and great well-wishers, its fun,” says Solomon. He clocks in long hours every day, fixing all the loose ends in the restaurants and also cooking. “I push myself a little harder every day and set myself bigger targets,” he says.
An old-school entrepreneur
Solomon’s excitement and enthusiasm are almost childlike. While his guests enjoy their meal, he refuses to sit down while talking to them. “Old-school training,” he says and smiles. Unlike most head chefs, he takes his guests on a tour of the 96-seater restaurant, its open kitchen area and backoffice himself.
From the wooden floor to the warm yellow lights, diffused by cane lamps, hanging from the ceiling, the carved wooden partitions, comfortable chairs and tables, the minimal, artistic bar, Thai Benjarong jars at the entrance and the textures on the wall, everything at Thai Naam, inspired from Thai temples and palaces, come together beautifully like in an art show of a well-curated museum. “The design should complement the food and that’s how I have designed this restaurant,” says Solomon.
“I always wanted to open something of my own. It sure has its risks and challenges but if you are passionate about cooking and have a great team and well-wishers, it’s fun”
Designed to perfection
One doesn’t expect anything less from Solomon who served top dignitaries from around the world in his tenure with the Taj Group of Hotels, from 1993 to 2016. And to the disappointment of many, retired prematurely at 58 as the corporate chef of Taj’s business hotels division. “I had severe back issues then. Also, the idea was to quit on a high note when I was at the peak of my career,” says Solomon. While working for the Taj group, Solomon worked closely on the launch and relaunch of several restaurants – Azure and Graze (Bengaluru), Dera (Chandigarh), Verandah, Hip Asia and Raintree (Chennai) — but is best known for three Mumbai restaurants, Trattoria, Konkan Café and Thai Pavilion.
Thai Pavilion was among the first Thai restaurants in the country. Before launching it in Mumbai, Solomon spent close to two-and-half years in Thailand working in a five-star hotel and cooking on the streets there to understand Thai food, its herbs, its essence and its culture. “Herbs are very important in Thai cuisine and I learnt how to choose right, grind them and store them from the women chefs there. I owe a lot to them,” says Solomon.