MBAs, you can learn from Mani Mama, the master chef

Source: The Hindu, India

In Indian marriages, a common factor which determines the performance rating is food, its varieties and taste. With my experience of having attended more than 800 marriages, I always wonder how caterers manage to make hundreds of guests happy. My curiosity made me venture on a project to study the challenges involved in the management of mega marriages where thousands are fed high quality food.

My professional guru, a veteran from Thanjavur, always emphasised that management is nothing but a lot of common sense, the ability to anticipate crises and be ready with an action plan and solutions. He defined some other qualities needed to be a good manager — the ability to tolerate nonsense, a good listening power and receptiveness to a lot of free advice coming from fellow employees and unconcerned people too. His best example of exemplary management skill is “Mani Mama, the chief cook of Tamil marriage,” who demonstrates all aspects of management functions and copes with challenges, both expected and unexpected. He is expected to provide a variety of high quality food — fresh, tasty and in the right quantity — for three days at a stretch with no scope for rehearsal, stock return or chance to change the item served on the banana leaf.

On analysis, I found out how difficult it is to cook 28 varieties of tasty items in a span of five hours and the challenge is always to work on guessestimates, that too handling perishable items and managing team members trained in a variety of cooking skills. I decided to observe a reputed chef, who had more than 25 years of experience in cooking for marriages and catering in Chennai. He reluctantly agreed on condition that I would not ask any question; nor would I talk to any of his team-members. I should always remain in the kitchen, keep taking notes and my questions would be answered after the third day. But as time slipped by and I became absorbed, he started telling me his management secrets at every stage.

Mani Mama gave me the list of pre-decided menu for three days, consisting of nine sessions of eating spree with a fluctuating number of guests. The total number of items was around 145 made with 85 ingredients, including 25 varieties of vegetables and fruits. There is risk involved in handling milk (with no storage technology) and hot oils and sensitive cooking processes — you cannot afford over-frying or uneven cooking. Read more…

 

Glossary:

IIM Indian Institute of Management
Mama Uncle in Tamil, a language spoken by 80 million Indians
Mysore Pak a sweet made with chickpea flour, ghee and sugar
Sambar lentil sauce cooked in tamarind
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