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Food and Education

Timing is everything while cooking

ramesh-mysore

The steam heated cauldrons in Akshaya Patra’s Mysore kitchen are capable of preparing 100 kgs of plain rice within 15 to 20 minutes. This poses a special challenge when making some of the more complex rice dishes, such as tomato bath or vegetable bath, which are children’s favorites. Timing is everything when cooking on such a large scale.

M. P. Ramesh, who has worked with the Akshaya Patra’s kitchen in Mysore for nearly 5 years, is responsible for ensuring that the texture and flavor of food prepared is at its best. He knows exactly how long the rice should be cooked, when the spices need to go in and how much water needs to be added to give it the right taste and consistency. From 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. when cooking in the kitchen takes place, Ramesh carefully oversees every item that goes into the cauldrons.

“We have to put the right ingredients in at the right time. Careful adjustments need to be made to the heat and amount of water poured into a cauldron; otherwise the texture of cooked rice is affected. Children are always particular about these things, and if you don’t get it right, they won’t find it tasty,” explains Ramesh.

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Food and Education

Inside the Hubli Akshaya Patra Kitchen

inside-hubli-kitchen

He heard two people speaking of Akshaya Patra at a bus stop one day, says Gopal Londe and grew curious about the Foundation. “They were talking about how there was good work here and the compensation was excellent. When I came to Hubli, I decided to find out more. I didn’t know this then, but it turned out one of my cousins was working here too. And that’s how I came to do my job,” he says. In the four years since he first started, says Gopal, he has worked on all three floors of Hubli’s massive infrastructure, often hailed as one of the largest kitchens in the world. Currently, he and his co-workers are responsible for rice cleaning on the 2nd floor.

Akshaya Patra’s third generation of kitchens, like the Hubli facility, harness the potential energy in gravity for the benefit of the cooking process in what has been termed ‘gravity flow mechanism’. Dal and rice stored in silos on the 3rd floor flows down through chutes to the 2nd floor to be cleaned before cooking. By the time their day is over, Gopal and his co-workers will have cleaned approximately 15 to 16 tonnes of rice, 3 to 3.5 tonnes of dal and 9 to 10 tonnes of vegetables. Masala preparation and vegetable cutting also takes place on this floor. From here, they must be sent to the 1st floor where the actual cooking takes place in steam heated cauldrons. Here too, the potential energy in gravity is harnessed.

When Gopal lifts a steel lid approximately 20 inches in diameter, he reveals how tonnes of rice, dal and vegetables find their way to the cauldrons below. The floor of the 2nd storey is lined with two neat rows of such lids. Each one covers a chute that leads directly to the cauldrons. One row is reserved specifically for the rice cauldrons the other set for the dal, vegetables and masala used to make sambar. An open passage connects the two floors, allowing staff to communicate and coordinate their efforts. As the cooking in each cauldron is completed, a signal from the 1st floor, given either verbally or through a walkie-talkie, alerts Gopal and his team upstairs to pour rice, dal or any other required ingredients down the chutes to corresponding cauldrons.

On the 1st floor, as each cauldron of rice has finished cooking, a team will be ready with trolleys into which the steaming rice is emptied. Then they take the rice to the large open chute that connects the 2nd floor to the ground floor. Each sambar cauldron has a connecting pipe flowing into a main duct that also leads to the ground floor.

A team of members, ready with the requirements for each school, carefully pack food into steel containers to meet the corresponding route supervisor’s request. Conveyor belts running the length of the packing area lead to the waiting food vans outside.

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