The entire world is busy wishing former Indian cricket team captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni after he announced his retirement, in a surprise move, from the international cricket. Meanwhile, Suresh Pillai, the Raviz group corporate chef shares his memories of cooking for captain 'cool' when the Indian team visited Kerala to play international cricket in 2018.
In his Instagram message, chef Pillai thanks Dhoni and calls him the strongest, boldest and the coolest captain that Indian cricket has ever seen. “As you take off your blue jersey to begin a new innings in life, I can’t help but recall some amazing memories that you had gifted me a few years ago,” wrote chef Pillai.
Suresh Pillai had the rare opportunity to spend some splendid time with Dhoni and cook some of his favourite dishes too. Chef Pillai says that those days were unforgettable and he would always cherish the memories of it.
The Indian cricket team checked into the Kovalam Raviz on 31 October 2018 for playing the last ODI against West Indies on 1 November. The match was held at the Greenfield Stadium in Karyavattom. Chef Pillai recalls that everyone at Raviz was thrilled to welcome team India and had made all the arrangements the previous day itself.
“The few hours before the Indian team checked in were very stressful. Before that day, I had felt so much stressed only on the floor of BBC’s master chef program. We were ecstatic to welcome the superstars of the cricketing world who are admired by millions of cricket lovers in India,” writes the chef.
The Indian cricket team had landed at the Trivandrum International airport by 3 pm in the afternoon on 31 October. They then rode on special team bus to the Raviz. While the entire staff at the resort was eagerly waiting for them, the bus stopped in front of the club suite of the Kovalam Raviz and Dhoni along with his team mates Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and coach Ravi Shastri got down. Chef Pillai says that more than any other player, his eyes were fixed on Dhoni, whom he had only seen on the television until then.
“I felt as if I had fulfilled my long cherished dream as soon as I saw Dhoni. The team smiled and greeted us as they walked into the hotel. I was so excited that I thought Dhoni was waving only at me. We welcomed them in the traditional way with folded palms. We then applied sandalwood paste on their forehead. We also put floral garlands that had shell embellishments around their neck. We served them refreshing tender coconut water as the welcome drink before taking them to the suite rooms that are the epitome of luxury accommodation,” says chef Pillai.
The dinner rush began at 7.30 pm and the kitchen began receiving orders from the players’ rooms. Everyone was eager to try out the sea food delicacies of Kerala. The chefs were busy preparing the dishes as per the preferences of the players. However, chef Pillai noticed that there weren’t any orders from Dhoni’s room. He admits he felt dejected when Dhoni didn’t order any food as the chef was excitedly waiting to cook for the captain. The kitchen didn’t receive any order from Dhoni’s room even at 9.30 pm. By that time food was served at almost all the rooms where the players and the team officials were staying.
By 10 pm, the room service received the much-awaited call from room number 302 in the club suite. Chef Pillai was preparing the special karimeen pollichathu (baked pearl spot) for Ravi Shastri when he was asked to meet Dhoni at his suite room. “I was shocked and my hands began shivering. I couldn’t move for a second with excitement as the man who I had dreamed to see in person had just called me to his room. From the underground kitchen, I ran up to the third floor where the club suite is. I waited for a moment to catch my breath, then wiped my face and knocked thrice on the door. Dhoni opened the door and I saw that he was wearing team India’s jersey and shorts. I was in shock and couldn’t utter a word for a while,” recalls the chef.
Dhoni asked chef Pillai about the special items in the dinner menu. He replied that there were sea food varieties like pearl spot, freshwater snapper, mullets, crabs, prawn and mussles. Hearing this, Dhoni laughed and said that he couldn’t eat any of it as he was allergic to seafood. “I felt disappointed as I was thrilled to serve the cricketers some of the special seafood that was caught from our Arabian Sea and the Ashtamudi Lake. However, I asked him what he wished to have except seafood and fish. He replied, ‘Chef, I need a good chicken curry with some rice. I have a sore throat; so can I get some spicy rasam as well?’ He specifically mentioned whether he could get poondu rasam. I was surprised. Dhoni, who grew up in Jharkhand, has been playing with the Chennai team, as if it was some amazing twist of fate. Now, he was asking me in Tamil, with a heavy Hindi accent, whether he could have some rasam,” says the chef.
Chef Pillai asked for 20 minutes to prepare the food and rushed back to the kitchen. He prepared special Chettinad chicken, basmati rice, roasted papad and a spicy rasam made with crushed pepper corns, garlic and tamarind. He then served the food at Dhoni’s room and the latter thanked him. Next morning, they met each other while Dhoni was doing his routine exercise. The captain embraced the chef and thanked him for serving delicious food. Chef Pillai admits it was one of his most special moments in life.
“When the entire team had seafood, Dhoni was the only person who tried the chicken dishes. He really enjoys trying different kinds of chicken dishes. For the next four days, I prepared various chicken dishes like the local chicken curry, chicken stew, kozhi mappas, butter mappas and kebabs that were marinated with chillies on the previous day and cooked on a clove infused tandoor just moments before serving. I just wanted to share my memories with Dhoni when he stayed for four days at Raviz. In my memory, he is the coolest captain,” chef Pillai wrote in his note.
“Dhoni gave a new face to the Indian cricket team that was moulded by Dada. Indian cricket has seen countless captains and would see many more; but you will always be the best. For me, Dhoni is an emotion. I will always cherish your incredible helicopter shots and your long locks as well. Thank you dear Dhoni, for filling the hearts of millions of cricket lovers with incredible spirit, for making them roar with excitement, for those impeccable stumping moments…No, legends never retire,” chef Suresh Pillai concludes his lengthy post.