Meet The Maker: Chinmaya Arjun Raja, Food Artisan

Chinmaya Raja 1

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I am Chinmaya Arjun Raja. Brought up in Rajapalayam where I did my schooling. I later studied in Delhi and Chennai. I have attended a few classes and workshops in French language and Gastronomy in France with special sessions on wines and wine making. I am fluent in a few Indian languages, French and German. I have attended a few levels of Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese languages too. I have travelled all over Europe, West & Central Africa, USA and a few Asian Countries for work, Business and for food & wine events and fairs. I am also a trained Carnatic vocalist and have given a few concerts in India and abroad. But never became a Professional Musician. I am more of an Activist and have been an active volunteer with SPIC MACAY (Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Amongst Youth) for the last 20 years. I had been closely associated with the Alliance Francaise of Madras from 1997 to 2012, first as a student and later as part of the Managing Committee and President of Alliance Francaise of Madras from 2005-2006 and from 2008 to 2012. I also won a French singing competition organised by the French Embassy & Govt of France called ” French Nightingale” in the year 1999 and won a free one month trip to France.

I organised the first ever formal wine appreciation event for the Chennai public in the year 2008 through a forum called Chennai Wine Club which I founded. Have been conducting wine courses in Chennai and others cities in Tamilnadu through various organisations which I was associated with.

I have conducted a few workshops and festivals on French Cuisine and wine, South Indian Food appreciation sessions for visiting French Chefs delegations in Chennai and also sessions on South Indian food in France for Cookery schools, Chefs and winemakers.

I run a wine and gastronomy club called TASTING PLEASURES in Chennai since the last 3 years which is a membership based club. I curate regular food and wine events and also conduct Introductory wine sessions.

I also believe in the Slow food movement with its headquarters in Italy. We will be starting the Chennai Chapter of Slowfood shortly. My passions are: Music, Reading, Food, Wine, Travel & Languages. and I always try to combine all these six in whatever I do.

Do you come from a food background?

My mom Smt. Prabavathi Arjun is a great cook. I have been observing her cooking skills since my childhood growing up in Rajapalayam. She used to cook for all the family events and for my father’s guests from all over India and abroad. My father also used to encourage her a lot by getting special ingredients and exotic vegetables from all over India. We are vegetarian. I fondly remember the annual pickling season every summer and I used to actively participate in the pickle ritual. Pickles were made in huge quantity and distributed to friends and family. We have our own Mango orchards and it is still my favourite fruit. My taste developed due to this atmosphere at home. So I always loved cooking and tasting and curious towards different types of flavours. During family vacations, my father always made it a point to try new cuisines and restaurants.


Later during my travels abroad I developed the taste for Wine and its diversity as well as other types of Cuisine. Each Cuisine has its own flavour and authenticity. I always look for authenticity in food as well as wine. I have a lot of Chefs as friends both in India and France and we discuss a lot about food and taste. I have also cooked South Indian dishes for my Chef & sommelier friends in France. So I feel food was part of my daily conversation with family and friends since my childhood.

When I was a 3 month old baby, my Annaprasham was done by Swami Chinmayananda, the Founder of Chinmaya Mission who was very close to our family. It’s a ceremony in Hindu religion wherein the child is made to taste different types of “tastes”. I was apparently made to taste almost 50- 60 different dishes at an elaborate ceremony specially organised by Swamiji in Cochin. So I do believe I got my taste of life that day! Tastes also evolve by time and experience.

What and who inspires you? How do you find inspiration?

It is nature which inspires me. Food has to be natural & authentic. Though it is difficult, I am now slowly trying to avoid processed food as far as possible. We need to be proud of our own Food heritage which has been passed on to us through generations of trial and error and that which suits our climatic conditions. Food is also part of our cultural heritage. Traditional Food knowledge has to be appreciated. It has to be authentic. I always try to find the authenticity in food or wine Its nature which does all the magic as it does to the Pickles. As Nature evolves with time, Taste also evolves with time and experience.

What’s your personal favorite flavor? Which is your proudest?

Panakam Pickles - Complete Range 2

The Rajapalayam Mango Pickle, Anakapalle Endaavakaya Mango Pickle and the Rajapalayam Dhabbakaya Citron Pickle are all my favourite pickles. I choose the pickle for pairing with a particular dish depending on my emotions and mood during that part of the day. This is the effect of being a wine lover and trainer. I am proud to say that I can now make all the pickles on my own. This is how the knowledge has been passed through generations.

Tell us about your range & the new products’ what will you showcase at  the By Hand, From The Heart.

I launched PANAKAM with help from my mom and wife and other close family members in 2014 with just one type of Pickle – Rajapalayam Mango Pickle. We had a great response. This year we have added a few more types of Pickles as part of PANAKAM – Tradition in a Bottle. Rajapalayam Mango Pickle Vintage 2014 will be present in the By Hand, From The Heart showcase.

ANAKAPALLE ENDAAVAKAYA MANGO pickle is another special pickle which is being launched at By Hand, From the Heart. It’s a special pickle made by the “Dravida” Brahmin community of North Coastal Andhra Pradesh. It has both with and without Garlic Versions. This pickle involves a time consuming process of drying the mangoes and it’s the sun which does all the work and magic with the help of the ingredients. It is made by Madhuri Saripalle & family which represents the Vedula and Saripalle family tradition. Madhuri has been observing her maternal grandmom Smt. Jnanaprasoonambika make the pickles since her childhood and always wanted to make and share the same with others. PANAKAM has made her dream come true.

PANAKAM -Rajapalayam Mango Pickle

Our two flagship products use sundried mangoes – Rajapalayam Mango Pickle made by the Telugu speaking Kshatriya Raju Community of Rajapalayam and Anakapalle Endaavakaya made by the Dravida Brahmin community of Anakaplle

The Bellam Pacchi Avakaya of Anakapalle, Rajapalayam Dhabbakaya Citron Pickle, Rajapalayam Gooseberry Pickle are the other special limited edition pickles being showcased apart from the Lime and Narthangai Citron Pickles.

We will also be showing our Vadams range, all from Rajapalayam. Rice Vadams, Sago vadams and Shallot vadams.

Can you describe your work place / space?

Traditional pickling where sundried mangoes are the main ingredient is not an easy process. It is time consuming and labour intensive. During the main pickling season ie summer months – March, April, May and June – The kitchen becomes a sacred space with mangoes and spice mixtures. It’s a crazy time but a very interesting meditative zone for passionate people where you feel one with natural products. The aromas of the freshly cut mangoes, Citrons, Gooseberries and the freshly pounded spice mixtures are all invigorating and it is a very sensual experience. Drying them and taking care of them every day during the entire process needs a lot of patience and passion. You communicate with nature and its elements.

What is a typical day at “PANAKAM – Tradition in a Bottle” like. 

PANAKAM - Rajapalayam Gooseberry Pickle

During the peak pickling season it will be one crazy day with cleaning and cutting the fresh mangoes or any other raw fruit, selecting the spices and mixtures, drying them, guard them against humidity and rain, store them, taste to correct any sharp spices. Our flagship pickles like the Rajapalayam Mango and Anakapalle Mango have to be stored for a few months before experiencing them. They have to be properly stored in air tight containers. They have to be kept under the sun light once in a while. These pickles can be stored for a few years if proper care is taken.

What’s the best thing about being a food artisan?

Taste is one of the most important sensual experiences. Being a food artisan is to enhance your own experience of taste and share the same authentic experience with others. This is luxury in my opinion. Authenticity is luxury. Nature is Luxury. Eating natural is the luxurious experience.

Do you have any advice for aspiring food entrepreneurs?

Be Authentic in whatever you do. Let it be Natural. Nature is authentic!

Anything exciting on the cards for the coming months?

Oh yes a lot of exciting things. Just don’t know how I will manage with all my other passions. New PANAKAM experience products will be launched in Nov/Dec 2015. Panakam will be available in select stores in Chennai and other Indian Cities. An exciting website for Panakam will be launched next month. An interesting book on Vegetarian Recipes and Stories is also being planned.

Chinmaya Arjun Raja will showcase PANAKAM at the By Hand, From The Heart Artisan & Farmers Market. 7- 8 August 2015 | 10 a.m – 8 p.m | Hanu Reddy Residences, 41/19, Poes Garden, Teynampet, Chennai.

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