THE MAN WHO REALISED THE DREAM
The Culinary Academy of India is celebrating its Silver Jubilee Year in 2019-20 a feat accomplished largely due to the contributions and guidance of one-of-India’s greatest culinary masterminds — Chef Sudhakar N. Rao. A culinary professional, noted food stylist and a TV guest chef, Chef Rao has been a leader in the Indian culinary landscape who has drawn in people with his charisma, knowledge and love for food.
Before Chef Sudhakar N. Rao started the Culinary Academy of India, the country lacked any career options for aspiring culinary professionals. The closest option to pursuing a career in culinary arts was hotel management … which is not close at all. The beginning of CAI was the rise of a new career option in India - the option of being a skilled, passionate and knowledgeable chef. Today, 25 years since the inception of CAI over 7,000 graduates are placed in cruise line food production in Europe & USA. And more than 2,000 alumni lead the culinary and catering industries in India across the country’s premier echelon of hotels and restaurants. All these achievements were made possible only because of the contribution and time put in by Chef Rao.
Chef Rao has set a benchmark in culinary education and hands-on training in India. With more focus given to skill development and practical training, all graduates of the college are fully equipped to cook in any kitchen across the world.At CAI, the growth curve is extremely steep. World-class training facilities, kitchens and infrastructure is managed by a team of world-class chefs-cum-lecturers. Over here you can learn the latest culinary concepts, styles and nuanced cooking techniques – not something you can pick up at just any culinary school be it in India or world over.
But less theory and more practical is not the only thing that sets CAI apart. At the academy, the courses are setup to provide both academic and industrial experience. Outdoor catering, industrial apprenticeships, guest lecturers and industry visits make it into the curriculum at CAI making it very comprehensive and educational. All these factors help CAI be in a class of its own, and none of these would have been possible without Chef Rao.
The Chef’s Life
Chef Sudhakar N Rao started his career as an apprentice with The Ritz, Hyderabad and felt the need of an educational qualification in Hotel Management. This led to him joining the Institute of Hotel Management Catering Technology & Applied Nutrition, Hyderabad in 1986. After completing his three-year-diploma-course, he was absorbed by the Taj Group of Hotels and Resorts as a Trainee Chef. Not far into his professional life as a full-time chef, Chef Rao started making a name for himself in India’s then nascent culinary landscape by winning numerous chef competitions both locally and internationally.
The major boost came when Chef Rao decided to move abroad - where his hard work, dedication, and craft skill earned him acceptance into the American Culinary Federation (the world’s most prestigious chef organization) in 1993, an extremely rare distinction for any Indian culinary professional ... even today. He also won the Inter Cruise Line Cold Buffet competition held in Miami, U.S.A, a highly prestigious accolade for a budding chef.
After coming back to India, Chef Rao quickly picked up on the lack of emphasis on culinary education in the country. His observation was quickly confirmed when he discovered hotel management courses do not produce students who strive for excellence in the culinary profession. Seeing a gap in the culinary ecosystem, Chef Rao realised the importance of establishing a culinary institute in India that would offer a full-fledged culinary education capable of competing with global leaders. An institute which was fully equipped to encourage aspiring chefs in India, fitted with the latest culinary technology and led by the best culinary minds in India.
Hoping to provide a solution to this niche issue, Chef Rao got together culinarians from leading culinary institutes and hoteliers from prestigious establishments to establish a professional non-profit organization called the Paragon Educational Society in 1996. Chef Rao was made the Founder-Secretary of Paragon Education Society and was given the core responsibility of setting up a culinary institute in India. This led to the inception of the Culinary Academy of India with Chef Rao being named the Director-Principal. Today, the Paragon Education Society is the moving force behind operations at the Culinary Academy of India.
Since its advent in 1996, CAI has been at the forefront of culinary education in India. Pioneering educational techniques and an academic infrastructure which transfers world-class skills to their students, CAI put itself on the international map with ease. With big international training contracts for CAI with leading international cruise lines such as P&O Cruises, Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises; CAI has grown to be an industry leader for training cruise chefs in India. A large part of this achievement is due to the simulated cruise kitchen training modules developed by Chef Rao, an initiative well received by major cruise liners in Europe and America.
rofessional Chef’s of Hyderabad – the first registered culinary association in India way back in 1996 was brainchild of Chef Rao. He consolidated the entire ecosystem of culinary professionals in the Hyderabad under one roof. And then in 2004 PCH was rechristened as Professionals of Andhra Pradesh, to include the culinary professionals of then united Andhra Pradesh. As Founder-Secretary of CAAP, Chef Rao gave immense focus to developing promising culinary talent — organizing the first Assocaition Recognized culinary contest for students of various catering and culinary colleges in India. A first-of-its-kind contest back then.
Today, the Culinary Academy of India holds the honors of being “India’s Best Culinary Arts College” among 200 other culinary colleges that offer exclusive culinary courses at different academic levels. Under his leadership CAI has not only secured the top spot in India according to Shiksha.com, CollegeDunia, CollegeSearch, Google or TopTenChef.com; but is also crowned among the top 10 culinary institutes in the world by ”Asian Correspondent”. In addition to hosting the most prestigious campus recruiters in the Indian ecosystem, CAI also boasts four world records for longest cold meat platter, world record for the highest number of cakes gateaux and tortes displayed at a single venue; world record for the tallest cupcake Christmas tree and the world record for the display of the highest number of international breads. Now hes on a mission to get the fifth Culinary Record.
Pioneering the industry since 1996, CAI became the leaders in culinary arts education by 2015. Chef Rao’s continuous and uncompromised efforts continue to further the development of culinary prospects in India. And 25 years in, his efforts do not reduce in commitment or dedication. A man who never settles for anything but the best, he says “CAI is often imitated, but it can never be equaled.”