Mohan – The Paper Craftsman at Cardamom County. Mohan works with paper craft at Xandari Cardamom County in Thekkady. In addition to making paper bags for the Xandari group of hotels and resorts, Mohan teaches paper craft to children and adult guests who visit Cardamom County.

His eyes gleam and there is a visible joy on his face as Mohan’ss deft fingers fold and glue sheets of paper, tweak contours and shapes that magically turn into vividly coloured leaping frogs, stationery holders and pens, a swan poised to take flight, a boat afloat in the imagination. He belongs to one of the numerous tribes that live in and around the Periyar Tiger Reserve and feels the primal pulse of the forest and its denizens.

“I was born here, my home is a couple of kilometres away. My ancestors were born here as well. When I was a kid, elephants and leopards roamed at will in the area. Nevertheless when the Tiger Reserve was planned and its area mapped out, I was the chairman of an EDC and my duties involved sending reports of traditional farmers in the area who were going to surrender their lands to the wildlife reserve and were entitled to compensation. I started with that and then realised that the changes that were to happen would have far reaching consequences. I was trained by a forest officer in paper craft.

paper craft

Mohan speaks earnestly to anybody that will listen, about the need to avoid the use of plastics and shift to paper and organic biodegradable material. I appeal to everyone that I meet, please avoid using plastics as much as possible, otherwise we will not have an eco – system to live in. I have been working with Xandari Cardamom County for four years now. Our chairman and everyone here supports me. Children come here and sometimes their parents as well.
They appreciate what I do and listen to me when I spread the message of environmental protection. If you’re looking for a way to change and be responsible to the environment, I challenge you to go through an entire day striving to produce zero plastic waste.”

Affable and soft spoken, Executive Chef Rajesh at Xandari’s Cardamom County conducts a demonstration of how Fish Molee is cooked. Fish Molee is a curry that is, in the popular imagination, synonymous with the non- vegetarian cuisine of Kerala. Fried fish, mostly Seer, cooked in coconut milk, Fish Molee is essentially a mild stew.

A group of voluble American guests, watch as Rajesh’s hands move deftly over the table, dipping into the array of ingredients before him, spatula turning over frying onions, curry leaves, garlic and ginger. Gently handling slivers of pink Seer fish. The women in the audience ask questions, some taking notes. They are interested in the ingredients, the sources of food. Some step up to the table to watch.

Rajesh speaks softly, pacing his words with his actions, at times rapid, at times ponderous –“Wash the fish fillets thoroughly and then marinate with turmeric powder, powdered chillies and salt. And then, heat oil and fry the fish fillets until they turn light golden brown in colour. Now, add sliced green chilies and continue frying for a while before adding water, lemon juice, pepper powder and salt. Boil on a low flame adding coconut milk. Simmer until the gravy thickens. Add the fried fish fillets. Cook the mixture for a while on a gentle flame…… and…. ah! ladies……. here, you have Fish Molee.”

Rajesh chef Xandari cardamom county

Rajesh was born in Chennai, grew up and was educated in the city. He began working with a group of hotels there. “My turning point was working with Taj Flight Kitchen, that’s where I learnt my job working with Chef Satish Arora to start with.” Rajesh recollects, “Later, I worked in Vancouver, in a leading Indian restaurant named Salam Bombay. I have been with Cardamom County for six months now and I love what I do here.”

Orders for food arrive. Rajesh assumes his station at a counter, and like a conductor orchestrating a symphony, he directs his team. Exotic spices, meats and succulent vegetables are turned into delicious meals. The kitchen functions like clockwork. Wafting trails of fragrances titillate as the team of chefs conjure their culinary magic amid the murmur of muted conversations, the sounds of knives at work, of cutlery and plates being moved. Guests at the All Spice Restaurant will dine sumptuously tonight.