The writer with Chef Sricharan
The writer with Chef Sricharan

A few days ago, on the occasion of my birthday, my lovely wife treated me to a gastronomic experience of epic proportions. She took me to this astonishing restaurant called Nadodi in Kuala Lumpur.

It is a restaurant that focuses on the cuisine of the southern lands of the Indian sub-continent, but presented with exceptional creative flair, using a host of modern techniques.

My wife knew that the best gift for me, on my birthday, was to concentrate on the two things that I cherish most; exceptional people and extraordinary food. Nadodi definitely epitomizes both the things that I place tremendous value on.

The restaurant is managed and run by professionals; the ambiance is very inviting; and it is located in prime real estate that showcases my home city of Kuala Lumpur as a vibrant and exciting place to be.

But the most noteworthy thing about this restaurant is the quality, innovation, and presentation of the food; its core reason for being in existence. It has managed to take food from my heritage and elevate it to levels that I did not think were even possible.

The restaurant offers a holistic experience, and as the saying goes, “…it takes a village to raise a child”, therefore naturally, it is only fair praise must go to everyone involved.

But as a restaurateur myself, understanding the mind of the chef is hugely important.

The kitchen brigade is helmed by Chef Sricharan Venkatesh, a native of Chennai, India. So, when the opportunity presented itself, I didn’t hesitate to spend some time chatting with him.

I must say it helps that I have an incredibly supportive and understanding wife. We were supposed to have a quiet romantic dinner for my birthday, but instead, I spent a lot of time in conversation with the chef.

I was truly impressed by this very charming, affable and rather modest guy.

Here was one of the rising rock-stars in the Malaysian or even the Asian culinary scene, and he wasn’t claiming any attention to himself. He spoke with me and responded to my curiosity with a lot of grace and patience.

To top it all off, I was floored when he told me that he was only 29 years old.

I am always fascinated by people like Chef Sri.

What drives people like him? What makes him so good at what he does? What really sets him apart from the rest of the field of good chefs who also chose to make cooking their profession?

Earlier this year I wrote a column about the Japanese concept of “Ikigai”. Loosely translated, it means “a reason to live” or the idea of having a driving purpose in life.

As I talked with this chef, and listened to his narrative about what drives him, it dawned on me that I had just met someone who perhaps has found his “Ikigai”.

The research on this concept suggests that when you find yourself at the convergence of doing these four things: ‘what you love’, ‘what the world needs’, ‘what you can be paid for’, and ‘what you are good at’; you will find your “Ikigai”.

Is this he doing what he loves?

Most definitely. And I am really not thinking about him being passionate. I just noticed that he cares deeply about the work he is doing. And he was personally invested in, and motivated by, his culinary mission.

Is this what the world needs?

Without a doubt. The team at this restaurant is showing the world that iconic southern Indian dishes can be presented in a progressive and modern way. They have raised the bar and taken the dishes my grandmother and mother cooked, and elevated them with premium produce and modern techniques that would see them settle comfortably in some of the finest restaurants around the globe.

Can he get paid for it?

I am sure Chef Sri is being handsomely rewarded for his skills and innovation. And, I am also certain that if he continues doing what he does with such focus, getting paid well will never be a problem for him.

And, is he good at it?

Absolutely. Often there’s a waiting list for people who want to dine at this restaurant, and I am already looking forward to my next visit.

Dan Buettner, an internationally recognized explorer and New York Times bestselling author says that people are happiest not because of wealth, youth, beauty, or intelligence, but at that intersection when your values align with what you like to do, and what you are good at.

Therefore, care deeply about what you do.

Be interested in the outcomes of your work and that’s when you can say you love what you do. Next, ask yourself if people actually need what you offer. If they do need what you have, you will be rewarded exceedingly well. Finally, become skilled at your chosen profession.

I believe Chef Sricharan is standing at this intersection. Are you?

Shankar R. Santhiram is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”