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I'LL TIKKA THE HIGH ROAD; After 20 chefs hit the wall as well as the bottle, a renowned Islay hotelier has hired a chef all the way from Madras in India.

Byline: KATRINA TWEEDIE

A REAL-LIFE kitchen sink drama reached boiling point in a top Scots restaurant as hotel boss Carl Reavey hired and fired 20 chefs before finding the ideal cook.

They say that too many cooks spoil the broth - but all they were spoiling at the Port Charlotte Hotel on Islay was owner Carl's reputation.

He doubted he'd ever find the right kitchen staff after eight years with 20 volatile chefs each lasting an average of just four- and-a-half months in the job.

But, just as the hotel was getting alarmingly close to becoming Fawlty Towers, Carl believes he has finally found his perfect employee.

Damodharan Rangasam, aka Ranga, was taken on as sous chef under new head chef Billy Broderick, in November.

Ranga, who came over from Madras in India to take up the position, had never even seen an oyster or scallop before setting foot on Islay and his religion forbids him from eating beef.

But owner Carl says he's a huge asset. Even head chef Billy doesn't mind that the new arrival has taken most of the limelight.

"Coming here was a big shock. This is a new challenge and a culture change, but I am adapting," said Ranga.

Carl explained: "We wanted someone keen and interested in food, whose nerve is not going to go when the chips are down. We wanted a reasonable human being who is enthusiastic about what we do. Ranga is all of those things."

It had been a long search for Carl.

He explained: "None of the chefs over the last eight years had lasted.

"We've had chefs throwing things, including punches, chefs kicking doors down, putting their fists through walls, attacking one another, storming out.

"We've found chefs lying prostrate in the road drunk. I'm not joking."

But it's a comedy of errors which could have forced the hotel, which is renowned for its menu, to close. They are traditionally hot tempered, but many chefs, it seems, just can't handle the pent-up pressure of life on Islay.

Cooking top-class cuisine every day, living on an isolated island, mixed with the close proximity of several famous distilleries can result in a potent cocktail. It has led to many explosive situations.

Carl added: "We've had French chefs walk out in the middle of service, we found a New Zealand chef lying in the middle of the road drunk and we've had endless drunken Scotsmen.

"My wife Jan had to fill in on one occasion when a particularly volatile chef walked out in the middle of service leaving a lobster under the grill and racks of lamb in the oven.

"We were getting desperate to find someone reliable."

Ranga, 30, heard about the job from his recruitment agency, which has a British counterpart.

He agreed to take up the position immediately - then he looked at a map to see where he was going.

Ranga has settled well into life in the Inner Hebrides and has been adapting his palate to Scottish cuisine and, of course, whisky.

Somewhat worryingly, he said: "I never used to drink whisky back home, but now I drink lots and I am thoroughly enjoying it."

Carl doesn't seem worried. He added: "Social drinking is a part of life.

"Some chefs come here thinking they are going to have an easy life, but this place is one of the busiest hotels on the West Coast.

"They think it is a sleepy backwater then discover it's high pressure where we turn out up to 140 quality meals a day."

Ranga is well used to working under pressure. Single, but from a large family of 12, he specialised in continental European food after working in five- star Indian hotels catering to tourists.

Until now, though, he always refused to eat any of his own food, considering it too bland for his fiery Indian palate.

Now the traditional Scottish menu at the Port Charlotte has been subtly altered to include some Indian influences that satisfy even Ranga's taste buds.

Equally as popular as the new Scots-Indian fusion food has been the hotel's speciality Indian nights.

Until now, there has been no Indian restaurant on Islay and both locals and visitors have welcomed the addition to the island's cuisine.

Ranga added: "I have many Islay followers, a big fan club out there, who all want my curries."

Carl is confident Ranga will help him radically change the face of Scottish cuisine - without leaving him with egg on his face.

Ranga's move to Islay features in an STV documentary A Cooks Tour, on March 3.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 25, 2003
Words:761
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