In an era when chefs have become celebrities unto themselves, some of them better known for screaming at their employees or globetrotting the world than for actually preparing food for people — and many with wealth running into the tens or hundreds of millions — the story of Narayanan Krishnan is a tale of a chef on a different path altogether. And though his name will be known by far fewer people than, say, Gordon Ramsay or Rachel Ray, his legacy and impact runs much, much deeper.
Krishnan was on the same career path as many of the celebrity chefs whose names we all know. He was an elite, young star at a luxury hotel in India and was in the process of leaving that job for an even more prestigious position as a five-star restaurant in Switzerland.
But instead of taking that position back in 2002, Krishnan suddenly quit his hotel job and changed his life completely — and more importantly, he changed the lives of hundreds of people living in poverty in his hometown of Madurai in the south of India.
“I was visiting my parents in Madurai, India. This was just before leaving for Switzerland for a job as chef in a Five Star restaurant,” Krishnan recalled in a recent interview. “On my visit home, I saw a very old man eating his own human waste for food. This really hurt me. I was literally shocked for a second. After that, I started feeding that man and decided this was my calling and what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
And that is what this brilliantly talented chef has been doing ever since. He is the founder of the Akshaya Trust, “committed to helping the helpless, homeless, sick, elderly, mentally ill and destitute in Madurai, India by providing healthy food, care, and opportunity to rehabilitate in order to restore human dignity.”
CNN featured Krishnan in its “Heroes” series back in 2010, but a recent re-post of the CNN segment has gone viral in the past few weeks. A recent Facebook post of the story was shared more than 175,000 times in less than a month.
And why not? The more people who hear about people like Narayanan Krishnan, the more chance that someone else will find inspiration to follow a similar, selfless path in life.
Sadly, Krishnan’s project has recently become mired in controversy as conditions in a home run by his Akshaya Trust became the subject of a government probe. The controversy has yet to be resolved. While a branch of his organization may have taken a wrong turn, no one has criticized Narayanan Krishnan for giving up a lucrative career to feed the hungry was a true inspiration.