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The Vocally local Hero: Thomas Zacharias aka ChefTZac, Founder, The Locavore His experience as a chef, curating menus, and leading kitchens, laid the groundwork for his entrepreneurial venture, but it also brought a new set of challenges

By Punita Sabharwal

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Thomas Zacharias aka ChefTZac, Founder, The Locavore

Thomas Zacharias's culinary journey began in the heart of Kerala, where he spent time in his grandmother's kitchen and developed a passion for cooking that would later take him around the world. Today, Thomas is renowned for his innovative approach to food and his commitment to preserving India's culinary heritage. Thomas's formal culinary education began at the Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration in Manipal, followed by further studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He then went on to work at the three-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Bernardin in NYC and with the Olive Group in India, where he held various roles from sous chef to chef in charge.

The turning point in Thomas's career came when he decided to take a sabbatical to travel through Europe and immerse himself in the continent's diverse food culture. Reflecting on this time, he shared, "I decided to get a sabbatical and travel through Europe to learn European food. And I had this epiphany on the trip that I hadn't done the same in India. And I came back restless and wanting to get into Indian food."

After this transformative journey, Thomas joined the Bombay Canteen as a chef partner, where he spent seven years contributing to the restaurant's success. However, his desire to explore Indian cuisine further led him to embark on a two-month trip across India, visiting as many as 18 regions. "I took a trip across India for two months," Thomas recounted. "This was spread across the northeast, southwest, northeast, and different parts of the country. And that trip changed my life."

During his travels, Thomas immersed himself in India's rich culinary traditions, meeting farmers, exploring local markets, and learning from home cooks and tribal communities. "I was blown away because until then I had such a very rigid European kitchen background," Thomas explained. "What I witnessed was techniques and flavors and ingredients and stories, which blew my mind. I mean, it's just incredible diversity, richness, and incredible nuance to regional Indian cuisine."

These experiences inspired Thomas to create The Locavore, a platform that connects people and organizations working to address challenges within the food system. The Locavore aims to preserve and promote regional Indian cuisine while addressing issues such as climate change, hunger, and malnutrition. "The plight of the farmers, climate change, hunger, malnutrition or food waste, and the erosion of our culinary heritage," Thomas said, "it just felt like such a strong dissonance to come back to the confines of the glamorous restaurant life. And so, I took a leap of faith and decided to figure out how I could make an impact."

The Locavore's approach combines creativity with a multifaceted strategy to tackle these complex challenges. The platform collaborates with like-minded organizations and experts working at the grassroots level to drive positive change. "Partnering with an organization like Rainmatter Foundation, backed by Zerodha, is great because their expectation is impact," Thomas noted. "So, they don't ask what you've done with the money, but they ask about the impact created."

Zacharias's transition from chef to entrepreneur is a journey marked by passion and transformation. His experience as a chef, curating menus, and leading kitchens, laid the groundwork for his entrepreneurial venture, but it also brought a new set of challenges. His natural inclination toward leadership and his observant nature allowed him to embrace this shift with ease.

As he stepped into his new role, Thomas had to channel his creative energy into shaping a vision for using food as a catalyst for change. According to the chef, this journey has enabled him to take his love for Indian cuisine beyond the kitchen and into the realm of impactful action, creating a unique path that blends culinary artistry with meaningful purpose such as supporting an entire school a year's worth of nutritional food by using the company's leverage and credibility.

Punita Sabharwal

Entrepreneur Staff

Managing Editor, Entrepreneur India

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