Spicing up the foodie scene

Tari JeffersManjimup-Bridgetown Times
Raj Thyagarajan has been a fixture in the Lower South West culinary world since the mid 2000s and enjoys what he does to support the local industry.
Camera IconRaj Thyagarajan has been a fixture in the Lower South West culinary world since the mid 2000s and enjoys what he does to support the local industry. Credit: Tari Jeffers/Tari Jeffers

For more than 15 years, a Manjimup chef has brought his passion for cooking to the people of the region.

Raj Thyagarajan moved to Pemberton in 2004 when a career opportunity became available at the Gloucester Motel.

From Bermuda to Pemberton, Raj was at the Gloucester until 2010, when the opportunity became available to own his own restaurant.

“The ability to own my own business came up by chance,” he said.

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“As soon as my friend sold the business in the Gloucester to his mother-in-law, the opportunity became available to work on the mine sites.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to save some money up, then do a business.”

It was at that time one of the restaurant owners in Manjimup approached Raj to run the business for a year and see if he liked it.

“I did my one year and I liked it, I was close to the family — my kids were young at the time and I didn’t want to go too far — and that’s why it was an easy decision to make,” he said.

The catering aspect of his business, Cilantros, was not brought to being straight away as it was only a lunchtime cafe, but when he bought the business, he inherited three catering jobs already lined up.

Raj has been involved with cooking since a young age, as his father was a very good cook.

“I lost my mum when I was 14 years old, so I remember a little bit of Mum’s cooking, but more of Dad’s,” he said.

After a three-year apprenticeship, Raj got his first step into the culinary world by working on cruise ships.

From Bermuda, it led to Pemberton, which then led to Manjimup, where he has been ever since.

“I love cooking because it’s not a straightforward, everyday kind of job. Every day has different challenges,” Raj said.

“I like the customer satisfaction and I like to interact with people.

“I’m very much a people person.

“That’s why I wanted to move away from the kitchen and come into the restaurant area a little more.”

Raj will have more chance to be up front and talking to people now that Cilantros has moved from its Giblett Street location to the one-way street portion of Brockman Street.

“I had always dreamed of having a bigger restaurant with a licensed bar — like a sports bar — and it didn’t happen for a long time,” he said.

“Getting a good location was another big step and there were a lot of options but not exactly what we were looking for.

“Then this Brockman Street location came up and we thought it was great.”

As a long-time chef in the region, one of his aims is to help put Manjimup’s name on the culinary map.

Raj has been a long-time supporter of the Manjimup Cherry Harmony Festival and the festival’s Long Table Lunch.

He says he likes to support local businesses and growers by using local produce in his cooking and the festival gives him an opportunity to showcase how special that produce is.

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