In 1988, when I was given the responsibility of running the kitchen of The Gateway Hotel in Bangalore, I was thrilled, I was excited, I was emotional but I was also very, very nervous!!
I had been given the task of starting up a new hotel kitchen which meant doing the menus (besides doing other daily tasks like staff training) for the restaurants, the coffee shop, the banquets, the room service, the bbq and, last but not least, the Karavalli seafood restaurant!!
Under normal circumstances this is a routine job performed by a team that includes the general manager, the food and beverage manager, the restaurant manager, the executive chef and the sous-chef.
But here I was all by myself.
I had no sous-chef, in fact I had no other chef who I could turn to.
Yes, we had Prabhakar, Bernadett, Piyush and Sriram who were all designated as ‘chefs’ but they were all acting under the umbrella term ‘training’.
This meant they had to prove themselves after undergoing a rigorous training program over a period of time. And ‘time’ is what was in short supply. The menus had to be completed ‘the day before yesterday’, the food trials had to be completed ‘yesterday’ and the menu had to be ready ‘today’!!
It’s non-stop pressure from the vice-president down to the last man in the hierarchy, who is generally the sous-chef.
However, since we had no sous-chef in the kitchen brigade Sriram put his hand up and took a big load off my shoulders by taking responsibility of running the kitchen when I was busy in “menu planning meetings” and what an amazing job he did!!
This was probably the initial stages of the making of a leader in him and he soon took over the job of executive chef of The Gateway Hotel after I left.
In 1998, Sriram was made executive chef of the world-renowned Quilon restaurant, in London, and he has taken this restaurant to another level with his leadership and innovation without compromising on the ‘ethnicity’ of the cuisine.
Quilon has been awarded a Michelin star every year since 2008.
As Winston Churchill said (and I’m quoting loosely!), “With the price of greatness comes responsibility”!!
Friends, here is a very special dish from Quilon called . . . Well, let’s hear about this dish from the chef himself!
“All art forms, be it dancing, music, painting or cuisine need to progress for their very own existence and relevance to time. Like all art forms, even cuisine has classic, modern, contemporary and many other forms which are also part of the evolution of cooking.
At the Quilon we do food from the south-west coast of India – we do food from Kerala, Mangalore, Karvar and Goa. Being coastal we do a large selection of fish, seafood and vegetables and a good selection of meat, chicken, game, etc.
Quilon does classical dishes like Allepy fish curry, Kerala chicken roast, Bibinca from Goa, Mangalorean Chicken. However, we have a large selection of dishes which we have created in our kitchen. Now, I call this part of the menu progressive cooking.”
This guy is great! He speaks my language, I had to butt in, folks, and this is what he means by ‘progressive cooking.’
• “The perishable ingredient should be locally available.
• The spices, herbs and other non-perishable ingredients should be from the south-west coast of India.
• The technique of cooking could be from any part of the world and the most modern available. This is the way we use sous vide, thermo mix, combi oven, etc.
The method to this madness is because we would like our dishes to be part of the south-west coast cuisine. . . Hopefully one day some of these recipes will be done back home in India and accepted as if they existed forever.”
Me again. That’s exactly it! Modernising our cuisine, developing it, using contemporary equipment (and ingredients!) but always remaining true to our culinary heritage. Okay, so the dish Sriram chose to share with us is Baked Black Cod, and here he is again:
“The inspiration to this dish is the Japanese miso cod. It is so simple but yet so complex. The sourness and sharpness of the miso comes from tamarind and chillies. We have also given the flavour of fenugreek which is very much part of Indian cuisine. The sweetness comes from jaggery. All in all it tastes very south Indian, I believe, but it looks so Japanese. The greatest compliment we had was when a respected food critic said that Quilon’s cod gives run for the money to the best Japanese miso black cod he has eaten. I hope you enjoy this recipe like we do.”
And that, folks, is from the chef himself and here is his recipe. Let me know what you think! Let me know if you like this fusion of Indian and Japanese.
Baked Black Cod
500 g Black Cod Fillet (cut into large chunks), I am using Barramundi fish fillet instead
30 g Tamarind Pulp
15 g Palm Jaggery
1 tsp Chilli Powder
1 tbs Honey
1 clove Garlic (crushed)
1 tsp Fenugreek
1 tsp Malt Vinegar
Salt to taste
Oil for frying
1. Clean, wash and dry the fish with a clean cloth and keep aside.
2. In a clean saucepan, combine the tamarind pulp, jaggery, chilli powder, honey, crushed garlic, fenugreek, vinegar, salt and 1 cup of water.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook till it becomes thick. (Double cream consistency.) Strain and cool.
4. Marinate the fish with the mixture for at least 12 hours.
5. Heat a pan, pour in a little oil and sear/seal the fish until it turns light brown, remove from the pan and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 210-30 C for 5-6 mins.
6. Heat the remaining marination in a pan and add some water to thin it down.
7. Place fish on a serving plate and spoon some of the sauce on top, serve hot.
And I want to share just a few other facts about Chef Sriram.
Apparently he imports more fresh Indian spices than any other Indian restaurant in Britain which are ground and mixed carefully to create special recipes for his restaurant.
We know about his fusion of traditional and modern cooking, and here are some great juxtapositions of food his restaurant serves that I want to share: Spotted Grouper spiced with Chilli, Lemon, Mustard and Herbs, Lobster with Mango and Ginger and whole Sea-Bass cooked with chopped Button Onion, Tomato, Lime Juice and Chilli, served wrapped in Banana Leaf. More traditional dishes such as Avial, Chicken Korma and Malabar Lamb Biryani sit happily alongside Duck Breast, Pot Roasted with Red Chilli Paste, Onion, Aniseed and Tomato and Supreme of Guinea Fowl Braised with Onion, Green Chilli, Cardamom and Coconut.
And the history of Sriram?
Well, I’m giving you a potted version of his career but it was apparently his dad who inspired in him his passion for food. He went on to study at the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition in India. In 1989 he joined the Taj group of hotels, as you all know, and became the executive chef of the Gateway Hotel in Bangalore. Then, with the award-winning restaurant Karavalli he continued to rise and gain accolades, one of the best being that his restaurant is the only southern Indian restaurant in the world to have one Michelin star.
Well folks. There you have it! What more can I add to that except, I guess, that if you happen to be in central London, during the Olympics or the Ashes or to meet the Queen, go and try for yourself?!
Anah daata sukhi bhava!!