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India is blessed with food heritage: Chef Alfred Prasad

I also love a good meen kozhambu in which I add maanga vathal from Chettinad. Kongunadu and Chettinad dishes feature extensively at home and we also enjoy many versions of kootu and poriyal.

India is blessed with food heritage: Chef Alfred Prasad
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Alfred Prasad

Chennai

Chef Alfred Prasad grew up in a household where his mother insisted all the children were hands-on and helped in the kitchen too. “I used to love the aromas wafting out of our kitchen, which was a happy and special place. In the hotel school when we had to choose our specialty, the kitchen (food production and culinary arts) seemed a natural choice. My mother is an Anglo-Indian from Hyderabad and my father is a Tamil Brahmin from Mysore. We lived in many parts of India, thanks to my father’s work as an orthopaedic surgeon with The Leprosy Mission. From an early age, I had lots of exposure to varied micro Indian cultures and cuisines. In Tamil Nadu alone, we lived in Vellore, Madurai, Coimbatore and Chennai for a major part of my formative years. My Tamil background has a huge influence on my cooking style. I also worked at the award-winning south-Indian restaurant Dakshin for six years before moving to London,” says Alfred Prasad in a chat with DT Next.

Recently, he was part of a webinar hosted by FICCI FLO. The chef reminisces that most of his idyllic childhood memories are in Vellore. “I recently developed a filling for vegetable puff for a ‘cooking with kids’ app. I was trying to recreate the taste profile of the vegetable puffs at Dawn bakery in Vellore, which was truly amazing. Weekend mornings were spent with mom in the kitchen and doing little bits like peeling vegetables or prawns or sometimes just being a nuisance, I guess,” he smiles.

The chef moved to London in 1999 because, at that time, the scope for hospitality in India was very limited to a few five-star hotels and even fewer stand-alone restaurants. “Also, fine dining or gastronomy as we knew then was European (mostly French) based. To develop further as a chef, I took the opportunity to move to Europe and it has been one of the most life-changing decisions I have made,” he recollects. Alfred joined Tamarind of Mayfair (London) in 2001 as Sous Chef and progressed to become an Executive Chef within a year. In 2002, he earned the honour of being the youngest Indian chef to receive a Michelin star at 29 years of age setting his feet firmly on the world’s culinary map.

The chef believes that in India, we are blessed with an incredible food heritage. “I cannot think of any other country that has had a culinary evolution like ours. Right from ancient food science of Ayurveda, the knowledge of using food as medicine to the many influences we have had by trade or conquest and the many micro cuisines we have — it is truly special. Although the UK is not blessed with a rich culinary legacy, London is now one of the food capitals of the world, being a melting pot of cuisines and cultures from all across the globe. The UK doesn’t grow much in terms of agricultural produce but it sources from all over the world, all year round. So the access to produce and ingredients from any part of the world is at our disposal, which is a huge asset for a chef,” he says.

Alfred’s culinary philosophy rests on the pillars of heritage, health and happiness. “My comfort foods are those that I have grown up eating so they do appear regularly at our dining table. The biryani I like the most is the Vellore (Arcot Muslim) style, more than any other. I also love a good meen kozhambu in which I add maanga vathal from Chettinad. Kongunadu and Chettinad dishes feature extensively at home and we also enjoy many versions of kootu and poriyals.”

He is now pursuing his restaurant empire, which he hopes will showcase the variety, as well as the quality, of Indian food. “We will draw on our history and ancient wisdom in Ayurveda and apply that more in our cooking. We’ll make our cuisine more nutritional and medicinal. Indian cuisine is largely known for its tasty offering, in the future it will be known more for its holistic features,” he sums up.

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