SOW: How old were you when you first took an interest in food. What is the first dish you can recall making, or helping to make at home?
AP: My earliest food memories are eating the sweetest of wild strawberries in Kathmandu, Nepal - I must have been about 3 years old. I lived there for a year then. In our home in Karigiri, near Vellore, we reared chickens and ducks in our rear garden. My earliest memories of helping cook, is peeling prawns in that kitchen garden. That job was always given to me and I enjoyed it.
SOW: You were interested in the sciences too growing up. How did you make the decision to become a chef, or get into the culinary arts, rather than say, more of a traditional science profession?
AP: Both my parents had a huge role to play in this. I learned to get comfortable around cooking and being in the kitchen thanks to mum. Dad inspired us with his love for science. He is an orthopedic surgeon, obsessed with botany, chemistry, gardening, birds, the solar system and fun pursuits as well photography... - from a young age he made us curious and helped us understand so much around us. The option of a hotel management school was mum’s doing and I can never thank her enough for that. During my hotel school training, I got totally hooked by the science of cooking. I am fortunate to have found a profession that involves 3 of my passions - food, art and science.
SOW: We know you love to entertain at home. What is your favourite dish to make when having friends over for dinner?
AP: We love having people over and if I have to pick one dish I love cooking for friends - it would be a pot of biriyani. There are thousands of different versions so it could be a different one each time, but I enjoy making a mixed seafood version as well as lamb biryani the most.
SOW: What are three ingredients you always have in your fridge or pantry?
AP: Frozen blue swimmer crab, top quality Telicherry black peppercorn, and fresh green chillies.
SOW: Tell us a bit more about Indian-Chinese cuisine- you're featuring a dish from it in your upcoming class. What are some key ingredients or techniques that it uses?
AP: This cuisine evolved in India with Chinese workers moving to the ports of Bengal in search of work. The earliest Chinese settlers set up little hawker stalls for themselves which the locals took to in a big way. It has now become very mainstream not just in Bengal but all over India. There is both an old Chinatown in Tiretta and a new Chinatown in Tangra, Kolkatta. Both are filled with Indian-Chinese restaurants as well as Momo (steamed dumplings) stalls.
When I mention my love for Indian-Chinese I have had to do a bit of myth-busting too. There are no Indian ingredients used in the cuisine- no garam masala, coriander, turmeric etc. The spices used are Chinese, but they are being used in larger quantities to crank up the heat - normally green chillies, dried red chillies, black peppercorns, garlic and ginger. There is barely anything bland in Indian-chinese cuisine. The Momos we will be making during the class (steamed dumplings with a special spicy red chutney) are a big favourite of mine and very popular.
SOW: Your food has such elegant style to it. Can you give us a few tips on plating and presenting?
AP: Firstly, food on the plate has to be delicious. When you look at it, you should be able to imagine its taste profiles. Sometimes going too fancy, makes the plate look interesting but when you start to look at the components and realize it’s purely for effect, it loses appeal. Never lose soul to posh-ness. Never compromise on taste.
A close second would be textures on the plate: multiple textures can enhance taste as well as add interesting elements for styling and plating. Adding edible flowers, herbs or micro greens from your garden are always an easy, fun way to enhance your dish or just your table.
SOW: What chef would you most like to cook with or dine with and why? AP: I love meeting chefs who have gone out and done something different, totally outside of a usual road taken. In that regard, Jacques Maximin would be my top pick. Meeting and cooking with him would be an incredible experience.
SOW: Any new projects or ventures we should be on the look out for, other than your class with School of Wok? AP: 2015 was a year dotted with culinary adventures, both teaching and learning and most importantly inspiring. 2016 has kicked off with research travels in Bali, Kerala. I am looking forward to teaching at Taste of Dubai in March and presenting my cuisine in Frankfurt for this first time, at the end April. I am nearly done with writing my book so fingers crossed will have it published by end of the year. Restaurant site finding has re-started in full swing so if all goes well, an autumn launch is what I’m hoping for. 2016 is proving to be an exciting year already!
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and tips with us, Alfred. For more tips from the chef himself book yourself a place on his upcoming class here, and come prepared to be inspired and well fed!