The New Michelin Star Kid

Posted on Back of House May 2008 - by Tandoori Magazine
The New Michelin Star Kid

With a newly awarded Michelin star to his name, Quilon’s executive chef Sriram Aylur talks to Humayun Hussain about the restaurant’s west coast cuisine.

The first time Quilon’s executive chef Sriram Aylur heard that he’d been awarded a Michelin star, he says he didn’t believe it. He thought a friend, who had called to inform him of
the good news, was playing a prank on him. Then reality dawned.
“I was in the midst of a busy lunch service when I got the call,” says a chuffed Aylur. “I knew that the awards were being announced, but I wasn’t expecting it at all. It took me completely by surprise. I am of course very happy, not just because of the award, but the fact that receiving such an accolade gives a strong validation to what my team and I have been doing here at Quilon.”

Receiving a Michelin star doesn’t come easy as any hard working chef will vouch. But as Aylur is at pains to explain, just getting understanding and acknowledgement for a cuisine which isn’t exactly familiar – Quilon’s menu focuses on India’s west coast cooking – has been a challenge.

“When the Bombay Brasserie, Quilon’s sister restaurant, had opened,” notes Aylur, “it was quickly hailed as London’s first upmarket quality Indian restaurant. With Quilon it was important not to repeat the formula, yet it was equally crucial to have Indian cooking which would make a mark.”

Having originated the award-winning Karavali restaurant at the Taj group’s Gateway Hotel in Bangalore, in India, which offers a similar concept, Aylur set about creating a menu along those lines at Quilon.

“The idea here,” he states, “has been to offer the cuisine of Kerala, Karvar, Mangalore and Goa. Typifying the dishes is a certain lightness, with fresh seafood, all kinds of vegetables and herbs, along with fruit. Subtle spicing is also a strong trademark. It’s all authentic cooking but with a slight twist for the UK market. The Mangalore chicken for instance is made exactly the way it would be in India, but we reduce the chilli here at Quilon and use corn fed chicken. The masalas are also ground much finer here.

I also have a black cod dish on the menu, but with marination which is all Indian. I have lamb shanks on the menu, which are of a French cut, but everything else about is Indian. It’s what I define as ‘progress of food’. In other words, just because one has been cooking from recipes passed down generations or learnt at catering college, doesn’t mean that you don’t have your own take on it. But at the same time, progress isn’t about fusion cooking.
You have to remain grounded in your Indian roots.”

Aylur is of course, well aware that the menu goes against the grain of the norm of mostly north Indian fare in UK Indian restaurants.

“Public perception and know-how,” he adds, “has changed for the better since we opened a few years ago. They are much more receptive to different types of cuisines because they have travelled more, particularly with the tourist trade to Kerala and Goa now being so big, and the media in terms of TV shows, food magazines and cookery books, has given far more exposure to other regions of India.

That has made the public much more aware of the richness and diversity of Indian cooking, which is very rewarding for restaurateurs and chefs like me. It means that new restaurateurs and chefs who don’t want to just cook one style of Indian food can be a lot more adventurous. It’s no wonder that we are seeing more west Indian coastal style dishes on Indian restaurant menus though there needs to be further growth.

With his first Michelin star under his belt, Aylur makes no secret of wanting to win a second one.

“I’ve always been a great believer in being creative,” he responds. “But you also have to set the rules and parameters. With some chefs the danger can be that you can go from being creative to being fashionable and that certainly isn’t a route I want to take. I will though work even harder to see if another Michelin star can be attained. Everybody wins that way. My team and I work with even greater passion and the customers get to try something new and exciting.”

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