interview with reza mahammad
Famed restaurateur Reza Mahammad of London’s Star of India is also a TV chef and cookery book author, his latest being Reza’s Indian Spice. He talks to Tandoori
Having overseen a successful opening of Tamarind in America and with the London restaurant going great guns, Michelin-starred executive chef Alfred Prasad talks to Tandoori
What made you want to become a chef?
I can’t say that in my growing up years I consciously knew I wanted to become a chef, but many key aspects of those years steered me naturally towards it. I was a very hands-on child at home and helping out in the kitchen was normal and interesting. At an early age, I had a lot of exposure to diverse cuisines and food cultures which opened my mind to the possibilities of food and cuisine. As I was finishing school, the hotel industry was opening up in India in a big way and it seemed a very exciting, creative and different career.
What has been the best and worst aspect of your job?
The actual creative process is always exciting but the best part of this job is the pleasure you give to your diners through your food. The gruelling years of training were probably the hardest, physically, but coming out of it, I recognise it as one of the best things I have gone through.
What makes a good chef?
A combination of key skills and talents such as a creative mind and palate, ability to understand the science of food and ingredients, technical skills and the required finesse to get the best out of the ingredients. In terms of an attitude I find that if you have an open mind to un-learn and re-learn, it could take you from good to great!
You have a new opening on the west coast of America, Tamarind of London. Tell us about the restaurant.
While ‘curry’ is considered a national dish in the UK, it has to still find its feet in America. Our venture there feels like the right place at the right time. The market in America is looking for quality Indian restaurants and we fit right in! We are happy to help kick-start that trend and are very confident that this will be the first of many upmarket casual and quality Indian restaurants over there.
What does having a Michelin star at Tamarind mean to you?
Within a year after I joined Tamarind, I was made executive chef and retaining the star was a huge and almost daunting responsibility. It was a true labour of love; we did retain the star and it will always have a very special place in my heart.
What do you like to eat and drink yourself?
I lean towards home-cooked comfort food. Grills and roasts, biryani, dal-chawal-subzi are a regular feature at home. I love my wines and single malts.
Considering you have a family, how do you combine that with the long hours of working as a chef?
I strive towards a very healthy work-life balance and my free time is totally family time. My wife Sunita is extremely understanding and that certainly helps.
What advice would you give to any budding Indian restaurant chef?
Join the ride! It is a very exciting time to be an Indian chef outside India. What the world recognises as Indian food is not even one percent of the Indian cuisine repertoire. Indian chefs with the right sensibilities can really be a part of a new culinary revolution, giving the world a much bigger exposure to our many-many Indian cuisines. I would advise them specifically to look for a gap in the offerings and encourage them to work towards that rather than cloning a successful model.
As someone who is a perfectionist.