Cornwall’s Local Hero Sanjay Kumar

Posted on Back of House Sep 2012 - by Tandoori Editor
Cornwall’s Local Hero Sanjay Kumar

Talking to Sanjay Kumar is a bit like communicating with a cheeky and exuberant teenager. His manner is genial, warm-hearted and in fact, quite infectious. He’s no teenager though, but a grown up and a chef who is carvin out quite a reputation for himself.

Part of the reason for his ever-growing profile is that he seems to have almost become a mascot for the BBC and Cornwall as a whole, having appeared on Countryfile along with the BBC’s Food Programme and its Cornwall website. Then again, these aren’t Kumar’s only notable credentials. The Bihar-born chef, who is of Bengali origin, has cooked for the Saudi Arabian king, worked for uber-chef Raymond Blanc and somehow, along the way, become a bit of a champion and local hero for Cornish produce.

And yes, he also happens to work in the kitchens of Newquay’s biggest hotel, The Headland.

Kumar started out in the industry by gaining a diploma in hotel management, in Calcutta. He moved to Delhi to work for the famed American chain T.G.I. Friday’s and then the Hyatt Regency and its Italian section, before moving on to Goa and working in the Mediterranean section of the Taj Exotica.

“The time I spent at the Exotica was a lot of fun,” says Kumar. “It was really the place, where I developed my flair for cooking and feel that I was in a career that had longevity. What was to follow, merely confirmed that feeling.

A chance meeting with the Saudi ambassador in India, led to Kumar being invited to come and work there and cook for its ruler, HRH King Fahad, at the Al Riyadh palace, attaining the title of ‘chef in charge’.

“I went to Saudia Arabia,” says Kumar, “as someone who was adept at cooking Italian and Mediterranean food and came away from the country having learnt how to cook Arabic food. It was quite a turn! It was also a very memorable experience. I’d been involved with banqueting whilst working in India, but the sheer scale of the banquettes in the Saudi terrain just bowled me over. Sometimes, we would be in the middle of the desert, miles from the nearest supermarket, which meant that you had to plan everything very meticulously. But it was al and eye-opening experience and three years well-spent.”

A stint back in India followed with Kumar working at the Intercontinental, in Mumbai.

“I was based near the airport,” he states, “and whether it was something to do with the location or the fact that I’d now had a taste of working abroad, but what I wanted to do most was to work overseas and expand my horizons. So I approached an agency which placed professionals abroad and ended up in Oxford, in the UK.”

This was in 2003 and Kumar had got the job of chef de partie at Raymond Blanc’s Le Petit Blanc. Though he found things to be quite regimented at the beginning, compared to India he adds, the discipline and knowledge he gained from working for Blanc, has stood him good stead ever since.

Subsequently, Kumar ended up in Newquay and the hotel where he’s working at now. But he’s forged a profile well beyond that of his hotel work. With cookery demos, appearances at various cookery shows and events, he’s been championing Cornish food and ingredients with some verve.

“I love Cornish produce,” he states, “particularly the freshly caught seafood. Being Bengali, I seafood is part of my heritage anyway so it gives me such joy to be working in this part of the world with its natural beauty and food source.”

 

Sample Menu

Starters

Newquay Bay lobster, crayfish tails and crab salad served with crisp
leaves, cucumber wafers and a lemon and crème fraîche
Cornish crab on toast with Spingo beer mustard and Padstow garden leaves
Kalamata olives ravioli with baba ghanous and baby basil leaves,sun blushed tomato tartare

Mains
Slow braised rump and pan seared best end of Cornish lamb, served with a
potato, parsnip and thyme gratin and a garlic and mint jus
Roast fillet of Cornish beef stuffed with a rich mushroom duxelle, served
with garlic and thyme roasted potatoes, saute of wild mushrooms and a rich
Madeira sauce
Crab and lemon crusted Cornish sea bass, with masala beurre blanc, pea
and mint risotto and coriander oil

Desserts
Summer fruit pavlova with cornish cream Chantilly
Dark chocolate terrine,milk chocolate sauce and Roskyllis farmhouse ice cream

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