Taj Hotels’ Michelinstar chefs, Sriram Aylur and Srijith Gopinathan come together to curate magic with an inspired tasting menu
DOES A BOWL LAYERED with curd rice, tempered with curry leaf granola, citrus oil and topped with cauliflowers and pickling spices sound exotic? How about a spice pot with potatoes, English peas, mint and tamarind? While the former is a fresh take on traditional curd rice, the latter, of Indian chaat.
Lending a twist to these Indian dishes are Michelin-star chefs Sriram Aylur (53) of Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences London, and Srijith Gopinathan (39) of Taj Campton Place restaurant at the eponymous hotel in San Francisco. In a rare collaboration, the duo create a degustation menu that is progressive, local, yet Indian at heart. While Aylur blends his expertise in south Indian coastal food, Gopinathan adds his version of California-inspired Indian cuisine. The twin pop-ups were held at The Chambers, The Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai and at Varq, Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi recently. In conversation with Spice, the duo discussed their innovative menu, the future of Indian cuisine and, of course, life after the Michelin star.
Both of you have a different take on Indian cuisine served at your restaurants; South-west coastal Indian cuisine and California-inspired Indian cuisine. How different are these from each other?
Sriram Aylur (SA) The dishes served at Quilon are inspired by the coastal cuisine of Kerala, Goa and Karnataka. They reflect progressive food by way of experimenting with different ingredients but stay connected to their Indian roots. At London, we get the freshest ingredients from around the world and so get a chance to experiment. Our menu offers a mix of traditional and familiar dishes like the Mangalorean chicken, Malabar lamb biryani and avial along with contemporary and progressive ones like the seafood moilee and baked black cod.
In fact Quilon is the only south Indian restaurant in the world with a Michelin star to its name.
Srijith Gopinathan (SG) The Cal-Indian cuisine we serve is a happy marriage of European-Californian ingredients with Indian cooking techniques and spices. Ingredients such as scallops, quail and lobster are cooked with coconut curry or with jaggery. Unlike London, here I get to source all the ingredients from within a 100mile radius since California has the best produce in the world. I combine peak-season ingredients with Indian spices that enhance a dish, but never overwhelm. In 2016, we became the first Indian restaurant in the world to be awarded two Michelin stars, after being awarded the first Michelin star in 2010 and winning it continuously six times in a row.
How did you maintain your signature touch for this menu despite two different cooking sensibilities involved?
SA & SG Our collaboration is not to be mistaken for a fusion menu, but one that carries influences of both places (London and San Francisco) but remained true to Indian cuisine. We did not divide the dishes among ourselves and cook separately but added our touch to each dish to showcase a perfect synthesis. The fourcourse menu comprised dishes like jumbo shrimp raita salad, turmeric whey scallop, moilee cream, mango chilli salsa, slow cooked quail with black pepper crust, a baked black cod with spiced palm jaggery glaze, or California morels, pea tendril ‘saag’ served with a quail confit ‘naan bao.’ The dessert comprising rhubarb, shrikhand crystals, and pulled golden papadi, had the texture of frozen crystal balls yet the flavours reminded you of Indian shrikhand.
Each course was paired with an exclusive selection of wines. For instance, the main course comprising baby lamb shank slow cooked with spices and herbs for the non vegetarian diners as well as the stuffed courgette flower with bell weather farm ricotta, ghee crumble and tofu and cottage cheese chop pistachio sauce for the vegetarian counterparts were both paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon, Cannonball, 2013 (California, USA) wine.
How have things changed after the Michelin star rating?
SA Earlier, people could not comprehend an Indian restaurant without the usual naan, chicken tikka and dal makhani. Explaining coastal cuisine and its simplicity and spices was painful. However, the Michelin star changed it all. Even though it was unexpected and came as a surprise initially, the exemplary stress on service, food and innovation has helped sustain its star rating till date.
SG The perception of Indian food is changing and slowly, people are beginning to understand that it is not just about spices but has an extensive range to offer. While much has been done and written about as far as Japanese cuisine is concerned, Indian, like Peruvian cuisine, is beginning to get noticed and be measured against international cuisine.
FLAVOUR TWIST (L-R) Baked black cod, spiced palm jaggery glaze; scallop, moilee cream, mango chilli salsa; jumbo shrimp raita salad, turmeric whey