Becoming the first Indian chef to receive the much-vaunted accolade of a Michelin Star at Tamarind in London’s Mayfair in 2001, and again for his own restaurant Benares in Berkley Square, Atul Kochhar is one of a small elite band of chefs who have changed the public perception of Indian cuisine, elevating it to a culinary high. With a growing chain of international restaurants from London to Madrid and Mumbai to Dubai this passionate award-winning chef flies the standard for the very best of authentic Indian food. Read Atul Kochhar’s latest column for Food and Travel.
I always enjoy visiting my restaurant Rang Mahal at the JW Marriott Marquis in Dubai; it is such a vibrant city – the culinary heart of the Middle East, and the team at JW Marriott have provided such an extraordinarily chic space that inspires both diner and chef alike.
Keeping the menu fresh with innovative dishes and my re-interpretation of some of the great Indian classics provides a dining experience that both delights and entices in equal measures. Sometimes the changes are a gentle and other times a more radical overhaul; my inspiration is mostly an evolutionary process, a gentle nudge from where I live, it could be something I have seen or an exciting new chef that inspires me. For example three Michelin-starred chef David Muñoz, who has just opened his latest London outpost StreetXO; working with some of the greats at Balzac and Nobu, and his travels to Asia have brought spices to his Spanish cuisine in a casual quirky way that inspires me to push the envelope.
Even so, some of my inspiration comes from looking backwards, in fact one of my favourite dishes on the menu is Chana Gosht, Lamb with Punjabi style chickpea cassoulet, muska pao, kadhai subzian, which we are currently doing with lamb shank. The idea for the dish came to me during my travels around India. In Kashmir, the old chef at the hotel where I used to work taught me that spices were not only for flavour but had therapeutic properties too. I thought about the best possible way of enhancing the dish. My memories of growing up on Bengali food made me consider the most commonly used flavours: yoghurt, black cardamom and bay leaf. I wanted to use the shared flavours from places as far apart as Kashmir & Calcutta, I therefore added turnip which is plentiful at this time of year and which works incredibly well with the lamb shank. Combining all these elements and flavours created a dish that is part wisdom, part science, and part nostalgia – and incredibly popular!
Inspired by my visits to Kerala on the south-western shores of India: Meen Moilley. This is another favourite of mine that is basically a pan-seared sea bass, with turmeric and coconut curry. The skin is cooked nice and crisp, to add another layer of texture, then flipped over and the soft white flesh is cooked on a very gentle heat to ensure it stays moist and full of flavour. Before it starts to brown I add butter and lemon, instead of oil, to create a foam for a more gentle style of cooking; then the coconut milk in the curry sauce adds a rich sweet taste.
The delivery of the menu is in the hands of my talented brigade, who strive every single day, to deliver that perfect Rang Mahal signature experience.