He is a gastronomic royalty, skilled in preparing and plating dishes with his signature style. The Jamshedpur-born, London-based Atul Kochhar, the first Michelin-starred Indian chef, is considered the maestro of finesse. His latest cookbook, 'Curry Everyday: Over 100 Simple Vegetarian Recipes from Jaipur to Japan', shows a nature-nurture soul through 100 treasured vegetarian recipes, which Kochhar has invented. They delve deep into his travels across the world using his culinary expertise to dip into different cultures and bringing his gourmet gospel to restaurants in the UK and the Middle East.
Two weeks ago, Kochhar was busy showcasing some of the recipes in the book to a 13,000-strong crowd at the annual Pub in the Park event in Royal Tunbridge Wells, England. Kochhar’s singular recipes preen on the menus of his large roster of restaurants such as Riwaz, Vaasu and Mathura, all in the UK, and Saga back home, in Gurugram.
The 53-year-old chef, who has featured a vast repertoire of vegetarian dishes in his book, says, “When a stalwart like Chef Daniel Humm (of Eleven Madison Park in America) threw the entire carnivore basket out of his kitchen and declared it a vegetarian space, it was a big move,” he says.
It was a global shift towards a greener life. Kochhar spent the last two years perfecting the recipes, suggesting clever alternatives in keeping with local availability in the respective countries. From Swahili Paneer (the favourite pick of Gujaratis in Africa) to Omani flatbreads, Rolex aka rolled eggs of Uganda, the 492-page gastrotome is a resplendent visual relish. Kochhar travels through the world’s food atlas, spread across the Middle East, Africa, South America and Europe to Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Nepal.
The Bengali touch is unmistakable in many of his creations, especially in ghugni-based recipes. Kochhar has vivid childhood memories of pillion-riding a scooter with his father on Sundays to fetch fresh produce from the market in Jamshedpur. “My father was a lover of good Bengali food, and after having so many versions of the ghugni peas curry around the globe, I still fancy his version,” he says. After signing the book contract, Kochhar began to experiment and document the recipes he had come across during his travels.
His writing style is chatty and conversational, abounding in tips and tricks to play around with substitutes in ingredients (soya mince elbows aside okra in the Egyptian stew); accessible advice to pros and novices alike. The gold lies in the rich splay (at the end of the book) of secret garam masala recipes, powders and pastes that give an edgy spin to every dish.
Kochhar is not a fan of deep-fried food. “Sure, a samosa doesn’t give a kick until deep-fried, but we chefs sometimes unnecessarily lean towards a shortcut in cooking. I like to explore the tawa and the tandoor instead, bringing out the textures and flavours using various techniques,” he says. For instance, he loves the enhancement a dash of garam masala and jeera powder brings to Malay peanut dipping sauce.
As he celebrates the 100 recipes by whetting the NRI palate through his restaurants, he says, “I used
to travel a lot when my children were growing up.” Now, he sticks to the promise he made to his wife last year to strike a work-life balance by ensuring his commute time is less than an hour. Food and family on an equal footing for this chef.