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The chef chronicles: Shining for India

The only Indian chef in America to receive two Michelin stars, Srijith Gopinathan talks about balancing Indian flavours for the Western palate

  Rom growing up in South India amidst the fragrance of pepper, cardamom and turmeric, to earning Michelin stars — six years in a row — chef Srijith Gopinathan has come a long way. The San Francisco-based chef took it up a notch after being awarded two Michelin stars this year in 2016 — Michelin Guide San Francisco Bay Area and Wine Country, for Campton Place restaurant, located in the Taj Campton Place Hotel. Gopinathan is the only Indian chef in America to receive this honour. Excerpts:

Spicepot, a creation by Gopinathan
Spicepot, a creation by Gopinathan

Q. What is the key to striking a balance when creating contemporary Indian cuisine with Western influences?
A. The most important thing would be to communicate to the audience and make sure they understand what they are about to buy/consume. Surprises are good only if one can ensure it is 100% positive every time (often, that is not the case). So, we made it a point to connect most of our dishes with something they already know or have heard of. For the local audiences here, we drew a fine line between how Westerners like their food and how Indian food is typically made. For example, in this part of the world, the dominant element of a particular dish is the flavours and everything plays around it. However, Indian cuisine is just the opposite, which means, very often spice is the significant player and ingredients play around it. So, it was important for us to carefully position them to make some sense of our cuisine, which I think, worked well for us.

Spiced Butter Poached Lobster
Spiced Butter Poached Lobster

Q. What are your favourite food memories from India?
A. I love chaat. Indo-Chinese and Thai food also make it to my list of most favoured cuisines, however, street food will always be the winner for me.

Q. What would you call your most accomplished dish?
A. In my opinion, the most accomplished dish and also, the simplest is the Spiced Butter Poached Lobster served with Coastal Curry Sauce.

Srijith Gopinathan, executive chef, Taj Campton Place
Srijith Gopinathan, executive chef, Taj Campton Place

Q. Many popular international Indian chefs are returning to India to set up shop. Any such plans ahead?
A. I would love to. At this point, I would like to collaborate with Taj hotels and a couple of restaurants in India, or even
outside India.

Q. Two Michelin stars. What is the hard work that goes behind it?
A. Really, a lot of hard work (I don’t think I can explain in words). I am extremely thankful to my team that puts in so much effort, my organisation for giving me resources, my General Manager and of course, most importantly, my seven-year-old son, and wife who have happily put up with my crazy schedules all these years.

Michelin-India connect

Indian food seems to be gaining a foothold in North America. Two more restaurants have earned one Michelin star in this list – Rasa Indian and All Spice. Both serve contemporary cuisine with Indian influences.

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