'I wasn't meant to be a chef'

'I wasn't meant to be a chef'

I wasn’t meant to be a chef or own a restaurant. Initially, I worked as an accountant in Delhi, but wasn’t very successful at it. That was when I was introduced to the culinary world — I ended up working in hotels in the mid 80s.

Then I managed to get to London and for a while, I thought I’d continue as an
accountant. But it wasn’t as easy as I thought. This is when I started working as a waiter in a restaurant and found out that Indian food in London was terrible!

The idea of quality and hospitality was totally unknown in the Indian food sector then. In the 70s and 80s, the restaurants were dark rooms with torn wallpaper and the lingering smell of stale ‘papad’. There was also a misconception that Indian food is messy and spicy, which you fancy only when you are drunk. As an Indian who believes in the power of cooking and the spiritual nature of spices, I decided to open a restaurant, ‘Rasa’, and show people what we really eat at home and how. I wanted to put out our mums’ recipes and not what you get in restaurants; the place should represent a culture and its individuality. Most people eat but hardly understand the food.  The menu, till today, comprises dishes that my mum used to cook when I was a child. For a stranger, the best way to understand a country is through its food. So, over the years, I have tried different concepts and dishes, but the essence and taste remain true to this idea.

‘Rasa’ serves organic, vegetarian, home-made dishes (although we have fish-based dishes for the European audience). In the last 300 years, we have forgotten everything. I, as a citizen of the country and a foodie, think that Indian food is the food of the future. It’s versatile, colourful, rich, healthy and has elements that most communities don’t.

About the dish I’ve picked for today, the ‘Beet mango moru curry’, is one of my mum’s specials. My mother was a great cook and as I was a mummy’s boy, I was spoilt with her food; I could eat only her food. And this was one of her trademark dishes. It’s a common man’s dish, a curd dish, that turns out beautifully because it’s so flexible with any seasonal vegetable. One can use spinach, beetroot or just curd. It can also be had everyday. Whenever I have rice, I have to have this.

This dish is also the secret to my success. When we think about success, things like hard work come to mind. But I have tried making just this, spent five minutes on it, and it was a hit among everyone.

Also, I feel a dish is not about the ingredients but the heart. Whenever my mum made it, it was really tasty not only because of the ingredients but also because of the love she put into it. It is light and complements every other dish.

Das Sreedharan, Chef and owner of ‘Rasa’
(As told to Ananya Revanna)

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