Taste of the sea

Taste of the sea

Taste of the sea

It's been over 25 years since chef Naren Thimmaiah joined the Taj Group of Hotels and with each day, he falls more in love with his job. A commerce graduate, Naren's original aim was to pursue an MBA. However, fate had different plans, as he was meant to be one of the most loved chefs in the country in addition to being the executive chef of The Gateway Hotel.

Also the face of Karavalli, the iconic seafood specialty restaurant of the plush hotel, Naren believes in giving 200% to everything he does. "This was the first job I took up after completing my studies and I am still here," he laughs.

In an interview with Living, Naren speaks about his early years and experiences in the food industry.

Tell us a little about your childhood and your love for food.

I lived in Coorg throughout my childhood. So being in the lap of nature and eating seasonal and fresh produce was the norm - to me that was the way of life. Those were the days when all your produce was grown in your own estate, paddy fields and vegetable gardens. My mother being a great cook, really helped me develop a love for good food and understand it well. Almost every day, there was something to look forward to from mom's repertoire!
My fondest memory of those days is plucking curry leaves from the backyard for her along with my two brothers. After completing 10th standard, I moved to a hostel where I saw how different cooking in bulk was from cooking for your loved ones at home. I also learnt to eat my dessert first since if you didn't get to it fast enough, it would get over!

How did you foray into the culinary world?

I graduated in commerce and my original plan was to pursue an MBA. But that was the time when Mangalore University introduced a course in Hotel Management. I looked at it as a great opportunity and decided to take it up.

When did you realise that you wanted to be a chef?

During my college days, we had six semesters and at the end of each one, we had to work in a hotel, which helped us realise our true strengths. It was during a campus interview when my principal told me to give cooking a shot since I was good at it.

How did you develop the fondness for coastal cuisine?

Soon after I joined The Gateway Hotel, I had to work in every section of the kitchen. It's a norm for the trainees to do so the first two years. That was the time I realised that south-western coastal cuisine (basically south Indian coastal cuisine) was my favourite. Not only was I familiar with it, but it was also a cuisine that showed great potential in terms of acceptability.
Being part of the opening team of Karavalli helped too. Thanks to the concept of the restaurant, which focusses on home cooking and digging out old recipes, I travelled to coastal areas like Goa and Mangaluru to learn the basics of home-cooked seafood. I was familiar with it anyway since I had studied in Udupi.

Who are your inspirations?  

My mom for sure! I realise now that her delicious meals helped me understand food better. Her cooking methods, though laborious, gave me an insight into the finer nuances of cooking. My brothers inspired me a lot too, as it was along with them that I would often try out many dishes, not knowing that the process would help me later. My team is another source of inspiration for me because they have been with me during all my highs and lows in the kitchen.

What are the hottest trends in cooking right now?

Though trends must be followed because that's the way a cuisine evolves, one should also know when to stop. Having said that, the latest trends are regional food, niche ingredients, single-estate products and sustainable cooking.

How has travel influenced your cooking?

Though I travel more within the country to learn about regional food, I keep going to Singapore thanks to different food festivals and chef-exchange programmes. The city is culinary melting pot and every time I go there, it's like a new Singapore with new concepts. Although our food industry is thriving, we are lagging behind when it comes to the latest concepts.
I learnt a lot from my journey to Europe too. I visited five countries there and learnt that you should stick to the concept that you believe in. They use the best quality ingredients and are still so proud of all their traditions.

How does one make cooking easy?  

Cooking is an art as well as a science. Since most of us aren't born with the innate skill of turning whatever we cook into an extremely tasty dish, practice is the key to perfection. Also ensure that there is a method to madness! Being organised in whatever you do is the basic mantra.

Any tips to keep in mind while cooking seafood?

Seafood is the most tender of all meats and can get spoilt real fast. So, ensure that the catch is fresh. Keep the marinade light. You need to taste the meat and not the masalas! Also, never ever overcook! Around five to seven minutes of cooking should do the trick.



Allapuzha Meen Curry


Coconut: 1 (grated)

Red chillies (Byadagi): 25 gm

Turmeric powder: 5 gm

Raw mangoes: 2 (skinned and chopped)

Whole green chilli: 50 gm

Curry leaves: 1 sprig

Small onions (shallots): 75 gm

Rock salt: to taste

Coconut oil: 50 ml

Seer fish (cut into cubes): 300 gm


* Grind grated coconut and red chillies to a fine paste and strain.
* Wash the fish and marinate with salt and turmeric powder.
* Add little water to the ground coconut and boil for 10-15 minutes.
* Add the raw mango pieces, curry leaves and slit green chillies.
* Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
* Heat the coconut oil and add the sliced small onion and fry till golden brown.
* Add the remaining curry leaves and temper it with the gravy.
* Add the fish cubes to the gravy and cook for 3-5 minutes and check the seasoning. Serve hot with boiled red or white rice.


Tiger Prawn Roast


* Tiger prawns: 6  
* Onion (sliced): 200 gm
* Tomato (sliced): 100 gm
* Chilli powder: 50 gm
* Turmeric powder: 5 gm
* Garam masala powder: 5 gm
* Saunf powder: 15 gm
* Salt to taste
* Cooking oil: 75 ml  
* Lemon juice: 15 ml
* Curry leaves: 1 sprig


* Marinate prawns in lemon juice, salt, chilli powder and turmeric powder. Keep it aside for five minutes.
* Heat oil in a pan. Add the onions, curry leaves and sauté for 5 minutes.
* Add the powdered masalas, stir well for a minute. Add the tomato and cook it well.
* Add the marinated prawns and cook them in the masala till it reduces.  
* Finish with a dash of lemon juice and check the seasoning.


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