October 2004
 

Alfred Prasad of Tamarind. He's not bitter

With the hullabaloo of The Restaurant Awards over, Alfred Prasad Head Chef of Michelin starred, and winner again of Indian restaurant of the year, Tamarind is back in the kitchen. We dragged him out just before service to talk to us

'We're pretty confident about the product we are delivering here. The morale of the whole team is good.' Alfred Prasad smiles gently, a man at ease with himself. And no wonder. To be one of only two Michelin starred Indian restaurants in London is no small achievement. To win Indian Restaurant of The Year for the second year running is the icing on the Nan .

'It's gratifying and important to be recognised by one's peers,' Alfred continues.' It's extra special and for me comes second only to our Michelin star in importance.' Tamarind is, of course, a Mayfair restaurant with Mayfair prices, so what do the Stars and Awards signify about Indian cuisine in this country? Is it even fair to call it ' Indian' any more or is that a gross over-simplification?

'Indian food can never be discovered in its entirety,' is Alfred's considered response. ' It is extremely vast and varied in its spices, textures and flavours. Every province has its own unique character of cooking. However the generic term Indian allows me to explore the variety of regions under the one banner. We are here a predominantly North Indian restaurant, but we identified a need to explore the South too, not least because we wanted to offer a great choice of seafood and I myself am from the South.'

Alfred was, as he points out, born and educated in the South of India and graduated from the Institute of Hotel Management in Madras in 1993. He completed his advanced chef's training in Delhi and worked at the near-legendary Bukhara and Dum-Pukht restaurants before moving to the Sheraton Hotel in Madras to be Executive Chef of the Dakshin restaurant there. A period at Veerawamy in London was followed by the position of Sous Chef at Tamarind in 2001 before becoming Executive Chef in 2002

 

Seafood is a particular passion of Alfred's. 'The essence is to serve it as fresh as possible,' he explains, 'and that means here in London using fish that I would not normally use. Local seafood is far better than imported frozen and part of my growth as a chef is to accommodate new fish. Take Sea Bass, for example. It's unheard of India but I find it a very good fish for my cooking. It goes fantastically well with the flavours and its soft texture compliments the subtlety of coconut sauce. Since I introduced Sea Bass it has been very popular. In fact, I would like to take it off the menu to make room for new dishes but quite frankly that's not possible. It's just too popular.' Tamarind also use mussels to great effect, 'Yes the seafood stew with mussels, scallops, king fish and salmon is another dish I simply cannot take off the menu.' Alfred agrees with a grin.

Many Indian restaurants looking to go up a notch in style have taken to serving everything on one plate with squiggles of sauce around. Is that a direction Alfred sees himself going in? 'No, I don't think so. It is of course nice to create a piece of art on the plate and good to borrow ideas from other cuisines and cultures but the essence of Indian food is sharing and that means individual bowls of food. It makes a for a more communal experience and each diner gets to explore the variety.'

Alfred spent some time in the high-pressure environment of a Chinese rooftop restaurant in India and he does now use ingredients and techniques that he discovered there. 'And also the elements of healthy eating,' he adds. 'I am very aware of the need to show people that Indian food can be healthy food. There is no need to leave at, say lunchtime, feeling bloated and heavy. Balance and lightness can be achieved with care and skill. Our set lunches have that aspect very much in mind. All over India local cooks know that ingredients can be almost medicinal as well as tasty. Ginger, of course, is excellent for the digestion. Herbal and spice remedies are part of everyday life and are integral to the cuisine. I try to respect that'



Indian food in general in the UK is a unique, home grown product he points out. 'It has evolved to meet the taste of its customers,' he says.. 'Of course many dishes here are unheard of back in India , but that's not a criticism. It is only right and natural that a cuisine should adapt to its environment. Yes the average Indian restaurant's menu is all over the place geographically, but there is nothing wrong with that.'

For Alfred the important thing is that every dish he serves should be alive with clearly defined flavours. His attitude toward his cooking is to constantly explore. As Gordon Ramsay (no less) has said, ''Alfred deserves the widest recognition. A lot of people take Indian food for granted, but this man is always pushing the boundaries, seeking out new spices and combinations.'

2005 should bring even more accolades Alfred's way.