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South Indian Michelin Star Chef in San Francisco

South Indian food is certainly going to be the front player for next few years, says Chef Srijith Gopinathan, the only Indian American to win two Michelin Stars

chef sreejith

A south Indian by origin, Chef Srijith Gopinathan grew up learning the intricacies of Indian cooking and flavours of ingredients in his mother’s kitchen and from his grandmother.

After working with luxury hotels in India, training at Culinary Institute of America, and working in American restaurants, he is now with the Taj Campton Place Hotel, San Francisco as Executive Chef. It is here that he earned his Michelin stars.

He is the only Indian American Chef to have earned for him two Michelin stars (2016). He believes in making the best of both his worlds and in the process came up with a cuisine that he calls the ‘Cal-Indian’. And it was indeed this cuisine that brought the coveted stars. An exclusive interview with the Michelin star chef Srijith Gopinathan did reveal many interesting facets of the celebrity chef’s life and work. The interview was done during his visit to the much famous Taj Falaknuma, Hyderabad, India, in March, 2017, to create the menu for a dinner to be served on the historic 101 dining table.

Falaknuma 101 Dining Room.jpg

Excerpts

What has been the driving force behind your journey from South India to becoming a celebrity chef? 
My source of inspiration has been my grand-mother, who would often ask me to collect ginger and turmeric that grew in our backyard as a ritual before every family meal. She had a way of using these ingredients and transforming them into something magical.

I would often be found overlooking her culinary prowess as she went on to create recipes that utilised the Southern spices and ingredients to the fullest. Mesmerised by her cooking techniques, I wanted to master this magic too and it has indeed played an important factor in shaping my career.

While I began working with renowned luxury hotels in India, I went on to pursue training in the Culinary Institute at America, Hyde Park, NY and also in the kitchens of Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones at the famed Two Michelin star restaurants Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, England.

How did the concept of Cal-India food come up? 
Californian cuisine with Indian influences and techniques is Cal-India. Our food is location and product based; what we get, we use. I blend California’s fresh ingredients and the use of its smoke, fire and grilling techniques with India’s multi-faceted regional dishes, aromatics and spices.

How did you fuse the extremely rich and spicy Indian food with the delicate flavours of French and western cuisine?
I fulfilled my goal in marrying the flavours of two very different hemispheres. For example ‘Maine lobster in coconut curry with hearts of palm and cilantro’.  To me, the food is only as good as the products. It’s important to collaborate my ethnicity with where I am. I love integrating tamarind and coconut into my dishes. And of course, California is known for its amazing food and amazing produce, so I had to take advantage.

To me, the food is only as good as the products. It’s important to collaborate my ethnicity with where I am. I love integrating tamarind and coconut into my dishes

What were the challenges you initially faced when you wanted in introduce your concept?
San Francisco, very much like New York is not new to ethnic flavours. So, that made things a bit easier. It certainly took us a little more than a year to get comfortable in the market. We are glad people here are pretty open minded and love new flavours.

Taj Campton Place.jpg

Taj Campton Place, San Francisco

It was under your flagship that even your restaurant won the Michelin star. So what does it take for gaining the distinction?
It is the ingredients one uses and way you treat them for sure. Also the consistency of food and service, which is something we work very hard on.

Can you talk a bit about your signature dish? 
‘Spice Pot’ features a pani puri mix made with spiced potatoes and peas, covered with tamarind , cilantro and mint snow, topped with chaas to give it body and then garnished with puffed grains like rice and quinoa.

Spice Pot

Spice Pot

What is your favourite food?
Being a Mallu, coconut and tamarind are very close to my heart; which I incorporate quite a bit into my dishes.

What is your impression on the food scene in India, from what you have seen?
Until recent past we had most good restaurants inside the hotel and hence there were limitations. Standalone restaurant scene has gotten much better now and so chefs have a lot more freedom to explore and experiment.

Now, we will start seeing much more free flow of cuisine and style. As far as food scene is concerned, Indian food is extremely complex and flavourful. Cuisine varies almost every ten- fifteen miles, and so we are not out of choice. In my opinion, South Indian food is certainly going to be the front player for next few years.

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