Currying favour with the town’s latest celebrity chef

The team from Corker Outdoor, Award sponsor Jason Varney (Thomson, Snell & Passmore) & Eamonn Holmes

TV chef Tom Kerridge has some great foodie friends who accompany him every year on the circuit for his ‘good food and good grooves’ touring festival Pub in the Park but none more so than Atul Kochhar who has been a staple since the event began in 2018.

The talented Michelin starred chef who runs Indian Essence in Orpington and Kanishka in London’s West End – and is about to open another of his Riwaz restaurants in the former premises of Woods on The Pantiles later this year – is accompanying Kerridge on all nine destinations of Pub in the Park this year.

The Tunbridge Wells event takes place over the weekend of July 8-10 and Atul and his team will be there serving up a number of dishes including Murgh Tikka Masala Pie and Malabar Meen Kari – a spiced fish curry with tomato and coconut.

Atul will be appearing alongside fellow chefs Will Devlin from The Small Holding in Kilndown and Chris and James Tanner from The Kentish Hare in Bidborough while the musical entertainment over the weekend of July 8-10 will include sets from the likes of Sophie Ellis Bextor, Melanie C, The Feeling and Supergrass.

“We are touring all nine Pub in the Parks and looking forward to seeing everyone at one of the most fantastic parties in this country. Great food, great music and a great public!” Atul declared recently.

But before all the fun of the festivals Atul is currently promoting the release of his latest cookbook Curry Everyday. And he has one firm request for fans of his food: to step away from shop-bought curry paste.

“You honestly don’t need the paste in the supermarket – please don’t buy it, even if my name is on it!”

Atul, who was awarded his first Michelin star in 2001 at London restaurant Tamarind, and then a second at his own restaurant, Benares, believes the trick to cooking a good curry from scratch, is simplicity. “Don’t go for very complicated recipes,” says the Indian chef. “Complicated recipes are generally the creation of sadly, chefs like me who want to look good and put in too many ingredients. Whereas if you ask any Indian mother or mother of the Indian subcontinent, she will tell you: four or five ingredients only.”

It’s why his new cookbook, Curry Everyday, is packed with shorter, easy-to-follow recipes, and with inspiration taken much further than just India – from Cambodia to Kenya, Afghanistan to the Maldives – and they’re all vegetarian.

The 52-year-old only eats meat twice a week, and when it comes to vegetables, his late father’s

influence was huge: “I always say I have learned most of the cookery from my father, and a little bit from chef school. His way of spicing things and handling vegetables was quite unique. He was just a magician with flavours,” the dad-of-two says.

Kochhar was the first Indian chef to ever win a Michelin star, and is often credited with elevating Indian food to a fine dining level. He says it’s ‘very heart-warming to see’ how people in Britain have embraced Indian-inspired food and made it part of their own culture. “I think more and more people cook and eat curry at home now than ever before,” smiles Atul.

Immigrating to the UK in 1994, he says: “Wholeheartedly I have become ‘British-Indian’ and people asked me, ‘What’s your food?’ I’m proud to say I call my food British-Indian. [It] has grown very different from how my contemporaries are cooking in New Delhi or Mumbai. This is me, this is how I cook, this is what I love.”

When he arrived in the UK, Kochhar says he realised the great produce this country has.

“We may not be great at growing tomatoes and basil, but this country is great when it comes to root vegetables.” And these are perfect for vegetarian curries, he says. “Anything from carrots to turnips to parsnips, you name it, I experiment with all the combinations of the different types of vegetables we have in this country. I love it, I think it’s amazing. There’s fantastic cabbage and cauliflower as well.”

And when you cook veg in season, “Mother Nature does 80% of the job, and I only have to do 20%.”

Atul’s enduring success is down to expanding our perceptions of British-Indian food. “I was brave to break the boundaries, I didn’t see any culinary borders, they were quite blurred for me,” he says.

“I thought if Gordon Ramsay can do it, so can I – maybe I landed a Michelin star because of that. That helped me to elevate the food to where it is today.”

Curry Everyday is published by Bloomsbury Absolute, priced £26.

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