Michelin-starred Chef Atul Kochhar and his creative mind are taking Indian cuisine by storm. He has revolutionized and changed the way people perceive Indian cuisine in the UK. Atul talks to The Sybarite about his experience of being the first chef to receive a Michelin star for Indian fine-dining and the success behind Kanishka, his latest restaurant.
Can you tell us a bit about your career and where did your love for cooking come from?
I was born in Jamshedpur in India, and it’s my home that has always inspired me to explore the plethora of India’s regional dishes. My grandfather was a baker and my father had a small catering business so I grew up looking at- and experimenting with- food! At a time where my friends were aspiring to go to engineering or medical college, I instead wanted to go to Hotel school, and my father was very supportive of that ambition. I began a cooking career at The Oberoi group of hotels after gaining a diploma in Hotel Management. And I moved to the UK in 1994.
You were the first chef to win a Michelin star for Indian cuisine. What was that experience like?
There are no words to describe how it feels to have achieved two Michelin stars but there are also incredibly important rewards that this culinary industry delivers on a daily basis. Like so much in life, as we give to the world, so the world gives back. I have admired so many special people during these 25 years, and who knows what tomorrow will bring and who I will have the pleasure to work with then?
You have revolutionized Indian food in the UK. What do you feel about how Indian food has become a part of British culture?
My cuisine is a special fusion of Indian food heritage but also my great love of British and local ingredients.
We promise our guests bright and beautiful experiences each time they visit us. From the food and cocktails on the menus, to the décor and design of our restaurants, we pride ourselves on creating immersive culinary journeys. Every talented chef is on a voyage of discovery and our restaurant take diners through India’s most vibrant colours and culture.
What is the idea and aim behind Kanishka?
In the heart of Mayfair, Kanishka focuses on the unexplored cuisine from the so-called ‘Sister States’ of India. Our cuisine here is that of elevated simplicity – relying on fantastic quality ingredients.
Where did you find the inspiration to create Kanishka’s menu?
North-eastern India is not only scenic; the ‘Sister States’ of India have their own legacy of rich culture and traditions, which change as you travel from one state to the other. These are places that are quite underrated, especially in terms of culinary skills. It’s fascinating to dive into cooking styles and exquisite tastes because there are no end of surprises in the array of fresh flavours and ingredients from this stunning part of India.
What is Kanishka’s signature dish?
Tellicherry Chicken Korma, which is Kerala-inspired roasted chicken with coconut and pepper. I have cooked this tasty dish on James Martin’s Saturday Morning TV show recently too.
The pandemic has seen a horrible time for the hospitality industry worldwide. Fine-dining delivery is becoming a trend. What can your customers expect from ‘Kanishka at Home’?
Never has there been a more important time to show innovation in the restaurant industry. The ultimate goal is to deliver gourmet excitement to our customers, and the pandemic hasn’t stopped that.
Beautifully authentic Indian cuisine prepared to take-away is getting bigger and bigger. Diners expect the best in Indian food, which means sourcing the highest quality ingredients. Menus might be smaller but the enthusiasm for takeaway to dine out at home has only grown and grown during the lockdowns.
What has been the highlight of your career to date?
I remain very proud of the achievements of our whole team. We are constantly exploring ways to be inventive – with food and in business. Accolades recognise this and highlight our relevance in today’s industry and society.