Why Alfred Prasad is a culinary philosopher
Prasad is the youngest Indian chef to get a Michelin star.
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When you talk to Alfred Prasad, who’s best known for the direction he gave to the Michelin-starred London restaurant, Tamarind, it’s like having a conversation with a culinary philosopher. When you dig deeper into his life, you understand why.
Prasad was born literally in the middle of nowhere — at Wardha, Maharashtra, very near the Sevagram ashram community established by Mahatma Gandhi. His father, an orthopaedic surgeon, was attached with The Leprosy Mission there — it was to be his lifelong calling, which explains why Prasad spent most of his growing-up years in Vellore, the town famous for the Christian Medical College, because his father worked among people living with leprosy in a neighbouring town in the vicinity of Ambur.
Prasad, clearly, has inherited his concern for people’s health — and his spirit of service — from his father, who passed on a couple of years ago. I caught up with him at The Oberoi’s new Indian restaurant, Omya, which is fast becoming the favourite of both well-heeled Delhiites and expats, and where the menu carries the imprimatur of the London-based chef-consultant. The three pillars of Prasad’s culinary philosophy are Heritage, Health and Happiness.
The presentation of the dishes is creative and contemporary, but the techniques of cooking and the way they taste are as they have been known to be as long as these dishes have been around. The element of healthy eating is introduced unobtrusively with the addition of touches such as having pomegranate-glazed vegetables as accompaniments to the New Zealand lambbarrah, or serving a helping of millets khichdi (no refined carbs, please!) with the gunpowder fish. “What we put into our mouth is more important than the clothes we wear, or the bags we flaunt,” Prasad said to me. “Healthy eating must become a habit. We must start the dialogue now so that the awareness snowballs.”
(Photo: Mail Today)
Ironically, like Vineet Bhatia, a fellow Michelin-starrer, Prasad had grown up dreaming about becoming an Indian Air Force pilot, but he didn’t make it to the National Defence Academy in his first attempt. So he decided to bide his time pursuing a Bachelor’s in Zoology at Chennai’s Loyola College. That was when his mother, a school teacher, applied on his behalf at the Institute of Hotel Management (IHM), Chennai, and how right she was — young Alfred breezed into the IHM, grounding his ambition of becoming a fighter pilot.
I have long been eager to meet Prasad, not just because he was the youngest Indian chef to get a Michelin star (it happened in 2002, three years after he moved to London), but because of the work he does to promote the culture of food waste control and to alleviate hunger around the world (in 2014, he cycled across 250 miles of harsh terrain in Rajasthan to raise money for the UK charity, Action Against Hunger). Today, he’s a vocal champion of Akshayapatra, which has been at the forefront of providing mid-day meals in schools in the poorest parts of the country.
He balances it with being on Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen dream team, with having fans such as Thomas Keller, the American cookery guru who presides over French Laundry; and, for more than a decade, entertaining corporate honchos in the hospitality boxes at the Lord’s, the home ground of the MCC. At Omya, Prasad, a firm believer in “micro-regional cuisines” being “the next big trend”, brings these multifarious influences to the table. Steering away from kitchen drama of the molecular kind, Omya, as Prasad keeps emphasising, serves "authentic" pan-Indian cuisine with controlled contemporary flourishes.
(Courtesy of Mail Today)