Sophie Ritchie speaks to Michelin chef Peter Joseph on the importance of keeping a cool head during tough times, as well as his food predictions for 2021 and advice for chefs struggling to stay creative in the Covid-19 climate
What inspired you to become a chef?
My early inspiration for cooking mainly came from observing from my mum. I still fondly remember my sibling and I would compete to get the last of the pot of our mother’s chicken or lamb curries.
At a very young age my friends and myself would borrow ingredients from our mothers kitchen to cook a dish together as part of a social gathering around food. I was also in awe of the chefs I had seen on TV in their smart uniforms creating colourful and flavoursome food. These all inspired me to become a chef.
Where did you train? Tell us more about your culinary background…
After schooling I enrolled myself at Hotel Management School on a three years course in India. My first role thereafter was at Sheraton Group of International Hotels starting as a pastry chef, before becoming a sous chef at the hotel; this experience exposed me to a variety of international cuisines to match the international clientele of the hotel. From classical French to Malaysian, or from Chinese to regional Indian and so on.
My first Executive chef, and my mentor Rakesh Upadhya, was a proved inspirational figure. His teaching really changed my view and his continuous channelled passion, such that I was able to plan accurately and be adaptable to new challenges.
From 2004, after five years with the Sheraton Group, I moved to London, George Town Indian Malaysian restaurant at London Bridge Hotel. And then my first understanding of the rigours of a Michelin starred restaurant came two years later when I joined Tamarind of Mayfair as a sous chef. This was a challenging time, as through all my previous experiences, I had not encountered anything like the demands of this type of cooking – the expectations, the challenges, the consistency required.
By 2012, I had earned my stripes delivering the right taste and texture service in, service out and was rewarded with the head chef role at Tamarind, holding the Michelin star in my own right continuously until my departure at the end of 2018. I was always ready for a new opportunity and challenge, so I have opened my own restaurant, KAHANI.
How has the lockdown announcements impacted your business?
There are major concerns for our business even before Tier restrictions, jobs are in trouble, evidently because the curfew has a massive effect on our restaurant with day to day covers which means every day a drop in revenue.
The rules mean that different households are not allowed to mix indoors, which has a significant impact on restaurants. Small independent restaurants like ourselves have already struggled throughout the first national lockdown.
But at Kahani we know that we will persist through these circumstances and come back in a terrific way.
How have you changed your usual restaurant/kitchen environment to adapt to the ‘new era’ of dining?
We ensure that anyone handling food receives the appropriate supervision and training in food hygiene. Of course we now use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in our restaurant for the protection of workers, as well as our guests and where appropriate to prevent the contamination of food during production and serving.
We ensure that objects and surfaces that are touched regularly, are frequently cleaned, and disinfected using our regular cleaning products. Also, we spaced out our table & seating as per new government requirements. We placed individual sanitisers our guests.
In terms of function, our kitchen is doing a lot more takeaways than before!
What advice would you offer to aspiring chefs in these tough times?
The present is really tough, especially for chefs and my advice for ambitious chefs would be just stay calm, focus on what you are learning and doing, utilise the time and try to learn new things, new recipes.
Don’t be afraid to experiment and get creative. If it tastes bad, start over. If the presentation is off, redo it. Make mistakes and learn from them. Your creativity shines when you practice. The time will change you will reach where you need to be, until then stay focused.
What do you think will be 2021’s biggest food trend?
As we have gone through a lots in Covid 19 in 2020, I assume in 2021 the food trends will reflect the demand for functional foods designed to boost wellbeing, particularly with increased interest surrounding our immune health, incorporating ingredients like vitamin C, mushrooms, fresh turmeric, ginger peppercorn, into foods. People will be more looking in to healthy optional based dishes.
What’s your favourite autumn/winter dish?
My favourite autumn/winter dish is Autumn harvested ‘Tandoori Quail’ or ‘Kashmiri spiced Lamb Shank’!
What can guests expect from a meal at Kahani?
In a nutshell at Kahani Guests can expect a very warm welcome, attentive service, beautifully presented food with an abundance of flavours. The spirit of Kahani is lighter modern Indian food with traditional spices and seasonal ingredients.
Do you have any role models?
My first Executive chef and my mentor Rakesh Upadhya who is a great Chef, I really feel grateful to his teachings and want to shine like him in food Industry.
What does hospitality mean to you?
Genuine hospitality mean the way we deliver food and service with sincerity, providing excellent customer service. Treating the guests or strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.
Name three of your top restaurants.
Quilon – Michelin starred Coastal South Indian Cuisine by Chef Sriram
Murano – Michelin starred Italian cuisine by Chef Angela Hartnett
Cinnamon Club – Real Fusion Indian food by Chef Vivek Sing