The Chaat Room – interviews through Indian food part 1: That Hungry Chef

Chaat Indian snacks bhel puri

Of course the notion that notable Indian chefs and foodies eat a diet purely involving South Asian items is both ridiculous and entirely untrue. But when one’s been raised on richly-spiced, soul-satisfying khana, it’s kinda hard to stay away from its allure. And, on the flipside, when one’s come to the cuisine later in life, it’s even harder to avoid introducing India into everything you eat from dawn though to dusk.

In this new occasional series, I’ll be interviewing Indian food-lovers of all incarnations about their dream day’s Desi dining with more than just getting mouths watering in mind. The main aim is to entice discerning spice lovers to reveal their favourite venues, menus, recipes and kitchen tricks – so get that little black book at the ready, sharpen your pencil (okay, fine; fire up your iPhone), and prepare for life to get somewhat spicier….

Pratap Chahal That Hungry Chef

Who are you – and what, and indeed how, do you do?

I’m Pratap Chahal, also known as ‘That Hungry Chef‘, an artisan food producer and fine dining caterer. As my moniker indicates, I’m usually always hungry.

On your dream day of Desi dining, we begin with breakfast – do idli stop you idling? Do you need a dose of dosa? Is it a cup of South Indian kaapi that gets you going of a morning… or something else entirely?

I’d kill for a dosai any day for breakfast, with the de rigeur sambar and coconut chutney, but I’d also kill for some aloo parathas with masala omelette with a good dose of my Mojo Risin’ chilli relish on the side.

Dabba deliveries may be off the menu in the UK – but spicy food doesn’t have to be. What do you munch for lunch?

Lunch is always something quick and easy – chicken leg smeared in my Smokey Mojo Risin’ chilli sauce with avocado and salad, or sometimes it’s a simple khitchari with mango pickle and red onion.

That Hungry Chef mojo risin chilli relish Indian

Dinnertime! Is a decadent dawat on the cards, or a slightly lighter spread?

Always a more adventurous venture as I often try out new dishes for my supperclub and event menus, though sometime’s it’s my wife’s favourite foods. Last night was French onion soup with cheesy potatoes.

All that eating’s thirsty work – what’s your ideal Indian beverage?

Lassi! One of my favourite things which is really hard to get here though, is fresh sugarcane juice. On a hot summer’s day, it’s got to be Kingfisher lager.

Mithai is my weakness. Do you share my sweet tooth, and which South Asian sweetmeats do you find simply irresistible?

It’s my undoing! My favourite has to be ras malai, followed by kaju barfi. But, oh, hot gulab  jamun with rabri? Kheer? Shrikhand? Bring it all on!

bebinca That Hungry Chef Pratap Chahal

That Hungry Chef’s bebinca

Dal: a divisive topic if there ever was one. Describe the version that makes you go mental for lentils…

Nothing quite beats well-made red lentils – too many people get it thick and stodgy and overspice things. Just a simple dish of red lentils with a bit of cumin and garlic is divine. On special occasions, dal makhani is amazing, but there again, too many people overcomplicate it.

Choose your carb – rice or roti?

Roti. Definitely. Always. Even as a dessert, mixed with cold milk and sugar.

Your family is aiming to entice you home with the Indian items only they get quite right. What’s on the menu?

Easy.. my dad’s Yakhni pulao (braised goat pulao), keema mattar and Bengali kheer. And my mum’s parathas. happy days!

Which notable Indian chefs would you love to have on speed dial?

Definitely Vivek Singh and Cyrus Todiwala.

Cyrus Todiwala chef headshot

A Desi feast is more delicious shared. Who are your finest dining companions?

Goans and Bengalis always seem to know how to eat well, eat properly, and what to eat in which order… and they love to eat! And my mum and mum-in-law are both huge foodies, so it’s always great fun eating out with them, as it is with other chefs.

What and where was your most revealing meal to date – the one which illuminated something about Indian cuisine that you’d not considered before?

A twenty-four dish Kerala spread in the home of a dear family friend in Coorg, South India – I had preparations that simply blew my mind and the range of dishes, each tasting different from the other – truly inspirational.

I’m in the mood for snappy service and fine food –  can you recommend a smart South Asian restaurant?

A London trio… The Cinnamon Club, Amaya, and Trishna.

Goan thali That Hungry Chef Pratap Chahal

That Hungry Chef’s Goan Thali

What about when hearty, homestyle fare’s on the agenda? Where should one head for a spicy supper?

To one of our legendary Indian thali supperclubs! We often focus on historic and regional Indian food and in December we lay on ‘A Maharajah Christmas’ – the cuisine of the royal palaces of India.

On the street and need to eat – Favourite Desi-style street food vendor?

Horn Please (menu items include dosas, chaat, kati rolls and bhel puri) and Jhal Muri Express, Angus Denoon’s Kolkata-style street food experience.

There are many new South Asian ‘startisans’ in the UK  – have any of their food items caught your eye and imagination?

I just learned about Kothu Kothu, a London-based street food business which specialises in the eponymous Sri Lankan chopped roti ‘hash’ – I’d love to try their version, along with South Indian food from London pop-up Papi’s Pickles.

chillies (2)

Which single spice must you have in your life?

Easy – chilli! if that’s not considered a true ‘spice’, then cumin!

For some it’s instant Maggi noodles, others a jar of their perfect pickle – what are your top 5 storecupboard staples?

Mother’s brand mango pickle (available from the grocers’ on Drummond Street), Maggi Tamarind Sauce, my own Mojo Risin’ chilli relishes, Bengali mustard sauce ‘kasundi‘, gulkand – rose petal jam, Tamilian ‘gunpowder’ masala… oops, that’s six!

Desi cuisine owes an awful lot to andaaz, but which Indian cookbooks do you sneak a look at when your instinct abandons you?

The Cinnamon Club Cookbook, Cooking of The Maharajas by Sally Holkar – sadly this was a limited edition only and I’m not parting with mine! – and my secret journals of collected family recipes from mine and my wife’s families.

Whether driven by loyalty or lust for fulsome flavours, what’s your favourite Indian regional cuisine?

South Indian (Tamilian and Keralan) – light, diverse and never gets boring!

idli steamed fermented rice and lentil South Indian snack

What’s the easiest way to add an Indian accent to a non-Desi dish?

Ginger, garlic, chilli! The holy trinity of  Indian culinary magic. And, depending on the dish, a sprinkle of cumin, mustard seed or turmeric.

Any last morsels of culinary jugaad to share before we bid one another a fond farewell?

I always marinade my meat with ginger, garlic, red chilli powder, salt and lemon. Often there’s no need to add extra spices, but this will take any protein to another level. Oh, and our friends over at Holy Lama Naturals make these ‘Spice Drops’ that I always use – saffron, cardamom, rose, cinnamon, ginger……

That Hungry Chef logo Pratap Chahal

  • To find out more about Pratap’s adventures and That Hungry Chef products, click here
  • To read more about my Indian storecupboard staples, click here
  • To read more about where great Indian chefs and foodies love to eat out, click here
  • To read more about covetable Indian cookbooks, click here

Main image credit: bijoy mohan/Foter/CC BY All other images: Pratap Chahal



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