Chef Sriram Aylur, the master chef at Quilon, Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences in London shares his early inspirations and the passion for the craft that had earned Quilon the Michelin star in 2008, which it has retained since then. As the only Indian two-starred Michelin chef in the world, Chef Srijith Gopinathan of Campton Place Restaurant, San Francisco has earned much acclaim for his refined version of Californian-Indian which earned him a coveted Michelin star consecutively for six years, culminating in two Michelin stars in 2016. Both chefs recently collaborated on a unique culinary journey – A Michelin Starred Night with the Taj, in Mumbai and New Delhi
Chef Sriram Aylur has made significant contributions in the culinary history of Taj’s illustrious legacy ever since he joined the company in 1989. He was one of the key architects for the success of Karavalli restaurant in Bengaluru, and it was his passion for excellence that significantly contributed in Quilon being awarded the Michelin star in 2008. His culinary vision and craft has also been the highpoint of Bombay Brasserie, in London.
Talking about his early inspirations Chef Sriram says, “I knew fairly early that I wanted to be a chef. In fact, my growing up years in Mumbai are marked by memories of my father in the kitchen. He loved cooking for people and Sundays in our home were always about family, friends and good food. I was often allowed to help him out in the kitchen and I believe that’s where my interest in the culinary arts stems from.” He avers that having travelled extensively to the south west coast of India, the region has influenced his food in a big way.
Chef Sriram believes that the first milestone in his career was the creation of Karavalli at the Gateway Hotel Residency Road Bangalore. “I was fortunate to be a part of the team that conceptualised the restaurant and there was a lot of learning that came with the restaurant,” he states, adding with pride that Karavalli stood the test of time and went on to become one of India’s top five restaurants. “To me, Karavalli stands as an example of how to do things right,” remarks Chef Sriram.
The next milestone, according to him, was when he was invited to open Quilon at the Taj 51 Buckingham Gate Suites and Residences in 1999. “It came to me as a huge challenge since I had to present coastal cuisine from South Western India to an audience who was completely unaccustomed to its taste,” he states, pointing out that their hard work and perseverance at Quilon paid off when they were awarded the Michelin Star in 2008, an honour the restaurant has retained every year since then. Highlighting the key factors that have made Quilon a celebrated restaurant in London, the chef says, “Quilon’s success lies solely in its food. Our menu presents a unique blend of dishes where we weave India’s traditional tastes with progressive cooking techniques designed to suit the global palate. We ensure the highest quality of ingredients are used to create the exquisite range of contemporary dishes available at the restaurant.”
When queried about his favourite kitchen mantra, Chef Sriram affirms, “I have only one vision about food or mantra as you may call it and that is progression. Progression is logical and necessary in this world and true for every aspect of life. I believe one’s method of cooking should never stand still.”
He has a perfect advice for upcoming chefs on how they can keep reinventing their craft, “My advice is that while one should definitely keep trying to innovate, research and create new offerings for guests, you should never lose the core essence of your dish i.e. the taste and the origin. Your food has to delight your guests, not just satiate them!”
Chef Sriram believes that food like any other art form has to be progressive. One has to be aware and constantly evolve with newer techniques and ingredients. “I believe that one has to reinvent to stay relevant to the times but also try to keep the ethos of the cuisine intact,” he says with conviction.
For Chef Srijith, his greatest source of inspiration was his grand-mother who would often ask him to collect ginger and turmeric that grew in the backyard as a ritual before every family meal. “She had a way of using these ingredients and transforming them into something magical. I would often be found overlooking her culinary prowess as she went on to create recipes that utilised the Southern spices and ingredients to the fullest,” he says adding that mesmerised by her cooking techniques, he wanted to master this magic too and it has played an important factor in shaping his career.
Elaborating on the key milestones of his career he states, “While I began working with renowned luxury hotels in India, I went on to pursue a training in the Culinary Institute at America, Hyde Park, NY and also in the kitchens of Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones at the famed Two Michelin star restaurants Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons in Oxford, England.”
Sharing his views on the key factors that have contributed to the success of Campton Place Restaurant in San Francisco, the chef mentions, “Blending California fresh ingredients and the use of its smoke, fire and bringing techniques with India’s multi-faceted regional dishes, aromatics and spice blends, Taj Campton Place offers guests unique Cal-Indian cuisine.”
Chef Srijith’s favourite kitchen mantra is actually quite simple. “Quality of a dish is only as good as the ingredients used to cook the same,” he asserts.
As an icon to young chefs, he has an advice for them, “Begin with your basics and continue until you naturally feel you are ready to branch out to your version of a cuisine.”