Atul Kochhar's modern Indian cooking draws on lessons from his childhood. Emily Shardlow checks out his masterclass
Gourmet Abu Dhabi is now in full swing and the daily masterclasses led by the visiting chefs are proving to be something of a highlight. Atul Kochhar took to the stage on Sunday morning and knocked up three different dishes while conveying a serious message about sustainability.
Born and bred in Jamshedpur in northern India, Kochhar is a chef who championed the use of the seasonal and the local well before they became the fashionable buzz words they are today. He says that when he was growing up, rather than relying on ingredients being imported from abroad or even from different parts of India, people simply cooked with what was easily available to them. This ethos has clearly stuck with him. It was only when he moved to the UK in 1994 that this idea was ever called into question. "For a year or so I was a very confused chef. Here I was, surrounded by British ingredients, yet my training was in Indian cooking."
In the end, his father told him to stay true to his beliefs and as a result, the style for which he is known for today was born. "I began to develop a cuisine that wasn't there before. I looked at traditional Indian recipes, but also began to use British ingredients - fish from local waters, lamb from nearby fields."
Kochhar says that the food served in his restaurants today "celebrates British ingredients with Indian flavours".
"In the past, Indian chefs have had a tendency to 'curry' everything and I don't know why. Rather than boiling a piece of meat in a heavy sauce, I think it is far better to take a great cut and roast, bake or steam it. You can still have the sauce, just serve it on the side."
He acknowledges that his ardent dedication to the local and the sustainable demands a certain amount of discipline, but is adamant that we all need to take more responsibility for the food we eat. Kochhar believes that chefs are integral to this movement: "We are the ones who set the trends after all. There are sustainable alternatives out there and it is up to us to find them. There is always a way." Food for thought indeed.