Train journeys in India are defined by food. Be it the foil-wrapped theplas, lemon rice, idlis or paranthas being passed around, train compartments often turn into a potluck with strangers sharing recipes, laughs, and stories. Based in Melbourne, Australia, Chef Loki Madireddi, founder of Trust the Loki Fellowship and Masterchef Australia alumnus, is bringing nostalgia of train journeys to the table during his exclusive two-week residency with Park Hyatt Chennai.
Born in Mysore, and brought up in Chennai, Madireddi has always had a special connection with train journeys. As his father worked with the Indian railways, Madireddi grew up relishing food at the train stations which has left a lasting influence. During his residency, he is taking inspiration from train journeys to capture the culinary diversity of India through a myriad of creative dishes. The menu is ode to the memories to the small food shops located at various train strops combined with his experience of Australian and Asian cooking, presenting familiar flavours in a new way. “I want to highlight vendors who make the food at stations and all over our streets because I strongly believe they are the real custodians of our cuisine,” Madireddi tells Lounge.
The exclusive residency at Park Hyatt, Chennai, was launched with a panel discussion on Australia and India: Friendship Through Food. During residency, Madireddi has been working with Executive Chef Balaji Natarajan and his team to curate the dishes. Three degustation dinners are designed as railway journeys and two of them will happen on 21 and 22 April. A fun Aussie Backyard BBQ brunch has been curated for 23 April, and will have an all-you-can-eat buffet menu with Australian BBQ meat and seafood along with regular brunch items. There will also be a Toddy shop featuring short eats with influences of Asia and Australia such as Korean fried cauliflower and Hogenakal fish fry.
For Maddireddi, the residency has a deeper meaning. He co-founded the Trust the Loki Fellowship based in Melbourne in 2019 with his wife and entrepreneur, Ishani to foster the next generation of culinary talents in India and Australia through a scholarship and mentoring program . “I hope to build that platform over the next few years and create more residencies, internships and collaboration opportunities between culinary communities of both countries. Our diners will inadvertently support the Fellowship which is important for me,” he says.
We spoke to Chef Madireddi about the residency, his influences, and the exciting events scheduled for the weekend.
One of my first memories is cooking fresh seafood with my maternal grandmother in the backyard. I also have fond memories of barging into my neighbour's houses in the railway colony and eating a variety of dishes from all over India. However the standout influence is the street food-- from late night food stalls that served parotta and salna to the truck drivers or the lanes near temples where you would get the best idli and dosa. These memories have deeply influenced my cooking and I am constantly thinking of using those base and robust flavour profiles to create new dishes.
Each menu is curated to focus on a specific journey and highlight the key memories from a place. On 21 April, people will hop on for dinner on Coromandel Express which will feature dishes such as Navy Seals, my take on a cruffin with Gongura lamb shoulder or Gongura jackfruit with Australian Davidson plum. Next day, dinner on Chennai Express on April 22 is my tribute to Chennai with dishes such as Don Bosco Canteen featuring “Sumo-sa”.
I moved to Australia as an international student when I was 21 and I worked in restaurants to support myself. Australia has a rich food culture whether it be native ingredients that have been used by our First Nations people for hundreds of years or the recent migration of people from all over the world that has brought influences from Italy, Greece, Syria, Lebanon and all of Asia. Today we are a melting pot of all of those food cultures and I have learnt a lot about this over the last 20 years.
This residency with Park Hyatt gave me the opportunity to combine the food heritage of both these countries in a fun and memorable way. I am featuring a whole host of products from Australian Superfood Co. including native ingredients such as Kakadu plum powder, Davidsons plum, finger lime, lemon myrtle just to name a few. I am also featuring Lava salts (a finishing salt combined with activated charcoal) created by my friend Chef Sebastian Simon in Melbourne Australia using Australian ingredients.