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Alfred Prasad: The prodigal chef returns

Alfred Prasad is a Michelin-star chef who is reinventing how the world eats Indian food

Chef Alfred Prasad at Omya. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Chef Alfred Prasad at Omya. Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

It’s a homecoming for Alfred Prasad, who moved to London looking to change the way the world looked at Indian food. In 2002 at age 29, he became the youngest Indian chef to win the Michelin star. Over the years, his restaurant Tamarind of Mayfair has taken Indian food in London beyond chicken tikka masala by diversifying the menu, keeping meat dishes authentic but lighter, using seasonal ingredients and keeping the spices subtle.

Two weeks ago, Prasad was in India as a mentor at Omya, the authentic Indian restaurant at The Oberoi, New Delhi. The Omya menu he designed is an eclectic mix featuring dishes and drinks like the amroodh ka panna, a cold guava soup tempered with chia seeds and pickled guava, and a vermicelli-crusted mango kasundi prawn. “Delhi has had such rich influences over the many centuries. At Omya, it is my dream to showcase India’s culinary journey through the lens of this majestic city," said Prasad.

His earliest food memories are of his mother’s Anglo-Indian-style cooking. Laughingly, Prasad recounts how his mother would call him “tiger beta" because he refused to eat if there was no meat on the table. His mother’s legendary prawn curry and methi (fenugreek) lamb didn’t just inculcate a love for meat in him; he also developed a liking for working with different ingredients. Vacations were spent in Mysuru with his Tamil Brahmin, paternal grandparents, eating vegetarian food. “Thanks to my mixed parentage, I got to experience a range of regional non-vegetarian and vegetarian food."

Straight out of a hotel management course, Prasad got his advanced chef training at Delhi’s ITC Maurya, working at the famous Dum Pukht and Bukhara restaurants under the legendary chefs Madan Lal Jaiswal and Imtiaz Qureshi. “Those two and a half years were instrumental in laying my foundation for north Indian culinary expertise. I couldn’t have asked for better mentors," he says.

The chef’s Tandoori Mushrooms.

His first posting took him to Dakshin at Chennai’s ITC Park Sheraton,which specialized in south Indian cuisines. “In my short career in India, I had worked at the best north Indian and south Indian restaurants, and perfected my skills."

In 1999, restaurateur Namita Panjabi—founder of two of London’s best-known Indian restaurants at the time, Chutney Mary and Veeraswamy—invited Prasad to join her team. It’s a period he recalls with little joy. “The first two years were very challenging as I was asked to tone down my spices keeping in mind the mild British palate. I ended up cooking food that I did not believe in."

In 2001 came the long-awaited break: He joined the fine-dining Indian restaurant Tamarind of Mayfair as a sous chef. There, he got a chance to experiment with bold flavours and the vibrancy of contemporary Indian cuisine. His work was noticed and Prasad was soon promoted to executive chef; this was followed by his first Michelin star. He was with Tamarind for 14 years and they won the Michelin for 13 of those years.

In 2015, he quit Tamarind and turned chef entrepreneur. Today, he works as a food consultant with cooking schools, hotels and restaurants around the globe. “Winning the Michelin stars opened many doors for me. Now, I get to travel the world and cook, and while I do want to open a place of my own, there is less pressure to do so immediately and I can wait for the right place," he says. As of now, the chef seems to be in a happy space—working on his first book and combining his interests in gardening, art and science with his cooking.

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