For celebrity Chef Das Sreedharan, cooking is a philosophical quest.He is set to open his culinaryacademy, Rasa Gurukul,in Chalakudy
It was Das Sreedharan who finally ended the two decades-long reign of the chicken tikka masala, the accidentally created dish, which hijacked the diversity of Indian cuisine and reduced it to just a meat-sauce affair for the western world. “It destroyed the image of Indian cuisine,” says celebrity chef Das while on a visit to his home in the city.
When he opened Rasa, in 1994, a vegetarian restaurant in London, and began serving South Indian traditional cuisine, he did not anticipate its runaway success swishing past the bandied spicy fowl. Today, with seven flourishing outlets in UK, with awards and accolades, with being featured on television shows and hosting cookery classes for medical students, Das’ profoundly spiritual food philosophy has evolved. Otherwise, which chef will speak of food as an ingredient that will give unto this world joy and wellness? Om lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (let happiness prevail unto this world), says Das and speaks about his cookery gurukul set to open next month at Chalakudy near Kochi.
Das’ food philosophy originates from the miraculous bounty it unleashed upon him as he struggled to forge a life in London. All he had with him for investment, at the time when he set foot in England, was “a smile given to me by my father and a box full of mother’s love”. I had always loved my mother’s cooking and savoured it with passion. I had helped in my grandfather’s tea shop and in the kitchen. Cooking came naturally to me,” he says.
Working with the food industry in England in 1993 he felt that in a strange way food was becoming his destination. It turned into a medium of friendship and faith. It led to social harmony and gave him comfort. Rasa became popular for its difference, a difference brought about by applying “motherly emotion to cooking and serving.” That became Das’ USP.
“Rasa represents universal connectivity,” he says. Das operates in his kitchen as he does in life, guided by the wisdom of ancient holistic lifestyle—the principles of freedom, liberated thought, natural and organic living, the purity and simplicity of food cultivation and its consumption. He tells his chefs about the Mind, Body and Soul of cooking. Mind, he says, is about application to a recipe, the Body comprises the raw ingredients and the Soul forms the taste, which is a miracle. “All the spices and ingredients have stories and emotions. What does mustard mean in a dish? One has to get playful when one cooks, but serious when one eats,” he says.
His version of the humble ‘mor’ curry, a soupy dish made with steamed vegetables in curd and coconut gravy, is his emotional connect with home and mother and one that has floored stars like Aishwarya Rai, A.R. Rahman and Anil Kumble. He makes it as a hybrid between the lighter ‘pulissery’ and the thicker ‘kalan’, traditional Kerala dishes, in 10 to 15 different ways. “I have transformed people with this dish,” he says implying that experiential dining brings change of heart and mind. It is this philosophy that had him featured in a BBC series on extraordinary lives, Peschardt’s People.
Entrepreneurial success has given Das the tool to convince the world about the gravity of serious cooking and dining. He sees the chef as an instrument of change. “The world is going to be fed by restaurants and chefs will be the future mothers of the world. They will be responsible for the world’s wellbeing and the chef will change the world.”
Can one expect a Rasa in India and closer home in Kerala? “It’s part of the plan; Indian food has a much bigger role to play globally than it is currently doing,” he says.