Benares chef patron Atul Kochhar reveals his left over turkey recipe ideas and favourite West London restaurants and bars this Christmas
Words: Kat Hopps
You’ve just appeared at the BBC Good Food Festive Fayre at Hampton Court (4-6 December), what did you enjoy about it?
I have done other BBC Good Food shows for years and enjoy doing it. I guess it’s being able to share the knowledge that I’ve gained. You come to a new country with your own traditions and style of cooking and then you absorb the influence, culture, cuisine and ingredients of where you live so your food moves on. When I cook in India, people say ‘you cook with a different twang altogether’ and the reason is because I’m cooking like a British person and I’m thinking like a British person but I’m holding onto my traditions of spices and ingredients.
What did you demonstrate at the BBC Good Food Festive Fayre ?
Four different dishes. I love to give ideas about how you can give a makeover to your leftover turkey. I love sharing how you can make a beautiful biryani, a curry or Indian-esque sandwiches. Mushrooms are in season and I love my mushrooms. In India, we eat them in a different way – curry is the most common one but making a kind of biryani, but in a parcel, that’s what I want to do. You roll it up with rice and then it’s baked and we serve it with wild berry raita. It works well.
Can anyone attempt these recipes?
They are quite accessible. If you have mushrooms, spices like coriander, cumin and a bog standard garam masala, you should be able to attempt it. I like to keep my approach simple and straightforward but still give bang for the buck.
How much pressure is there to maintain your Michelin star at Benares?
We set our standards pretty high for ourselves and we try to achieve them and then tweak – we go for it. Also, you have to keep the team excited not only by raising the bar, but through a sense of achievement. Once you have that trick – to be able to work well with people – I think keeping any high standard in any organisation is easy. My staff and the people who work with me are my asset; they are my treasure.
How would you describe Benares to readers who haven’t visited?
We are a British Indian restaurant. We cook very passionately with British-sourced ingredients but we haven’t left our traditional spices. We have used every technology out there available to mankind for cooking to explore different things in our food. A lot of things have evolved. Slow cooking and water baths, cooking with freeze-dried techniques and pressure techniques – all that we have done. We feel very fulfilled that we have done that but it’s funny that after doing all that we always go back to grandma’s old classic cuisine and think ‘gosh no-one can beat this one, it’s so good’. We keep the essence of both in our food.
You’ve been pivotal in changing people’s perceptions of modern Indian food. How does that make you feel?
I don’t know how much I have changed people but moving away from India and cooking abroad has helped me change my perception – on the way people thought that I changed the perception and I’m grateful for that. I think it’s happened not only to me but to every immigrant. I’ve just noticed that my food has changed and I’m loving it, it’s something I keep exploring; some days I feel like a little child when I discover a new version of an ingredient I’ve never used before. Two weeks ago I was in Kent and the local farmer brought me Kentish cobnuts. They are wild nuts; you have to roast or steam them to release the nut, although roasting is much better. They are close to hazelnuts in texture and flavour.
Do you think the British better understand Indian regionalities in food nowadays?
Over the last 20-25 years, British people have travelled a lot to India and have got to know it really well. When I came here in 1994, finding a South Indian restaurant was a quest, you couldn’t find one; now there are so many, not only South Indian, but many other regional Indian restaurants. People have a humongous understanding of what flavours you should expect from which region of India. I think that’s a testimony. It shows just how much people are into their food and how they’ve grown so much with it.
How long have you lived in Isleworth?
Since 1999. I love it, there’s a beautiful village feeling to it. Osterley Park is near to our house, and everything is within commutable distance. Yes, planes are a nuisance but, wherever you live in London, there will be some kind of nuisance and I think I’ve become a little deaf now living under the flight path!
Do you have any favourite West London restaurants and bars?
There’s a local pub, which I absolutely adore and love to go and hang out in. It’s called The Hare & Hounds and it serves some amazing food. The new owners have revamped the place and made it really beautiful. I’ve never gone out for Christmas dinner anywhere as I believe in cooking it myself but, this year, we are getting together with the family and we’re going here for a Christmas meal rather than cooking it ourselves. One of our favourite family joints is High Road House in Chiswick. We love going there.
Do you like to cook at home?
At home I like to cook slightly more classically with my kids. I love using a spice called panch phoron (five spices). It’s a pickling spice used in India, also used to make mango pickles. I love cooking some of the very old classics and trying to emulate my mum and dad’s cooking; my dad was a great cook as well. There have been times when I have cooked my mum’s recipe when she was around and my daughter would ask her ‘what do you think? What would score?’ My mum is a harsh teacher and gave me three out of 10 – I’m hoping that I will get there one day!
Are your children interested in cooking?
They love cooking. My daughter is 11 and my son is nine and once a week we make a meal together. We make a mess but we do create some fantastic dishes. My daughter is into baking. She wasn’t well yesterday, so to cheer her up, I came home early and we made raisin muffins, which were really delicious. My son didn’t feel like doing anything so he gorged on the muffins!
Which chefs excite you right now?
I love the style of food from the Hedone chef on Chiswick High Road [Mikael Jonsson]. He was a food blogger turned chef and won a Michelin star – and Dhruv Baker, his approach to food is amazing. He’s truly a British-Indian person.