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On the evening of Thursday September 22nd the marquee on the lawn here at the Bella Luce will transport guests to the Indian sub-continent, with a delicious feast of Southern Indian street food prepared by acclaimed chef Kanthi Kiran Thamma of Brighton’s award winning Curry Leaf Café. A special prelude evening to the Guernsey International Food Festival, our Taste of Southern India event will be a vibrant, colourful and informal evening under canvas that fans of Indian cuisine will not want to miss. Chef Kanthi will be preparing some of his favourite Indian street food dishes (the on-the-go meals prepared by roadside food vendors in Indian towns and cities that are popular with people from al walks of life) and will be serving them alongside traditional curries on sharing platters. Diners can also enjoy a very special gin and tonic featuring a one-off Wheadon’s Gin infusion crafted specially to compliment the flavours of the evening. For those who are inspired to try their hand at recreating some of Chef Kanthi’s incredible dishes at home, you can then go on to join him on the 24th and 25th of September at the Old Government House Hotel for a masterclass lunch where he will prepare several dishes in front of diners. Ahead of his visit to Guernsey, we caught up with Chef Kanthi to find out a little more about the inspiration behind his dishes:
Can you tell us a little about your restaurant, the Curry Leaf Café; its aims, ethos and how it has developed?
Curry Leaf Café is a small cafe in the lanes of Brighton. Born and raised in the South of India I was always proud of its culture, cuisine and traditions. I always knew that if I opened a restaurant one day it would be something that would represent my home and the places where I lived in Southern India. I wanted it to be very informal just as it is in India, with lots of sharing platters like at my home. I moved into Euan's flat as a tenant in January 2013 and we used to have long chats about this dream café that I had in my mind. Even my menus were ready by then. Euan got really excited about it and by 2014 the flatmates became business partners and the Curry Leaf Cafe opened its doors in April 2014. Since then we have added two more sites, one a pub kitchen and the other one is the first ever Indian street food kiosk in a British train station. We grew from team of four to 40 in two and a half years, and we are like one big family. We believe in investing in our staff and training them. The aims and ethos of Curry Leaf Café are not just to expand or create a brand or try different business models that are exciting, but also to give back to the community that supports us. Just this year we have raised over £8,000 to support different charity organisations both here and back in India.
Indian street food is distinct from the curries and tandoori grilled meats that many fans of Indian cuisine will be most familiar with. What are the characteristics of Indian street food dishes, and what are some of your favourites?
The thing about Indian street food is being able to create such amazing and delicious flavours from a very minimal set up. Most of the preparation is done back at home and the carts will be loaded with all this ready to cook/eat food with one burner and one pan or pot with oil which will do pretty much all the cooking. You can learn a lot about organising yourself looking at Indian street food carts. Indian street food is simple yet delicious and the chutneys play a big part in elevating the flavours whereas in Tandoor and curries, it's either the marinade or the sauce that is vital. You will be amazed to see how just one batter base can be used to make different kinds of food that will look, taste and feel completely different. One can feast on street food in India without worrying about burning a hole in one’s pocket.
Can you give us a sneak peak of one of the dishes that you’re planning on preparing for us at the Taste of Southern India evening?
One thing that I am quite excited about is the street food section where I am going to use same batter base and make three completely different looking and tasting snacks just as I mentioned above. These three snacks - stuffed chillies, spicy potato balls and spinach pakoras - are a massive trip down my own memory lane as they remind me so much of my childhood; I used to get a selection of these 3 snacks on my way back home from school and enjoy eating them with different chutneys, bursting with joy. I’m hoping that guests that evening will enjoy them as much as I did.
What inspires your cooking?
Many things. My family’s kitchen to begin with, or something that I see in the farmers market or a local store, a cookery show on TV, watching someone on a street side in India, waking up one day wanting to cook something new and exciting or watching my team members trying to experiment or being enthusiastic about something new ...the inspirations are endless.
You worked as a chef all over the world before launching the Curry Leaf Café in Brighton. How have your travels influenced your work?
Travel and food go hand in glove. I always find something exciting as in an idea for a new recipe or a new technique of cooking or ways of presentation when I travel. My travels are all food related so I do choose the destinations where I know I can explore the great culinary culture of a country. From my travels or working in different countries before Curry Leaf Café I definitely have learnt so much from other chefs, not just their cooking but their personalities, attitude and professionalism, which I implement at Curry Leaf Café. I still keep travelling looking for inspiration or just to get away and make my next menu. I went to Prague recently to make my autumn menu.
At the Curry Leaf Café you change the menu four times a year to make the most of local seasonal produce. What local ingredients are you looking forward to cooking with during your visit to Guernsey?
I am definitely looking forward to the fresh herbs that Guernsey has to offer as well as the amazing local meat and seafood for my cooking masterclass and live demo.
What are your key considerations when designing a dish or menu?
First and foremost, does it have a memory attached to it? My menus are like my memories: lots of stories to tell. Next, the seasonal and local produce for that time of year, and keeping it simple, humble and vibrant. The greatness of a dish lies in its simplicity.
Have you had a chance to try the special one-off Wheadon’s Gin infusion that Luke has created specially for the evening?
I did try Luke's gin when I visited the Bella Luce early this year and I just love his passion for gin. I know that he has come up with something very exciting for this dinner and can't wait to try it.
What can guests expect on September 22nd when they arrive at the Bella Luce?
Forget fine dining, its all fun dining that evening. It will be an explosion of colours, textures, flavours and lots of music and dancing.
Tickets for A Taste of Southern India at the Bella Luce cost £40 per person. The evening will include a choice of Indian Pale Ale from the White Rock Brewery or a gin and tonic made with a specially-distilled lemongrass and kaffir lime leaf Wheadon’s Gin from the Bella Small Batch Distillery on arrival, followed by a South Indian banquet cooked by Chef Kanthi, including poppadums and chutneys, street food sharing platters, curries and rice sharing bowls, and desserts (including vegan and gluten free options). There will also be a special performance of Bollywood dance, by visiting dancers from the Rakhi Sood Dance Academy.
Please contact Charlotte on 01481 238764 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to book places.
A Taste of Southern India Menu
Poppadums and Chutneys
Mini poppadums with date and tamarind chutney, mango, mint and ginger dip, roasted green tomato and corinader chutney. (vegan, gluten free)
Street Food Sharing Platters
Stuffed chilli bajjis Spinach pakoras Batter fried spicy potato dumplings (all vegan)
Curries and Rice Sharing Bowls
Chettinad chicken curry (dairy and gluten free) Potato spinach and cauliflower masala (vegan, gluten free) Tomato and cumin daal (vegan, gluten free) Hyderabadi dum flavoured rice (vegan, gluten free) Beetroot and cumin raita (contains dairy)
Coconut, rice flakes and saffron pudding (vegan, contains nuts)