Wed, 01 November 2023
Chef Suresh Pillai is one of the world’s most renowned chefs, starring in British TV show MasterChef: The Professionals and opening his own restaurant chain, Restaurant Chef Pillai. During a visit to Bahrain, Kristian Harrison sat down with him to discuss his culinary journey.
Chef Pillai’s journey to international stardom is even more remarkable given his humble beginnings. A school dropout from Kerala, he took up work as a security guard before becoming a waiter in 1993.
His path to becoming a world-renowned chef really began at a Chinese outlet where he would help the chefs chop vegetables during his breaks from waiting tables. His talent was recognised and he was invited to work in the kitchen, where he did his apprenticeship over three years.
Stints in Calicut and Bangalore followed before his big break and a position at the UK’s oldest Indian restaurant, Veeraswamy in Piccadilly Circus, London. His rise through the ranks over the next decade saw him land a prestigious spot on MasterChef: The Professionals in 2017.
“It opened so many doors for me,” Chef Pillai reminisces. “It changed my career; I was invited to the University of the Bahamas as a teacher and guest chef, then returned to India and was appointed the culinary director of a five-star hotel group in Kerala.
“I love to keep innovating, travelling and trying new cuisines and creating variations on old favourites. So my goal now is to expand the Restaurant Chef Pillai name around the world. After 30 years, I opened my first restaurant in Bangalore two years back and a second restaurant six months later. Since then, I’ve added a further 10 and created more than 700 jobs which is amazing for me.
“My ambition is 100 restaurants around the world, with 10 different brands of various cuisines. Another major goal of mine is to start my own culinary academy to teach young chefs. I learned in a different way, obtaining my knowledge from the universe purely through experience, so I feel have to give back to people,” he says.
Chef Pillai’s words of wisdom for the younger generation revolve around two key concepts. Firstly, he recommends always creating food with ingredients sourced from a radius of five miles or less, which sometimes requires sacrifices in seasonal climates. Secondly, do not expect sudden success.
“It’s a very, very interesting career and once you have the experience, you can go wherever in the world. Every day is a new day; there’s no such thing as a boring or repetitive day in the kitchen,” he says.
Finally, Chef Pillai is staying coy about his plans in Bahrain but can reveal that his brand will be coming to Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in the near future.
Make Chef Pillai’s famous Fish Nirvana!
Being an island boy, Chef Pillai is a seafood lover at heart. During the pandemic, he created Fish Nirvana which inspired millions worldwide.
“The crux of the recipe is sliced fish cooked in a banana leaf. More specifically, it is marinated with chili powder, turmeric, a little black pepper, salt and lime juice for five to 10 minutes. It’s then fried in coconut oil for two minutes each side before being added to a pan lined with banana leaves. A cup of freshly squeezed coconut milk is poured over it and it is poached.
“Finally, in the coconut milk you add salt, some crushed black pepper, chopped green chillies, chopped green mangoes, ginger and curry leaves and then you’re done. I’m so proud of it! It is very popular and our best seller in our restaurants.”