Feature – Chewing The Fat – Kanthi Thamma
It is not often we get to see inside the world of a chef. Hidden away behind closed doors, do we really know enough about their experience, knowledge and passion? With this in mind, we’ve decided to conduct a series of up-front interviews with a collection of Brighton and Hove chefs, giving insight into what makes them tick, and what drives them to produce the dishes we marvel at. First up is Kanthi Thamma, Head Chef at Curry Leaf Cafe.
Tell us about your background
I come from a very simple family from the suburb of Hyderabad in India. After finishing my Bachelors in Hotel Management, I worked as an apprentice in Goa for Taj hotels, and then went to Switzerland to study further. Thanks to Chef Celina Tio, I had the opportunity to work for Disney Resorts in Florida. This is when I started taking cooking seriously and then there was no looking back.
After Disney resorts and Cruise lines, I went back to India to open a couple of restaurants but I made some wrong choices and lost all my earnings. I then had a phone call from Chef David Berry who was then the head chef at The Imperial Hotel in Torquay. I was offered the job after just a 10 minute interview. A couple of months down the line, I landed in Heathrow with £200 that my mom gave me and a dream to make it big in the UK.
After four years of working at the Imperial, I had an opportunity to move to Brighton as part of the Chilli Pickle team as part of their expansion. I then moved onto the Jamie Oliver Cookery School, which is my biggest break so far. It just was like a dream job as I had very sociable hours and I was teaching, which I loved.
What inspires you?
I always like to think that cooking is a fine art. It doesn’t just attract the eye, like a painting, but it also attracts smell, taste and touch. So, it’s a much bigger art. So many colours and textures to play with, and it never gets boring. The thought of people enjoying the smell, taste and touch of my food inspires me a lot to cook.
What’s your favourite food memory?
When I was a kid, we used to go to my mum’s sister’s home for holidays and there would be about twenty of us at the dining table, eating food at the same time with loads of different curries, chutneys and daal, all cooked fresh every single day. I used to spend time in the kitchen with all the women cooking and was always curious to see what spice blends they used for different curries. Those memories now are reflected in my menu at Curry Leaf Cafe.
￼What are your favourite ingredients and cooking techniques?
My most favourite ingredient is cardamom. I have to use it on a daily basis. Apart from that I love curry leaves, beetroot, coconut in any form and coriander.
My favourite cooking technique has to be ‘tadka’. It’s tempering of whole spices and dry red chillies in hot oil and quickly adding it to daal or chutneys. I just love the way they sizzle the moment they go into the pot.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
I would like to see more Curry Leaf Cafes open in the next five years and hopefully not just in the UK but some cities in Europe too. I also would like to have a small cooking school in India and start a Food Revolution Campaign via Jamie Oliver in India, where I would like to raise money for better and healthier food facilities in the orphanages all over the country. It’s a long journey but I have to begin somewhere.
Sum up your cooking style in three words?
Simple, colourful and balanced.
Words by Claire Beveridge
Photographs by Emma Gutteridge