On The Line: Alfred Prasad of Tamarind of London, Part One
|Photo by Liz Monroy|
Learning about a subject's interests outside of the kitchen always interests us. When Alfred Prasad isn't traversing between his Michelin-starred London flagship and his outpost in Newport, Alfred keeps active with tennis, sketching and exploring local neighborhoods with his wife. When we bring the conversation back to food, his responses are a reflection of his family values and dedication to his craft. He mentions Tamarind Collection's acquisition of another Indian establishment back in Kensington plus a remodel of their website currently underway.
Your earliest food memory:
I must have been a little over 2-years-old, but have such vivid memories of picking absolutely delicious wild strawberries in Kathmandu, Nepal, where I lived from the age of 2-4.
Favorite meal growing up:
There were two favorites: My mum's prawn curry and her lamb, fenugreek and potato curry. Both best with steamed rice.
At an event at OC Mart Mix last weekend I had one of the best cups of coffee at Portola Coffee Lab. [Editor's Note: His exact words were, "It was brilliant." and he hopes to visit Theorem sometime.] If you are in London, the filtered coffee at Monmouth is a must try.
Most undervalued ingredient:
The humble onion (in all forms). Omnipresent, versatile yet nondescript. For Indian cooking, it's almost the most essential ingredient you could possibly start any curry with. It's never spoken of that much, is it?
What's this we hear about an extended Holiday Happy Hour?
That's correct. We have have extended our Happy Hour for the holiday period as follows:
Mondays: 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. (was 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Tuesdays through Fridays: 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. (was 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.)
Weekends: 2:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. (same as before)
How was the To Live & Dine Chef's Challenge?
It was a really fun experience and a great opportunity to meet others from the local culinary community. And, of course, trying out some really good local food. We offered a sampler from our new lunch menu-- lime-leaf salmon served with a giant couscous and roasted vegetable salad.
How did you decide on Newport Beach as a location?
We discovered a growing number of Southern Californians adding Indian food to their favorite ethnic cuisine types. In fact, studies show that Indian food is the fastest growing form of ethnic food.
What fast food do you admit to eating?
Occasionally I do crave for a good, juicy burger from the Gourmet Burger Kitchen in London. I order their classic burger: ground beef (cooked medium), lettuce, red onion, tomato, but without cheese or mayo. It's the most delicious, gigantic burger. Once the thought comes into my mind, it just has to be that.
What is your beverage of choice?
Single malts. I'm working my way through them. A friend who shares the same liking for them exchanges notes with me when we purchase new bottles. What I really enjoy are brands like Glenmorangie, Talisker and Lagavulin. I recently tried Ardbeg, which was really, really good. Being in London, I've had several opportunities to visit distilleries in Scotland like Johnnie Walker and Tullibardine.
Indian food incorporates so many spices, but do you have a favorite?
I love the flavors of green chili, ginger, cilantro and black peppercorns.
One food you can't live without:
I love my (chicken) biryani - a one pot meal of meat, seafood or vegetables cooked with rice, herbs, browned onions, yogurt and spices. It just hits the spot and is my ultimate comfort food.
How have you changed the menu to suit the tastes of locals?
While signature dishes replicated from our London establishment are undiluted, traditional regional Indian classics, we have offered a lighter treatment to some dishes, staying true to the California style. We also have a stronger presence of seafood in our menu, and are constantly looking at combining local seasonal produce with the appropriate micro-Indian cuisine to suit it best.
Best culinary tip for the home cook:
I am appalled by the amount of food being wasted at homes (statistics show that as much as 40% of produce purchased is not consumed). My best tip is really to focus on that.
- Look at what you have at home and challenge yourself to use those ingredients to create something special.
- Don't overstock-- especially with fresh produce.
- I love the idea of up-cycling with food at home. Be creative with leftovers and re-hash them into something so it feels like a new meal.
We can't decide between the black and yellow lentils. How would you describe the difference in taste?
The black lentils we prepare at Tamarind of London are an indulgent treat. They are slow-cooked with ginger, garlic and tomatoes for over six hours, and finished with butter and cream, resulting in a silky, delicious creation mainly consumed in the Northwestern regions of India.
The yellow lentils, on the other hand, are lighter, yet flavorful and prepared in a variety of ways all over India.
What do you think of people who take photographs of their food?
Food is such a multi-sensory experience, and some are more visual than others. I know some chefs ban cameras at the table and don't like their food being photographed. I do understand that photos can sometimes lock into their memory what they see on their plate, and it possibly helps re-live their experience. I am okay with guests photographing our creations as long as they don't disrupt other diners.
Apart from the many known chefs around us who are such inspirations, I have huge respect and admiration for homegrown cooks in India who, for generations, have upheld family culinary recipes and traditions. Most of them may not even be able to read or write, but their repertoire of traditional recipes and understanding of food science is so different and incredible! Their food is also unbelievably consistent, no matter what numbers they cook for.
I am sure there are such geniuses in every corner of the world, quietly creating urban legends in their own right. In my eyes, these are the true heroes of the culinary world.
Weirdest thing you've ever eaten:
Quite a few, but I will tell you about a recent one which took me by surprise. I went to a very quaint restaurant, UBM, that's run by a couple literally in the middle of nowhere in South India. It is in between two small towns, and most people in the towns have not heard of this place. They offer you a huge spread without telling you what they are serving. I tried what looked like a shredded liver stir-fry, but it didn't taste like liver. Anyway, after our meal I asked the couple what the dish was, as I wasn't quite able to put a finger on it. Turned out to be goat's blood stir-fry.
Are there any restaurants you've wanted to try in Orange County?
Off the top of my head THE RANCH and The Winery.
You're making breakfast. What are you having?
Our favorite breakfast at home is Masala scrambled eggs, brioche toast, applewood smoked bacon and pineapple juice. In our new weekend brunch menu, I have included the Masala scrambled eggs, among other interesting egg dishes.
Weirdest customer request:
Earlier this year, five beautiful Norwegian women were dining at Tamarind (London location), and after their main course, requested me. After I greeted them, all five asked if they could marry me! It was the most fun request I have ever had!
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