As Chef de Cuisine at The Lalit London, Jomon Kuriakose is putting dishes like payasam, duck mappas and mathanga erissery on the map
Jomon Kuriakose | Photo Credit: Sekhar Abraham
Seared red mullet and cassava mash served with a side of Alleppy fish curry sauce and crushed curry leaves is Chef Jomon Kuriakose’s personal victory. As Chef de Cuisine, when he first served the dish at The Lalit London, it starred king fish along with tapioca, and was simply known as kappa meen curry. Back home in Kerala, sardines are usually used for the dish. Even though Jomon chose king fish because of its fleshy texture, the dish did not get the warm response he was expecting.
Not one to give up, a few months later, in one of the usual menu rejigs, Jomon reintroduced the dish using the red mullet, a much-loved variety of fish in London. Now, Jomon had guests ordering it and complimenting him as well. “I realised that the way the dish is presented and described makes all the difference. I tweaked the plating a bit, making the fish centre of attraction, so that guests of any nationality could relate to the description. I consider it an honour to showcase Kerala cuisine here,” he says, over a call from London.
Seared red mullet and cassava mash served with Alleppy fish curry
The only Malayali chef in the five star hotel that serves Indian food, Jomon was keen on including a number of dishes from his homeland in the menu. “I just wanted to show that Indian food does not begin and end with butter chicken and tadka dal,” he adds.
Jomon has served everything from the traditional mathanga erissery (a curry made of pumpkin, dal and coconut) to payasam to the famed duck mappas. He served mathanga erissery as a vegan main course, calling it Pumpkin Steak. The konju theeyal (shrimp onion curry) was served along with lobster tail tandoor, with the theeyal made with shallots and crushed dried shrimp. “When I was given charge of the menu, I wanted to bring in some diversity. I started researching my own food and I realise that nothing could possibly go wrong if you turn to your roots,” he says.
Payasam with caramelised banana
He says he takes care to retain the authenticity of the dish, tweaking only the plating and the presentation. So even inherently Malayali ingredients such as vazhappindi (banana stem) or kovakka (ivy gourd), for instance, were transformed into steaks and salads. The simple milk payasam was made into a frozen dessert, garnished with caramelised banana sticks and served with crushed pappadam to add texture.
The Lalit has just reopened after a year and Jomon spent the time at home, trying out a variety of new dishes and experimenting with unique ways of plating. He took virtual classes for a few universities online as well.
Born and raised in Mavelikkara, Kerala, Jomon completed his hotel management course at Sarosh Institute of Hotel Management in Mangaluru. He moved to London in 2008, where he completed his post-graduation in Hospitality Management from the London School of Business and Computing. He started his career in London as the Chef de Partie at Bombay Palace, a high-end Indian restaurant in London. He worked as Senior Chef de Partie at Cinnamon Kitchen, a restaurant which specialises in merging eastern spices with western culinary styles, before moving to Baluchi, the pan-Indian dining destination at The Lalit in 2017.
Coconut-stuffed and steamed sardine, colocasia brunoise cooked in turmeric brine liquid and a chutney made of mango, coconut and curry leaves
The love for food is what has brought him so far, believes Jomon, who appeared in BBC’s Celebrity Master Chef 2018. He also got an opportunity to teach at the Hammersmith and West London College, where he had once hoped to study. “This was a dream come true. I couldn’t study at the college 12 years ago, as my circumstances did not permit it. But, I have no regrets today as I got a chance to teach in the very same college,” he says.
Ayala pollichathu (mackerel steamed in banana leaf) with chilli and shallots; mathi varuthathu (fried sardines); and potato mezhukkupuratti (a pepper stir-fry) are next on his list. “I want to speak through my food, I want to tell the world about the unique food tradition of Kerala,” Jomon signs off.
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