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Pearls of Wisdom: Sriram Aylur

By Luke Nicholls , 30-Mar-2012

Chef Sriram Aylur embarked on his culinary career in his own father’s restaurant before working his way up to lead the kitchen at the Taj Gateway Hotel in Bangelore. It was there he launched his own Karavali restaurant which was voted one of the top five restaurants in India. In 1999, Sriram now oversees Bombay Brasserie in London, and his recently refurbished Quilon restaurant, where he won his first Michelin star in 2008.

I have always done what I believe in. I’ve always wanted to do things that I enjoy and the great advantage that I have is I work for a company (Taj) which has ethics that I am very much aligned to. I’ve been allowed to do what I believe in terms of cuisine and concept, so it gives me the satisfaction of doing what I want to do, and do it responsible. I think those old-fashioned values are what can make any business successful.

When I get asked who my biggest inspirations are, I struggle to answer. I’m very anti-hero worship. It is not any single individual that can make a huge difference, but many people working together. But my greatest inspiration is without a doubt my mother. She’s a fantastic cook and she’s managed our family and put the right values in us. When there have been challenging or difficult times in my life I’ve always tended to think of her.

When we first opened Quilon, we had a big problem – it didn’t do well for the first couple of years. It was a new cuisine and we were doing something not many people knew about. We were the first serious West Coast Indian restaurant in this country. So my initial two or three years here was a great learning curve for me.

Achieving that Michelin star was probably the biggest achievement of my career so far. You have to remember that the Quilon got the star five years ago for what we were doing then. We didn’t do things thinking what Michelin would expect us to do. That is very satisfying and comforting in the sense that you get recognised for just doing what comes naturally to you.

London and New York are the economic capitals of the world. When you’re working here in London you’re faced with such a high level of competition and there’s a lot of great chefs and discerning diners, so that brings a lot of pressure, but it’s exciting because when you get it right people love you and support you.

Following the refurbishment, the décor of Quilon is completely different. It is inspired by the west coast of India, but presented in a very contemporary way. It has a larger bar and a private dining room, but the food is as it was before. We still have the same ideology of doing things that we think are correct, and being true to what we believe in has helped us to retain the star.

As Beer Drinker of the Year, I think beer can be a sales driver for a restaurant. There are two aspects to it; one is serving a variety of beers, the same vein as wine.  Two is the breadth of the experience and the variety that you offer. I think beer in general can also be matched with any food, like you match wine.

I’m a big supporter of SRA’s Too Good to Waste campaign. Food waste is still a major problem in the restaurant industry and there are many things which are very simple for restaurants to do. There are things you can do that don’t have big cost implications, like buying sustainable products and supporting local producers.

I’m also a big fan of Apple. I recently reads the autobiography of Steve jobs. I love the way the company work and the way they think.

My tip for fellow chefs would be to make sure you interact with various agencies like the SRA because there is valuable information for you there. Also, when we want to learn something from another restaurant, we just call them and ask them. We have never had a problem with any restaurant that has refused to share knowledge. So I think that interaction is really important if you want to be the best you can.

We are looking for new restaurant opportunities. As a company, if a good new opportunity comes along, it is something we would certainly do. But are main goal at the moment is to consolidate the two restaurants and make sure we are just constantly doing the best we can.

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