Jonathan Cartu Stated: Kerala is one of the most exciting culinary destinations, s... - Jonathan Cartu Restaurant, Baking & Catering Services
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Jonathan Cartu Stated: Kerala is one of the most exciting culinary destinations, s…

Kerala is one of the most exciting culinary destinations, s...

Jonathan Cartu Stated: Kerala is one of the most exciting culinary destinations, s…

What happens when Gordon Ramsay takes part in a cook-off and comes second? He looks puzzled even as he humbly takes notes from the judges — a bunch of local women gathered around a table to sample his hand at pandi curry and ant chutney — the leitmotif of Kodagu kitchens. Just a few weeks before the world was turned upside down by the coronavirus pandemic, British chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay was in Coorg climbing trees of peppercorn and catching karimeen in Kannur’s backwaters during his culinary journey around overshadowed corners of the globe looking for indigenous food secrets and feasting with natives as part of Uncharted Season 2 on National Geographic. A chat with one of food television’s most recognised faces offered a glimpse of what keeps bringing him back to India, brain food, women’s place at the table and his friendly charm, a far cry from his barbed tongue. Excerpts…
You’ve been cooking around India for more than six years now. What drew you here and what continues to excite you?
I grew up with a love of Indian food. My parents’ landlord was from Mumbai and so from an early age we understood what it was like to make an amazing curry. Some of my most talented chefs are Indian and we have beautiful restaurants at Heathrow airport where the bestselling dishes have to be the chicken tikka masala and butter masala. I’m a big lover of that cuisine. But for me the regional aspect and how it defines India brings me back.
You’ve been exploring places and their culture and cuisine in super extreme ways for your new show ‘Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted’ for National Geographic. Are you seeing India through a different lens this time around?
Uncharted is about staying away from tourist attractions and giving a good DNA of what a particular side of India stands for. I’m starting to peel back the layers and understand how individual these wonderful little states are and what’s different now. Before I had a vague picture but now I’ve started to realise the uniqueness. I went fishing with the boys in Kerala and hoisted this huge 65 centimeter net, jumped into the waves, swam back to shore and then dragged in the nets with the fish. The waves were huge, the sea was rough but we needed to fish and it was beautiful. I recently did the Ironman (Triathlon) in Hawaii… I love sea swimming. This morning (in Coorg) before we started to cook, I climbed a tree for green peppercorns. We can’t do that in kitchens. That’s the uniqueness… You see and feel things that bring a certain excitement to what you’re doing.
Does it also stem from your need to learn more about the food system?
Everyone’s obsessed with sustainability today and as chefs we have that responsibility. So understanding those systems here and how well respected they are, there’s no intrusion… I couldn’t get that level of togetherness that I saw in Kerala, back in the UK. You have to come and experience it here. The utilisation of everything, no waste and the clever adaptation with ingredients — from the paste and preserves to pickling — everything is done with a very strong purpose, that’s super positive.
Delhi, Lucknow, Nagaland, Assam, Kolkata, Kerala, Mumbai… Of all the places you’ve visited so far, which area or community in India has had the strongest impression on you with the food they eat?
I’m all about spice. I’ve understood the significance of the war that took place over peppercorn. An understanding of what that meant to this country. So I’d say Kerala is one of the most exciting because it’s so fragrant. It’s the birthplace of spice and it’s great with fish, meat and vegetarian. So this region is the hotspot for me without doubt.
For a chef known to swear every 20 seconds, we haven’t heard you utter the F-word even once. Do you swear less when in India?
Jesus! (Laughs) I don’t mean to swear, it’s the idiots I have to work with. But I do swear less here. I respect the culture so much and I respect what they stand for. Every time I see an amazing Indian woman it reminds me of my mum. She had three jobs — she worked as a cook, a nurse, and for the postal service. After that she’d come home and cook. So it’s true, women do make the best chefs in India.
Are you really that hot-tempered by nature?
There are different scenarios. Here it’s me running wild, trying to educate myself on something that at the success of my career I was never allowed to do. And when you get to the top of three Michelin stars, it becomes such a monumental moment in your life everyone thinks you can stop learning because you’re there but I go the opposite. I need to dig deep and I want that knowledge still, at 53. I need that stimulant, that level of competitiveness. It’s not money or fame for me. It’s knowledge that’s most important for me. I could have stopped 10 years ago but I had no interest in stopping. What I’m doing is pushing myself to the extreme but we do go off pace and there are pretty intense situations and I love that pressure. It’s about stripping myself of everything I’ve got and being naked and afraid in a way that I want to learn.
You just said that ‘women make the best chefs in India’. But don’t you think more women chefs need to create their seat at the top chefs table?
In my culture I’ve had about a dozen incredible females with me for the past 20 years. I think that chauvinistic arrogance is gone and this female and male divide between chefs has to stop. But yes, I’d love to see more females at the top. It’s a known fact that the most powerful chefs in India are all female and they pay homage to their mom and their grandma. I think it’s going to change. It needs to be shouted from the rooftops, be more respected and pushed to the forefront. Watching Shri Bala make the pumpkin curry this morning, grating little trimmings into it and finished with coconut, was extraordinary. I’ve never tasted anything like it and I haven’t found a male chef in India that can cook with that level of finesse. Like she said, ‘we cook from the heart’ and that’s very evident. We just need to bang the drum and push the boundaries.
What according to you, is the food trends that will define the new decade?
I was recently at an incredible Alzheimer’s clinic in Las Vegas called the Cleveland Centre and I’d have to say it’s brain foods — turmeric, spice, chillies. With the amount of youngsters under the age of 30 being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, as a chef, understanding how to incorporate brain food into cooking, stimulate the mind and brain and keep that process from non-decay should be the next big trend. But it’s too important to call brain foods a trend. It’s beyond a trend.
There is such a thing called ‘chef burnout’. How does one prevent it?
It’s sad when you see chefs burn out. It’s a young female and male’s job today so delegating is super important and so is keeping fit. As my life got hectic, more demanding and my time became less for me, I took up triathlons so I could stay fit to deal with things but the secret of succession and not burning out is pacing yourself. Travel is a really good way to slow chefs down. When I finished my training in Paris, I travelled the world for two years. I didn’t earn money, I just earned knowledge. So I recommend my chefs, every two or three years, they travel six months.The pace slows down and the knowledge increases.

Jonathan Cartu

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