One of the most recognisable and respected faces in British Indian cuisine, Atul Kochhar was – along with Vineet Bhatia at Zaika – one of the first Indian chefs in the UK to receive a Michelin star (at London’s Tamarind in 2001) and has blazed the trail for a generation of chefs elevating Indian cuisine in this country.
But when he arrived here from the kitchens of India’s glamorous Oberoi Hotels, he was shocked by the way the food of his motherland was being translated. “When I came to this country I was still pretty young and although I had training and education, I was still a novice,” he says. “But the Indian food in this country was still in the dark ages – there were dishes on the menu which were unheard of and the menus looked like textbooks.
“So I took a bold step and made a small menu – which was a revelation – and it took some time to understand the market, the demographic, local tastes and local ingredients; it was an amazing voyage of learning. I was only trying to do good food, that’s all. My aim was to serve the cuisine in its right sense. In India there’s no such thing as Indian cuisine – it’s all regional cuisine.”
Leaving Tamarind in 2002 to set up his own venture, Benares, Kochhar regained a Michelin-star in 2007 that he still holds to this day and has earned a reputation for the restaurant as one of the world’s finest Indian eateries.