The Kebab Magician

Enjoying Kerela fish curry is one of the fondest memory of Sous Chef Jacob Koshy, Alankrita Resorts “My oldest food memory, if you can call it that, was me enjoying the spicy fish curry and fish fry my mother cooked regularly in the early 90’s in Kerala,” he says. “We used to cook the curry in a mud pot which gave it a characteristic flavour. It is not the same in a steel vessel.” Mere reminiscences about the flavours of chopped ginger and tamarind in the Keralite curry still makes him nostalgic.

It’s easy to see the Keralite in Jacob, even as he helps his juniors with continental dishes in the kitchen, while he talks about his food memories. He speaks of how he helped his mother in the kitchen on special occasions at home. Later, he studied culinary for three years at Asan Memorial Institute in Chennai in 1995 and then started his career as a chef in Pondicherry at Ananda Inn (the only five star hotel at that time).

Chef Koshy talks fondly of his experimentation at Taj Residency in Chennai, “You had to have been there to see how we young chefs experimented with the dishes in the buffet.The customers really enjoyed the Italian lasagne we once made using kidney beans instead of the regular vegetables. We called it ‘Indo-Conti’ food. Fusion cuisine was a new concept then and we often used mustard and chilli paste in continental recipes.” He adds amused, “Many people would just drop in for a cup of filter coffee. Instead of boiling the milk and decoction together, we first boiled the milk, added heated decoction and frothed it. Then, we just sprinkled fragrant instant coffee powder on it. Today, this is more or less what you call cappuccino. I particularly remember a doctor who came every weekend just for the coffee.”

The chef also went abroad for short stints – he worked in the UK and at Albert Albela, a flight-catering unit, in Sharjah. As someone who has travelled the world, Chef Koshy says, “In UK, it is a very different work atmosphere. For instance, here I have 50-60 members as staff across departments. Over there, we worked in shifts and I was the only one during my shifts. It was quite an experience!” Encouragement from his seniors has also helped the chef to come up with marvels in the kitchen. He says, “I really look up to Chef Shanmugham and Chef Manohar at Taj Residency as mentors. They always encouraged me to be creative without any inhibitions.”

Ask him if he ever cooks at home and he grins and says, “I have no time. It is my wife who cooks at home, though I enjoy cooking in the weekends. I have a rack of cookery books. I still read and learn a lot.” He continues, “Today, I find that people are enjoying continental fare which is considered bland. So many customers here enjoy the pastas. Everyone is getting health conscious. In fact, at home we don’t use the amount of spices my mother used when we were young.”

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