Alfred Prasad grew up in Chennai in southern India, his father and mother both influencing his future career in their individual ways. In his father’s family, vegetarian cooking was central and Alfred Prasad spent hours in his vegetable garden, tending ingredients on their way to the dinner table. His mother’s Anglo-Indian background meant that she had great skill with preparing meat and joined her in the kitchen at every opportunity, helping with preparation and enjoying the results. He told the World Gourmet Society: “Even now, I treasure those moments when I was together with my family and learned how rewarding it could be to work with great ingredients and to simply have good food in my fingers.” Extensive travel around India with his parents also exposed him to the incredible breadth of Indian regional cuisine, something he explored further in his training and career.
After completing a diploma in hotel management in 1993, he was hand-picked for advanced chef training during which he worked at two of India’s finest and most iconic restaurants – Bukhara, at the Maurya Sheraton in New Delhi, which specialises in north-west frontier cuisine, and Dakshin at the Park Sheraton in Chennai, which focuses on the cuisine of the southern states of India. During his six years with these restaurants he further developed his appreciation for the variety of India’s different food cultures, a specialism he has continued to develop throughout his career.
In 2001, he moved to the UK to take up the job of sous chef at Tamarind in London’s Mayfair. Within a year he was promoted to the restaurant group’s Director of Cuisine, which meant he oversaw their four venues – Tamarind, Imli Street and Zaika in London, and Tamarind of London in California. He maintained Tamarind’s Michelin star for twelve years, in the process becoming the youngest Indian chef to receive a Michelin star at the age of 29.
Alfred Prasad’s food at Tamarind offered a highly original take on British notions of traditional Indian cooking, described on the restaurant’s website as “delicately balancing creativity and authenticity”. Bringing fresh, seasonal ingredients to life, he sought to “preserve the purity and flavour of ingredients”, enhancing them with subtle spicing and a light touch and eschewing the stereotype that Indian food is heavy and greasy. Drawing on the south Indian coastal cuisine of his upbringing, his eclectic menus featured fresh British seafood such as sea bass and scallops, adapted to Indian flavours, as well as the game and meat more traditional to north-west Indian Moghul cuisine.
His specialities included Slow-cooked dahl makhni with tomatoes and cream, as well more meaty offerings such as Roasted rack of lamb, fenugreek-potato matchsticks and wild mushroom pulao. Dessert was a touch more European influenced, with dishes like Stewed pear with winter berry coulis, fennel and ginger ice cream to finish.
At Imli Street in Soho, the modern small-plates menu was more casual, but the enthusiasm for the crafted specialities of his birth country remained. His menu encompassed street food, travel snacks and south Indian/Sri Lankan coastal specialities, as well as relatively unknown international crossover cuisine, such as Indian-Chinese.
He left The Tamarind Collection in 2015, citing their focus on northern Indian cuisine. From Alfred Prasad’s early travels with his parents to his chef education in India, he has always been passionate about the diversity of his country’s food offerings, telling The Caterer “there is so much more to offer, rather than the same tikka masala, rogan josh and jalfrezi.”
Alfred Prasad is an ambassador for the charity FoodCycle and works with them to reduce food waste and redirect surplus food to those in poverty and social isolation. He says: “I love their message that food poverty and food wastage should simply not co-exist.” He also cycled over 250 miles in only five days, across challenging terrain in Rajasthan, to help raise money for Action Against Hunger. He has often spoken of a desire to see more women in the kitchen and his hopes for an even split in his kitchens: “I do feel that women are more naturally creative, great at multi tasking and would make great chefs. We should be more pro-active in making it possible for them to thrive in the restaurant business.”
His future plans include building his own restaurant group, showcasing the lesser-known regional delights of India, and he is also working on his first book.