The variety of cuisines and micro cuisines across India's many regions is extensive, and for the most part under-appreciated by Britain's diners. Alfred Prasad – who at twenty-nine became the youngest Indian chef to receive a Michelin star for his work at Tamarind – is keen to change that. Having retained the star at Tamarind for twelve years he is now working to build his own restaurant group, showcasing the lesser-known regional dishes and ingredients of his native India. He talked to us about Chettinad, an isolated region of India, whose culinary achievements he is particularly proud of, painting a picture of the history, people and food of this remarkable locality.
Chettinad is an area covering around seventy-five villages in the heartland of Tamil Nadu in south-eastern India. Alfred Prasad told us: 'I remember my first time in Chettinad and being blown away by everything I experienced. It is not a simple journey from any of the neighbouring big cities; you need to be physically present in this remote part of India to understand how special it feels. To think that enterprising Chettiars set off as traders from this remoteness to Southeast Asia as early as 1790.'
'This region is packed with history and grandeur. It is home to an extraordinary heritage of temples, mansions, customs, rituals, arts, crafts, hospitality and cuisine. Its most glorious 150 years began when the Chettiars ventured into Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in 1796 and Burma in 1824, leaving their home to work as traders and moneylenders there and later in other south-east Asian countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam. The region is very creative thanks to their exposure to other countries and cultures. Their athangudi tiles are beautiful as well as ingeniously designed to suit their climate; the kottans (baskets), though utilitarian, add beautiful colour to households; there are vibrant checked patterns on the Chettinad cotton saris; incredible architecture and wood work (using material such as Burma teak); all add up to make Chettinad a powerhouse of culture and aesthetics.’