Over the last week, Chef Alfred Prasad has been back in the Capital, personally overseeing the plating at Omya at The Oberoi, New Delhi, the restaurant that the London-based culinary expert extraordinaire regards as a fitting homecoming after many decades away. Quintessentially Indian with an international flair, the 46-cover Omya has been the toast of the town ever since it opened last year, with guests going gaga over the tasting menus – the very vegetarian Vedika and the meat and seafood journey aptly called Yatra. Even on the a la carte menu, where a humble parwal combines with pineapple for a heightened taste treat and sits comfortably beside the famous Kashmiri Nalli (a modified rogan josh made with New Zealand lamb shanks) that reportedly had a fan in film star Tom Cruise in its Tamarind days! Such authentic flavours and the Lutyens-style design elements at the understated yet opulent Omya – those unmistakeable spider-back chairs and coiffured ceilings – have given the restaurant Delhi roots although its aspirations are certainly global.
Having Chef Prasad at the helm helps, with his impeccable credentials in Indian cuisine both locally and abroad. Having started his career with luxury hotels in India and learned under culinary greats such as Madan Lal Jaiswal, Praveen Anand and Nisar Waris in 1999, he moved to London to work at Veeraswamy and then on to Tamarind in 2001. Only a year later, at just 29, he made history by being the youngest Indian chef to win his restaurant a Michelin star and then continued to keep it for 13 more years! More recently, he has collaborated with renowned chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Pascal Aussignac and has seen his recipes featured extensively on the Great British Chefs digital platforms. Now, while he’s consulting at many restaurants while working on opening his own restaurant in London and writing a book too, he makes sorties to Delhi to ensure Omya stays true to his vision. We interviewed this creative culinary star between the busy lunch and dinner service to get an insight into his mind space…
Luxurylaunches : In your own words, how would you describe your culinary style?
Chef Alfred Prasad: My culinary philosophy of ‘Heritage, Health and Happiness’ plays a big part in the creative process. It is also hugely important for me to preserve the purity of flavours, offer a lighter, healthier treatment of the produce and use textures, colours and design to add happy layers to the plate (and palate). I am known for robust and strong flavours and to me that is sacrosanct. The flavours should remain authentic. Also, I place a huge emphasis on done-ness of produce – be it seafood, meats or vegetables. Everything else in terms of visual appeal, condiments, combinations, textures, etc. can lend itself to a more modern, artistic and creative approach.
LL: Have you been keeping tabs on the culinary scene in India? If yes, what trends have come to your notice?
Chef AP: I feel fortunate to have an outsider-insider perspective of the culinary scene in India. I love that Indian food concepts in India have become cool and aspirational. The explosion of offerings based on micro-cuisines is also brilliant, be it modern, authentic, affordable or luxury. Apart from the fun stuff, it is heartening to see that the food space is slowly becoming socially more responsible, be it organic farming, sustainability, environmental impact, etc. I would love to see a strong, direct connection between restaurants, farms and farmers, which I think will happen soon.
LL: Why this homecoming now after so many years abroad? Does the timing have any particular significance?
Chef AP: After a few years of contributing to the Indian dining scene in London, I was hoping to do the same in India. I did receive a few offers over the years but with a full-time role managing different restaurant concepts in London, I was very strapped for time. I strongly believe that Omya and the Oberoi collaboration was just meant to be.
LL: Tell us about your vision for the menu at Omya. How did you pick the selections for the tasting menus?
Chef AP: I had an incredible few months leading up to the opening of Omya. We were certain we wanted the menu to be largely Delhi inspired. The very experienced top management at The Oberoi gave me a lot of input, which helped me understand the Delhi clientele and also their vision for the brand. These primers, along with my food philosophy of ‘Heritage, Health and Happiness’ helped shape the vision for Omya.
LL: How has it been working with The Oberoi Group over the last year? How did the association come about?
Chef AP: The Oberoi Group have been fantastic in their leadership, deep-rooted values and knowledge of their core business, which is apparent in the success and respect they earn. Specific to Omya, I cannot thank the management enough for their collaborative approach with me. I love receiving their inputs, especially when there is so much constant change in the dining scene. In the early stages of discussion, I made my presentations to the Executive Chairman PRS Oberoi, who is an absolute legend and those interactions will always stay very close to my heart.
LL: Were you wary/excited about doing Indian cuisine in Delhi, one of the country’s most food-forward cities with a rich cultural heritage?
Chef AP: It is exciting and a bit daunting to do an Indian concept in India; even more so, when it is at such a landmark site such as The Oberoi, New Delhi. I enjoy working with the amazing team I have at Omya and the wider support we get from the hotel. Delhi has had such rich influences over the centuries and Omya’s food story is definitely viewed from the lens of this majestic city.
LL: Have you had to temper or add to your usual style in any way to cater to the needs of the Indian diner?
Chef AP: I think being London-based, we are spoilt for choice in terms of access to global ingredients and the supply chain for fresh produce is fantastic. Apart from having some constraints on access to ingredients, I haven’t had to change much. I love finding indigenous, unique produce and incorporating that in our offering at Omya.
Where: The Oberoi, New Delhi
Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg, Delhi Golf Club,
Golf Links, New Delhi, Delhi 110003
Phone: 011 2436 3030