Chef Interview: Peter Jospeh, Kahani, September 2019

This article is in a series designed not to provide ‘A N Other’ opinion about a chef’s output, to be lost in the now sea of increasing ‘noise’ about top end dining. In this article the chef will analyse three of their signature dishes against the five criteria used by Michelin for awarding a Michelin star. As a reminder the five criteria were explained under interview by Michael Ellis (at the time WW Director of Michelin Guides) and are given below as he described:-

“The first and most important
criteria is the provenance of ingredients, all great cuisine starts with great
product – the actual product itself is considered for freshness, quality,
flavour and texture and so on. The second criteria is mastery of cooking
technique. The third criteria is equilibrium and harmony in flavours… The
fourth criteria is regularity (or consistency) and this means starter, main and
dessert are each of the appropriate standard and that each are also consistent
over time. Finally, value for money is the fifth criteria.”

Peter Joseph
held a Michelin star for six years as head chef of the original UK Indian
Michelin starred restaurant Tamarind.  A restaurant that has become something of an
institution and while it continues to be based in Mayfair, Tamarind is now under
new stewardship having reopened in 2019 after significant refurbishment and a
change in culinary direction.  This came
about after Peter moved on at the end of 2018 to
set up his own venture in the relative suburban idyll of Chelsea, with his own chic, high-end dining restaurant
offering Kahani.  The name Kahani means story in Hindi, which
perhaps signals Peter’s intent to revisit his roots when writing his menus.  To explore the link between past and present
at the new restaurant, we must consider Peter’s background as well as his
thoughts on the future needs of his local audience.

Peter grew up
in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state in Southern India.  They say that southern Indian cuisine has its
roots in the secretly guarded recipes of private homes.  Well, Peter’s early inspiration for cooking certainly
came from observing his mother, indeed “my sibling and I would compete to get
the last of the pot of our mother’s chicken or lamb curries,” fondly remembers
Peter. Culturally at that time it was a man’s role to be an engineer, a doctor,
a lawyer or an accountant but not a cook, nevertheless the young Peter was found
borrowing ingredients from his mother’s kitchen to cook a dish with his friends
as part of a social gathering around food.  He was also in awe of the chefs he had seen on
TV in their smart uniforms creating colourful and flavoursome food.  So after schooling Peter enrolled at Hotel
Management School on a three years course.

Peter’s first
role thereafter was at Sheraton Group of International Hotels starting as a
pastry chef, before becoming a sous chef at the hotel, this experience exposed
Peter to a variety of international cuisines to match the international
clientele of the hotel – from classical French to Malaysian, or from Chinese to
regional Indian and so on.  Peter’s
executive chef, Rakesh Upadhya, proved an inspirational figure, teaching him the
importance of channeled passion, such that he was able to plan accurately and
be adaptable to new challenges.  From 2004, after five years with the Sheraton Group, Peter moved
to London and a hotel at London Bridge. Peter’s first understanding of the
rigours of a Michelin starred restaurant came two years later when he joined
Tamarind as a sous chef.  This was a
challenging time, as through all his previous experiences, he had not encountered
anything like the demands of this type of cooking – the expectations, the
challenges, the consistency required.  By
2012, Peter had earned his stripes delivering the right taste and texture
service in, service out and was rewarded with the head chef role at Tamarind,
holding the Michelin star in his own right continuously until his departure at
the end of 2018.  Peter was
ready for a new opportunity and challenge, so his own restaurant, Kahani was

[Kahani restaurant interior with impressive glass walled wine cellar which is home to some beautiful wines and vintages]

The concept at Kahani was to be
different from Tamarind, a move away from traditional curries and spices, to
develop his own personal cooking signature and identity.  Part of this would involve taking the spices
of traditional sauces and making powders to effectively lift and flavour
enhance through seasoning a dish.  This
would replace the need for a heavy or overwhelming sauce applied to ingredients
that at Kahani might be prepared on the robata grill or in the tandoor.  The sauces to food, where such apply, are
made far lighter than the traditional recipes that we might associate with
Indian restaurants.  This, no doubt, will
appeal to the modern British audience and to those of Chelsea and Belgravia
particularly.  The theme is also of
sharing, like Peter once did in the quintessential Indian practice of young
friends cooking and sharing a meal – a real social occasion to his diners at

So now for the chef to analyze
three of his signature dishes against those Michelin criteria.  These will be the Broccoli, Prawn and Butter
Chicken based dishes found on the a la carte menu.

[The Kahani broccoli dish is one of the customer favourites and a dish Peter is proud to have created]

Peter believes that there is a
window for getting cooking techniques right and that window applies to cooking
time, method and seasoning.  For example,
should you over boil broccoli it will lose its texture, colour and flavour.  Likewise cook broccoli too long in the
tandoor it will become burnt, crisp and bitter. 
So essentially there is a direct correlation between cooking technique
and consistency, so both are fundamentals and basics that must be got
right.  There is also a link to
consistency from provenance.  Overall
consistency checks and balances are achieved through knowing the recipes
clearly, practice, calm but clear communication, tasting, ensuring constant
quality of ingredients and training. Peter continuously conducts this orchestra
of taste in his kitchen and instills the right values in his team. To enhance
both flavour and texture of the broccoli, Peter’s technique is to coat with
roasted lentil flour.  Balance and
harmony is achieved through marination using honey, combined with nigella seeds
and wheat crisps for texture. The finishing touch that lifts the tandoor dish
to dizzy heights is a tamarind infused yoghurt garnish. 

[Kahani King Prawns impress with complementing sweet and sour notes]

Exceptional Indonesian prawns are selected for the next dish.  These were found to maintain a sweet meaty
texture, avoiding the smaller, mushier textured products that might populate
lesser menus. The dish leans on Malabar cuisine – south west Indian coastal
origins – but instead of a wet curry sauce, here Peter makes a powder from
coconut, green chilli, curry leaves and ginger and cooks the prawns in a
tandoor to avoid heaviness or grease. A smoked tomato chutney is served as a
garnish to cut through the natural sweetness of the crustacean and the marinade. 

[Bottom left: Kahani Butter Chicken has a lightness of touch that is so appealing to modern tastes]

The Kahani butter chicken is a signature because it is lower on cream and butter compared to more traditional makhani recipes. Garam masalas from India are used in the traditional way, there is no compromise on flavour with finest quality herb-fed chicken, which is chargrilled.  The consistency of the chicken supplied is a key objective of Peter’s with this flavoursome dish that exudes a lightness of touch.

Overall the menu at Kahani is impressive and Peter’s thinking about appealing to the more residential audience of Chelsea, who may have particular tastes, has struck a winning formula, with a refreshing new perspective on traditional Indian cuisine.  There’s a lot more to this restaurant than the phrase ‘modern twist’ might evoke.  The front of house is large – counting ten on a Wednesday evening in August – who are faultlessly well drilled, engaging and knowledgeable without being obtrusive. The glass walled cellar on display at one end of the restaurant boasts a collection of grand crus Burgundies and Grand Cru Classe Medocs perhaps fitting of the lofty list at Le Gavroche.  The open kitchen and extensive bar fill two other sides to the basement room and are impressive in equal measures.  Peter’s vision is to satisfy happy customers and perhaps one day Michelin recognition will follow, one senses that both have been earned and deserved.

from Fine Dining Guide