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Five Kitchen Essentials with Alun from Chilli Pickle

Five kitchen essentials with Alun from The Chilli Pickle

Alun Sperring, Head Chef and co-founder of The Chilli Pickle is next to answer our foodie questionnaire, and he even threw in a serious crash course on the origins of some of our favourite Indian foods.

Name 5 essentials you always keep in the kitchen...

Always great sea salt. A lot of table salt contains chemicals – it's like sugar when it's too refined. Chillies –with a restaurant called Chilli Pickle we'd be nowhere without them. I always have a a classic Indian green chilli called the Mombasa green chilli. But, you've got different chilies that do different things, some are more savoury, some are sweet, some give you more raw power. Some, like a kashmiri chilli, we use predominantly for its intense red colour, but it's got a very low to medium heat.

I've got a great spice rack, if I can put that under one umbrella. A lot of our spices come direct from the plantation – it's important to know where the spices are coming from and the story behind it. When you go back to Vasco de Gama and the spice trail in the 1600s, it was the Portuguese who brought the chilli to India, before that it was all about black pepper.

We need one more... I always have a variety of cooking oils. We normally have ghee, coconut oil, and mustard oil. They are three very important Indian cooking oils, and they give you a taste of the entire country. In the east, there's a very strong focus on mustard oil. Then you've got the South, where cook a lot with coconut oil.

For me, a chef who says, "I only use vegetable oil" simply doesn't understand what food is all about. It's just playing on the zeitgeist and buzzwords. It changes every 5 minutes – like with coconut oil.

I love coconut oil. I've got a South Indian curry, it's finished with curry leaves and I'll drizzle extra virgin coconut oil on the top. It's got that first press, so it has a nice, strong coconut-y flavour, and it adds another dimension to the dish.

Name your dream dinner party guest.

There's one guy in India and I guess he's probably the most accessible TV media chef in the whole of India – his name is Sanjiv Kapoor. As an Englishman who has embraced Indian food I'd like to show him that I know my onions – to have him say, "This English boy can cook Indian food" would be amazing.

Favourite sound or smell in the kitchen?

I love the smell of toasted cumin. When I get in a taxi and the taxi driver says, "Been for a curry mate?" He probably smells cumin on me. That roasting of cumin, it just fills the air and I love it.

Favourite single ingredient?

Chilli. (Surprise, surprise)

Favourite restaurant we might not know about?

One of our best meals was in the ITC Maurya Hotel in Delhi. The name of the restaurant is Dum-Pukht.

What do you cook when nobody's watching?

Yesterday cooked up some daal. Tempered it with loads of garlic, cumin, lots of fresh cherry tomatoes, bit of coriander, and just have that with a couple of chapatis. I'm not averse to just knocking up a bit of spicy tomato pasta, and a Greek salad. Me and Dawn, we're not food snobs, it's not Indian 24/7 – we just love good food. The core is good ingredients, seasoned properly – so many people don't understand that you're able to change a dish very easily just through seasoning it properly. I have been known to sneak into the kitchen if someone else is cooking and season things up a little bit!

Do you have a go-to hangover cure?

Fernet-Branca is a very strong herbal drink and it's very medicinal in its taste. It was first given to me by a chef years ago and I think it's an amazing drink. We've got it on the menu here, most people will drink it and think it's horrible. It's very much an acquired taste, but I love it.

You're on death row, what do you request for your final meal?

Something simple... some fiery chicken wings.

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