10 Minutes With: Surender Mohan, Culinary Director, Jamavar

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th June 2018

Surinder Mohan is the culinary director of Jamavar, a fine dining Indian restaurant in London

Born in New Delhi, chef Surender Mohan discovered his passion for Indian cuisine at an early age and paved a career for himself exploring an array of cooking methods coupled with fresh, flavourful ingredients.

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One of Surender's dishes

Early inspiration

Growing up in Amritsar, a city known as the culinary capital of India, he was surrounded by a family that loved to cook with creativity. Surender reminisces “My mother inspired me; she was known in my family circles as a chef par excellence and had always been a great cook. Watching her from close quarters as I grew up inspired me to take up cooking professionally.”

His background has influenced Surender’s cooking style. Amritsar is a place where people relocate from various areas of India, therefore bringing their own culinary styles and techniques with them. Surender explains “I grew up in Old Delhi, where people from all over India came to settle down, bringing their various traditions, festivities and cooking styles with them.

He continues: “Places like the Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk, Darya Gungh, Sitaram Bazar have all become famous for their food across India. These places have left an indelible impression on my cooking skills and my whole outlook as a chef.”

Jamavar Restaurant

Surender first joined The Leela in 2001 as their sous chef just as the group was preparing to open its first Jamavar restaurant and quickly became an integral part of the team. He worked his way up the ranks to become Jamavar’s executive chef and corporate chef of Indian cuisine, where he was responsible for overseeing the menu development and kitchen teams for each restaurant.

Since it first opened, the restaurant has received considerable acclaim, including being named among the World’s Top 10 Power Dining Spots by Forbes USA.

Was this a career highlight for Surender and how important are accolades and awards? He says: “Accolades and recognition always help your journey as a chef, but having the acknowledgement on such a huge international scale made me feel on top of the world. It was incredibly humbling and made me strive to maintain the quality of my cooking, without compromising the innovation and authenticity behind it.”

Never compromising on taste

However, Surender’s primary focus has always been to further develop his culinary skills. He says: “I always make sure I never compromise on taste. However, over the years the way that I style my food has transitioned from family-style cooking to smaller, more refined gourmet plates.”

Mango Lassi
Mango Lassi

As the newly appointed Culinary Director of Michelin-Star restaurant Jamavar as well as Bombay Bustle, Surender is marking a new chapter in his journey with the opening of Jamavar in Mayfair, London noting that London will be his ‘inspiration’ as he prepares to deliver the finest culinary offerings of Jamavar that will make ‘diners feel like royalty.’

He is very much looking forward to his role and says, “The palate of our clientele in London is different from India, so I look forward to showcasing the vast repertoire of Indian Cuisine that we have back home to our patrons in London.”

Authentic Indian food

At Jamavar in India, diners can expect to enjoy Jamavar’s signature dishes such as Dal, Gucci and Old Delhi Butter Chicken. However, the culinary offering in London will differ slightly. Surender explains “We will focus on innovating small plates to suit the palate of local diners. The only difference is the availability of ingredients and the different seasonality, which affects the process of menu creation; but as mentioned earlier, taste and authenticity are at the forefront of my cooking, whether be it in India or in the UK.”

The culinary influences on the menu at Jamavar are far-reaching and encompass styles from the length and breadth of India from many different regions. Surender reveals “We cook Gucchis from Kashmir, Gosht ki Nihari from Lucknow, Kulchas from Amritsar, Butter Chicken from Punjab, Lahori Seekh Kebab from erstwhile India before partition.
We also cook South Indian specialities; from Idlis and uttapam to different fish curries from the Malabar, Alleppy, Mangalore, Kumarakaom regions, to name a few. My travels have influenced my cooking enormously and in turn have allowed me to give London diners a true, well-rounded and authentic experience of Indian food.”

In a recent poll, Indian food was named as the second most popular takeaway according to a report from Payment Sense.

So why is Indian food so popular in the UK? Surender says “The varied spectrum of ingredients, the vibrant colours, the diverse cooking techniques and medicinal value of many products, make Indian cuisine a very diverse and appealing option to people all over the world, and the UK is no exception. It’s incredible to see how much Indian food is loved here and seeing how well Jamavar has been accepted in London makes me eternally grateful.”

What makes a good Indian dish?

What makes a good Indian dish? Surender believes that it should have many elements included with a primary focus on the ingredients. He says the most important factor is to “perfect the flavour, texture and presentation and to tie it all together.”

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Perfecting the flavour

When it comes to finessing his process of dish creation, Surender has a key question in his mind asking what would his mother do. He believes that by taking myself back to his roots helps him remain authentic and keeps his ideas organic.

The dishes ingredients are also at the forefront of his mind. He says: “Travelling around India has helped me become more creative and has allowed me to experiment with a wider selection of ingredients. This leads me to trial and error in the kitchen, which is essential as I can define and redefine the flavours.

"Once the flavours are finalised, I focus on the presentation, a fundamental part of the process today, as people often eat with their eyes first. Then I assess the price, aiming to make it an affordable luxury.”

Attaining his customers feedback in imperative for Surender.

“Listening to what customers have to say has helped me modify my work and helped me create some of my most popular dishes, like the Tunde Kebab.”

Alongside his customers, his mother, Surender also finds inspiration from local produce which he utilises on his menu. Seasonality is an important part of his menu development. “In my opinion, fresh ingredients always have the best flavour, so seasonal ingredients like mangoes, sarson ka saag, gucchis, often define a menu when they are in season. I also enjoy working with local produce, so I create dishes around the ingredients that are available to me at the time."

Versatile cuisine

Does he have a favourite dish on the menu? Absolutely! His ‘Gilawat Ke Kebab’ which is designed in the mouth and is an all-time favourite back in his hometown in India. There is a story behind this dish – it was made for the Nawab of Lucknow, who had in his old age lost his teeth. He challenged his personal chefs in the Royal kitchen to make a kebab that would not involve chewing. The lamb patty is traditionally served on a ‘ulte tawa ke paratha’, or on a crisp Indian bread. Surender says: “It has to have the right texture, flavour, softness, creaminess, and tenderness. This dish truly represents the versatility of Indian cuisine.”

By Emma Harrison

@canteenemma

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th June 2018

10 Minutes With: Surender Mohan, Culinary Director, Jamavar