Chennai, Dec 5 : London-based Alfred Prasad may be a Michelin-starred Indian chef with over 25 years of experience. But in India, he is born again, with a flourish, setting up the Indian restaurant Omya in The Oberoi Hotel in Delhi. Prasad also recently curated dishes for the frozen food major Innovative Foods that owns the Sumeru brand.
"The challenge for an Indian chef who has established himself overseas is to prove his mettle in his home country," Prasad, now running his own Mahika Ltd consulting company, told IANS.
Many chefs and brand experts IANS spoke to agreed that Prasad's tie-up with Innovative Foods is a first-of-its-kind in the country -- curating the food for a brand and his name and image featuring on the product pack. The tagline on the product pack says: Michelin-starred Chef Alfred Prasad's Signature Dishes.
"The Omya at The Oberoi and Sumeru frozen food are the two opportunities for me to prove myself as an Indian chef once again," Prasad said.
Queried about his professional journey from traditional hot kitchen food to frozen foods, Prasad said: "The talks with Innovative Foods started a year back. We wanted to disrupt the frozen food market in India. Earlier, it was only fried stuff and raw frozen vegetables and not the gourmet range," Prasad said.
The Bengaluru-based company recently launched four frozen food products -- Super Millet Kichidi, Coromandel Roasted Chicken, Coromandel Paneer and Signature Pepper Chicken -- curated by Prasad.
"Eight more products are in the development pipeline," Prasad said.
Prasad is quite elated as his name and image will enter thousands of Indian and overseas homes.
"The ready-to-eat or heat-and-eat food market size is about Rs 3,500 crore, out of which retail will be about Rs 1,000 crore, food services (supplies to quick-service restaurants) Rs 1,500 crore and hotels and restaurants about Rs.1,000 crore," Innovative Foods CEO Mithun Appaiah told IANS.
On the setting up of Omya restaurant, Prasad said: "For the Oberois, the Delhi property is prestigious. When they refurbished the property, they decided to have an Indian restaurant."
"I told the Oberoi's top management, it should be collaborative effort with their knowledge of the local market as I didn't know the current Delhi market after being in London for over 20 years," Prasad said.
Looking back, Prasad said the training at Bukhara and Dum Pukht at ITC Maurya in Delhi and working in the South Indian restaurant Dakshin at ITC Park Sheraton in Chennai gave him a good foundation in Indian cuisine.
He said he went to London to work in Veerasamy restaurant and later joined the Tamarind restaurant. In 2002, at the age of 29, he got the Michelin star.
"I was not chasing stars... it happened on its own. The Michelin star rating is given based on what is on the plate and not on other considerations like the restaurant dÃ©cor," Prasad explained.
Experts agreed that as far as the Indian restaurant and the food industry is concerned, Prasad is a new face now with a reputation built in London.
So, can a new brand be created parachuting an overseas chef into India?
"A chef builds his brand equity first by cooking in a restaurant and creating goodwill for the outlet and for himself. Hosting a cookery show on a TV channel and authoring cook books are other ways," Chef K. Damodaran, a celebrity chef and a brand ambassador for couple of products, told IANS.
"A chef becomes a brand when the restaurant/hotel decides to invest and promote him as its public face," said Chef S. Koushik, the promoter of the Eatitude food and beverage consultancy.
"A professional chef can turn into a brand after decades of hard work, giving consistent results and building a good reputation," Harish Bijoor, brand expert and founder of Harish Bijoor Consults Inc, told IANS.
"Having a digital presence, apart from TV shows, is another requisite for a chef to turn into a brand. Once the reputation is gained and a professional evolves into a brand, it is then a game of geography," he added.
"An individual brand is limited by geography. Taste is geographic and so is a chef's brand equity," Bijoor noted.
In the case of Prasad, after gaining a reputation and the prestigious Michelin star in London for Indian cuisine, he has returned to land of the cuisine he is known for abroad.
"Prasad, an Indian-born chef who was trained here and accomplished much in London, is a good fit for the Sumeru brand. With advertising, it is a matter of time before Prasad becomes a chef brand in India," Koushik said.
(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan.com)