Long before Facebook and Skype became a staple in long-distance relationships, Indian chef Kannan Jayaprakash Sreedevi (or simply chef Kannan) and Filipino wife Eden Madridejos had been exchanging love messages through e-mail and Yahoo! Messenger.
They met in 2005 at The Regent Singapore by Four Seasons Hotel, where Kannan did the hotel’s buffet dishes. While cooking tom yum and nasi goreng, he caught a glimpse of Eden, who was meticulously scouting the Thai buffet spread. Eden was on vacation with her family and best friend.
They exchanged e-mail addresses and started chatting. “The technology helped our friendship grow,” says 30-year-old Kannan, a look-alike of TV personality and radio DJ Sam YG.
Kannan would then fly to Manila to visit Eden. In a way, he admits, he used cooking to woo her.
“On my first visit to Manila, I brought some Valrhona chocolates and made chocolate mousse,” recalls Kannan, who hails from Kerala in southern India.
Kannan and Eden got married in 2008 in a traditional Filipino wedding at Christ the King in Greenmeadows. They then flew to India for an Indian-inspired wedding reception (Eden donned a sari, henna tattoo and customary accessories) to introduce Eden to Kannan’s family and relatives.
For a time, the couple stayed and worked in Singapore—Kannan as chef and Eden as engineer. Then they decided to settle down in Manila to pursue Kannan’s dream of running his own restaurant offering international cuisine.
Kannan traces his passion for cooking to his mother, who would let him help out in the kitchen.
“My interest in food has always been there. In India, we always cook at home and that’s part of our culture. We hardly go out to dine. I would help my mom in her cooking. Even in school, if there were school activities I would volunteer to cook, like chapati and chicken curry.”
He took a hotel and management course in India and trained with the Taj Group of Hotels. He moved to Singapore for two more years of study, then trained at Four Seasons Hotel which then hired him.
He spent a good six years in Singapore. He also worked at Hotel St. Regis and a number of high-end restaurants.
“In cooking, you should have an idea of how the food should come out,” says Kannan. “It is your tongue that people are trusting. You are actually seasoning the food for different people, neither too sweet nor too salty. You have to find the balance so that your guests will not complain.
“The first bite will tell you a lot,” he adds. “Your diners will decipher, react and think whether to take the second bite. When the plate comes back to the kitchen and it doesn’t have anything other than bones, well, you did a good job. A good chef always looks at what’s coming back to the kitchen. If the food is half-eaten, that’s questionable. My satisfaction in cooking is always what the guests say about the food.”
Today chefs are expected not only to cook good food but also to manage their own restaurants.
Moving back to Manila, Kannan and his wife opened a home-based catering business, Party to Go, which has gained a following among those who prefer to have hotel-style catering but without the intimidating price.
Last year, the couple put up a casual dining restaurant, Oliva Bistro Café on Visayas Avenue, Quezon City (tel. 9905342). It is one of the few restaurants in Manila that serves a truly international cuisine—Italian, American, Singaporean, Thai, Indian, Thai.
Kannan also serves Butter Chicken Masala, Thai Green Chicken Curry, Baked Prawns with Cheese and Garlic Cream, served either with Pasta Oliva or Butter Parsley Rice.
While running the restaurant, he also teaches at the Hotel and Restaurant Management program of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde.
Eden helps out in the daily operation of the restaurant, while working as engineer for the family’s construction firm.
At home, Kannan still does all the cooking. When Eden craves for steaks, Kannan readily grills a rib-eye for her. When she prefers something healthy, Kannan whips up a salad with fresh fruits. Sometimes, he whips up pasta topped with seared salmon, with a refreshing Iced Moroccan Mint Tea.
In the restaurant, “as a profession of his love for the wife,” Kannan says, he concocted what he called the Chef’s Wife Salad, a mouthwatering ensemble of crisp romaine with grilled chicken, caramelized walnuts, ripe mangoes and grape in dill dressing.
“I find it really romantic,” says Eden. “He never gets tired of giving way to what I crave for. My friends say I’m already spoiled. If I want to eat potato gratin or French onion soup, he will make it for me.”
Kannan and Eden will mark their fifth wedding anniversary in May. To celebrate, they either go to a beach or visit Kannan’s parents in India.
Crisp Hearts of Romaine with Balsamic Vinaigrette, Orange, Walnuts on Parmesan Basket
50 g Romaine lettuce (wash, spin and dry)
3 pc fresh orange segments
4 pc walnut halves
3 pc parmesan shavings
3 pc black pitted olives, sliced in half
1 pc fresh tomato, sliced
1 tbsp good quality balsamic vinegar
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp honey
In a mixing bowl, pour 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 1 tbsp honey. Whisk together to combine. Slowly pour olive oil on the honey balsamic mixture and whisk till it forms an emulsion. Keep in the refrigerator.
For parmesan basket:
20 g grated parmesan
1 pinch freshly ground black pepper
Mix the grated parmesan and black pepper. Heat a nonstick pan to medium heat, spread the parmesan evenly on the pan and cook till slightly melted. Remove the melted parmesan sheet with a spatula and put over an inverted bowl to make a basket shape. (Work fast to avoid breaking). The basket will become brittle once cooked.
In a salad plate, place the parmesan basket in the center. Toss the romaine lettuce with 2 tbsp balsamic vinaigrette and place in the basket. Top with walnut halves and parmesan shavings. Arrange orange segments and olives on the plate. Place the tomato slice and drizzle with balsamic vinaigrette. Serve immediately.
Honey and Lemon Glazed Salmon Fillet
on Linguine Aglio Olio
120 g salmon fillet
½ tsp finely chopped garlic
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp honey
2 tsp lemon juice
Mix all the marinade ingredients and bring to boil and cool down. Use half of the mixture to marinate the salmon for 30 minutes.
Sear the fish on a hot non-stick pan three minutes on each side on medium heat.
Linguine Aglio Olio:
150 g boiled linguine
1 tbsp chopped garlic
1 pinch chili flakes
1 tbsp chopped parsley
2 leaves sliced fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
Heat oil in pan, add garlic and saute till fragrant. Add parsley and chili flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Put the pasta and sauté. Add lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Finish with sliced basil leaves.
Place the pasta on the center of a dinner plate. Top with freshly grated parmesan. Place the salmon on the top. Drizzle with reserved cooked marinade on top.
Iced Moroccan Mint Tea
1 small bunch (around 20 leaves) fresh mint leaves
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
Place the mint leave in a cup and pour hot water. Allow to steep for 10 minutes.
Add the honey and lemon juice and stir well.
In a chilled glass, put ice and pour the mint tea.
E-mail the author at vbaga@ inquirer.com.ph