Food Hero: Santhosh Nair
PUBLISHED: 09:00 29 June 2014
Santhosh Nair, corporate chef at Mint and Mustard Taunton, Cardiff and Penarth, has been a chef for 25 years. He has been with Mint and Mustard since 2008 when he joined as a sous chef
Who is your food hero?
The owner of Paragon Restaurant in Calicut, India - Sumesh. On one of his travels he happened to eat food in the restaurant I had just started working in. He asked to see the chef and then took me to his restaurant. He was never a cook but his skills of identifying what is lacking in a dish or whether it is perfect are unbelievable - I have never seen this in anyone else throughout my career.
How would you describe your food style?
My style is heavily influenced by Keralan cuisine. The cooking within Kerala (in Southern India) itself changes from district to district so there is a good range.
Kerala is also at the heart of the historic spice trade, so has seen ingredients and influences come in from all corners of the world for centuries, making it one of the most exciting food places in the world.
Ever since I have come to UK, I have always tried to use the ingredients available here and get the same authentic Kerala taste married with the best, freshest local produce.
Who has been your greatest food influence?
My mom. Mine was a joint family in the traditional Indian middle-class style and there were loads of members. I was the youngest among eight children and my mom had the responsibility to make sure food was available to the whole family.
It was a big challenge keeping to everyone’s taste and the food was always awesome. From breakfast to lunch to tea and then dinner, every course would be different and the kitchen needed a powerhouse behind it, which was my mom.
How important is seasonality in your menu?
At Mint and Mustard, we tend to change the menu with every season. We look at the availability of special meats, seafood and other ingredients and look to use special local produce as well.
What is your favourite flavour of Somerset?
Somerset cider – there’s nothing quite like it in India, or anywhere else for that matter!
Why did you become a chef?
I love good food. The satisfaction seen in the person having my food inspires me and makes me the happiest, which is what I enjoy the most in being a Chef.
What is your food heaven?
A traditional Kerala Hindu marriage meal with a spread of 29 different vegetarian dishes - it is the best. The variety of different tastes that evolve while eating each dish is unbelievable.
What is your idea of food hell?
Unauthentic restaurants seen in the UK who claim to be serving genuine Indian food but which is never from an Indian background. The food served there is unbelievably bad. Every dish you have tastes the same.
What’s going to be big in 2014?
I am putting together a special food festival this June and aim to introduce the festival in all the three Mint and Mustard restaurants simultaneously which will be a challenge.