Chef Sriram Aylur
Chef Sriram Aylur Image Credit: Supplied

The most underrated ingredient?’ asks chef Sriram Aylur. ‘Hmm, that’s a tough one.’ He ruminates over the question for a few moments. ‘I would say it’s asafoetida. Hing, I feel, is a very underrated but also a very dangerous ingredient.’

Chef Sriram who is based in London, will be in Dubai, and, along with Executive Chef Sonu Koithara of Varq, Taj Exotica Resort and Spa, The Palm, Dubai, will host the exclusive Chef’s Table event at Varq, on April 28 and 29, 2023 as part of the Dubai Food Festival. On the cards is a multi-course menu that showcases select dishes from across India.

Guests can expect, among other dishes, murgh siya mirch (grilled chicken thigh marinated in hung yogurt, cardamom, fenugreek and black pepper); sandalwood smoked lamb chops; and signature Varqui lobster (rock lobster, tandoori shrimp, wrapped in crisp filo sheet and beaten gold). There’s also the clove-smoked moong daal, and Thalasseri chicken/vegetable biryani. Each dish, says the chef, is meticulously prepared making it a feast for the eyes and the palate. ‘The idea is to experience cuisine from the South and North of India.’

The chef is clearly looking forward to throwing a treat for guests at Varq. With over 16 years of experience in promoting the best of Indian cuisine on an international stage, he has made his mark in the culinary world. The mastermind behind the menu of London’s Michelin-starred restaurant Quilon (the first South Indian restaurant in the world to win a Michelin star); the executive chef of the award-winning Indian restaurant Karavalli, and the director of operations at the world-renowned Bombay Brasserie, the 54-year-old has dished out spreads for several distinguished guests including for former Indian Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh; UK’s Sir John Major, and King Charles not to mention celebrities such as Roger Federer, AR Rahman, Sunil Gavaskar, Tom Cruise and Madonna. He is the only Indian chef who has been tickling the palates of guests at the World Economic Forum in Davos for the past ten years consecutively.

Family that enjoys cooking

Chef Sriram is convinced that his early days played a huge role in shaping his approach to cooking. ‘I come from a family that enjoys cooking,’ he explains. ‘It’s kind of in my blood.’ His father worked at a restaurant while his mother used to dish out delicious meals, and he grew up surrounded by good food.

So when it came to choosing a career he did not have to think too much. ‘For me, cooking is not just a job, but a way of life.’

This love for cooking and the culinary arts is what drives him to continue pushing the boundaries of Indian cuisine and share his passion with the world.

‘In general, cuisine in India differs every 100-150 miles,’ he says. The beauty of Indian cuisine, he believes, is its diversity. ‘Even within a single state like Kerala, for instance, there is a lot of diverisity.’

When it comes to South Indian cuisine specifically, Sriram notes that an advantage is that it caters perfectly to modern dietary preferences. ‘This cuisine inherently has everything,’ he says.

Even as he reels off some his favourite dishes - Mangalore chicken curry, Baked black cod and Kerala style duck roast - he returns to explain the significance of an ingredient like asafoetida.

‘It’s a very interesting ingredient, but also very dangerous,’ he says, with a laugh. ‘When you overuse it, it can spoil a dish. But if it’s used correctly, it can really add value to the dish.’

While some may avoid the pungent ingredient, it has the potential to ‘elevate the flavour profile of a dish– if used in the right way’, he says.

So, what are the three must-have ingedients in his kitchen?

‘It would be pepper corn, curry leaf, and mustard,’ he says, almost with a relish.

‘Pepper corn is my favorite ingredient.’ His love for this spice is so great that he has even made an ice cream with it.

‘Curry leaf is another versatile ingredient that can be used in many different forms, from whole leaves to powdered form,’ he says.

Mustard too is pretty much the same, he adds. ‘It is an underutilized ingredient which can be used in paste form, powdered form, or whole.’

The chef’s culinary philosophy is anchored in being true to the origin of every dish and using the right ingredients. He believes in using classic recipes and quality ingredients to produce dishes that reflect the cuisine’s roots. Additionally, he incorporates local produce into his dishes without compromising on the cuisine he creates.

A strict believer in the importance of producing dishes that have the same taste as those from the cuisine’s place of origin, he says: ‘If a person from that region tastes the dish I create, he should say ‘yes, it tastes like the dish prepared back home’.’

Chef Sriram takes a thoughtful approach when it comes to balancing traditional techniques with modern culinary trends. He explains, ‘We first look at taste, flavour, texture, and then we see how to present it, rather than the other way around.’

He emphasizes the importance of staying true to the traditional way of preparing a dish while also being creative and innovative with new dishes. ‘Whenever we create a dish, we should ensure that not only is it relevant to today, but also hinged to the tradition and the ethos of what the cuisine is.’ His goal is to create dishes that are modern but rooted in tradition, so that they can provide diners with a truly memorable and enjoyable culinary experience.

Comfort food

Chef Sriram’s preference for simple yet flavorful dishes is a reflection of his deep appreciation for the basics of cooking. As he reveals, ‘My comfort food is steamed rice and Dal.

‘My approach to cooking is not about creating elaborate dishes, but rather about elevating the natural flavors of ingredients to create dishes that are both comforting and delicious,’ he says.

Chef Sriram is proud of his experience working at Quilon, which he consideres a great privilege.

Being in London, one of the culinary capitals of the world, he finds the market highly competitive but also accepting and giving a chance to any cuisine or anybody.

So what are the qualities of a good chef?

‘To have a continuous thirst for learning and to strive for perfection with honesty and sincerity,’ he says. He believes that one should always aim to give their best, be open to feedback, and accept mistakes and learn from them. Additionally, having a good team and nurturing their growth is crucial to achieving success as a chef. However, he also acknowledges that some amount of luck and blessings are necessary for success in any field. ‘Really, you are only as good as your team.’

Exclusive recipes from chef Sriram Aylur

Chicken roast
Chicken roast Image Credit: Supplied


Serves 4


600g boneless chicken cut into large chunks

1tsp chilli powder

½tsp turmeric powder

Juice of 1 lemon

1tsp fennel

Salt to taste

For the masala

2tbsp vegetable oil

200g onion, finely sliced

3 cloves

3 cardamoms

1 inch stick cinnamon

1 sprig curry leaves

1tbsp ginger-garlic paste

1 green chilli, slit

1tsp chilli powder

¼tsp turmeric

1tsp coriander powder

150g tomato finely chopped

Fresh coriander, finely chopped for garnish


Marinate the chicken pieces with chilli, turmeric, lemon juice and salt. Keep aside. Heat the oil in a pan and add fennel, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and onions. Fry till onion is golden brown. Add ginger-garlic paste and sauté. Add curry leaves, green chillies, chilli powder, turmeric, coriander and stir well. Add chopped tomatoes and cook till oil separates. Add chicken pieces to the masala and sauté until chicken is cooked and masala evenly coated Adjust seasoning and add garnish with chopped coriander leaves.

Coconut Cream Chicken
Coconut Cream Chicken Image Credit: Supplied


Serves 4


8 pieces chicken supreme (boneless, skin-on breast of chicken) 2tsp yogurt

1tsp coconut mixture*

1tbsp thick coconut milk

A pinch cardamom powder

Salt to Taste

*For coconut mixture:

2tbsp grated coconut

½tsp mustard 
½tsp cumin

1 green chilli


Grind the coconut, mustard, cumin, green chilli to a fine paste. In a bowl mix yogurt, coconut mixture, coconut milk, cardamom powder and salt. Marinate the chicken with the mixture for two hours. Remove the chicken from the marinade and grill. Put the remaining marinade in a pan and cook over a high flame to reduce. Serve hot with a salad of your choice.

Quail legs
Quail legs Image Credit: Supplied


Serves 4


4 quail legs (deboned and skinned, reserve the bone and discard skin. reserve rest of the bird for stock.)

1 onion finely chopped

1-inch piece ginger

1 sprig curry leaf

¼ spoon turmeric

¼ tsp chaat masala

Pinch aamchoor powder

1/4 tsp fennel powder

Salt to taste

50 gms fresh coriander

1tbsp oil

For the Sauce:

500ml Quail Stock 

15ml oil

1tsp fennel seeds

1 onion, finely chopped

1-inch ginger, finely chopped

1 sprig curry leaves

1/4tsp turmeric

1/4tsp chilli powder

2 tomatoes, finely chopped

50g fresh coriander stem

Salt to taste

Method for the sauce:

Heat oil in a pan and add fennel, onion, ginger and curry leaves stir and add turmeric, chilli and tomato. Cook until tomatoes are soft and add coriander stem along with the stock. Adjust the seasoning. Bring it to boil and simmer for 5-10 min. Remove from the heat and blitz with hand blender. Pass it through a strainer and keep aside

For the quail: Roughly mince the quail meat in a mixer and keep aside. Clean the wing and leg bone, cut the joints into two, you should be able to get 8 bones in all. Roast for a few minutes and keep aside. Heat oil in a pan and saute onion until brown. Add ginger, curry leaves, turmeric, chaat masala, amchoor powder, fennel powder, salt and fresh coriander and cook for a minute on a slow fire. Add this mixture to the quail meat and mix thoroughly, adjust the seasoning. Now divide the mixture into eight equal size and reconstruct them into quail legs. Stick each leg with a piece of bone so that it holds the shape. Heat a little oil in a pan or griddle and sear the quail. Place on the roasting tray and roast for 3 to 4 minutes. Heat the sauce in a pan and serve with quail.

Baked Yogurt
Baked Yogurt Image Credit: Supplied


Serves 4


200ml double cream

300g Greek yoghurt

100ml condensed milk

75g orange juice (fresh)

50g mango puree

4 litchis, chopped

15 juliennes of orange rind

1tbsp sugar

12 ramekin bowl

Mango and litchi pieces, and orange rind juliennes, for garnishing


Heat orange juice with sugar, reduce it to half and add juliennes. Simmer for 15 seconds, allow to cool and chill it. Mix cream, yoghurt, and condensed milk together, and divide into three equal parts. Mix each part with a portion each of mango puree, chopped litchi and reduced orange juice. Pour the mixtures separately in ramekin bowls. Pre-heat oven at 110 degrees for 20 minutes and bake the mix for 50 seconds. Remove and chill them. Garnish with mango slice, litchi and orange juliennes, and serve.