The Food Archaeologist

Delving into the history of Indian curries is British chef,writer and food presenter Alan Coxon.

Written by Jagmeeta Thind Joy | Published: December 5, 2013 3:07 am

The term “flavoursome” best describes not just a meal but a conversation with Alan Coxon. The multi-award-winning British chef,TV presenter,food and travel writer,consultant and international judge,has a way with words,and listening to him speak animatedly about diverse topics — travel experiences in India,history of the meringue or spices in a vindaloo — is like stirring a hot pot with aromas wafting in.

His descriptive style of narration is cheerful and quirky,just like his multi-coloured neon socks peeping from under a plain chef’s uniform. It is little surprise then that Coxon,who is in the city for a British food promotion at Taj Chandigarh,is ranked in the top 10 TV chefs of the world.

Currently,it’s his TV series,From Birmingham to Bombay,on air in most parts of the world that highlights his role of being a “food archaeologist”. The show also features celebrity Indian chef Sanjeev Kapoor. “I have always been intrigued by the history of cuisine and various ingredients. It was during an academic stint that I delved into books and realised there were too many contradictions when it comes to the origin of a dish,” says the chef.

The show,Coxon explains,looks at five of United Kingdom’s most popular curries — korma,tandoori,rogan josh,madras and vindaloo. “It also encapsulates my journey to seven locations across India in search of the history and origination of these curries,” says the chef,who has also written five books to accompany the TV series that he is hoping will air in India soon.

The first book to be out is titled The Punjab and Amritsar. “The TV show and books have been in the making for the last two years,and for me,a visit to the Golden Temple and its communal kitchen was truly special,” says Coxon,who has also tried his hands at rolling out chapattis. “The fact that they dish out 40,000 meals in a day is outstanding and if it could be replicated elsewhere in the world,it would truly be amazing,” he says.

An avid traveler and researcher,ingredients have always intrigued Coxon,who has valuable history lessons to dish out on spices. “Did you know that peppercorn was called black gold as the ancient Romans used it as currency? That’s how the term peppercorn rent came about,” says Coxon,who was intrigued with the black cardamon when he came across it during his travel to India. “It might be regular to you,but to me it was a precious find,” says Coxon. His research into authentic ingredients has led him to launch a historic food range that has been recreated from age-old recipes.

Speaking of the past,the chef is happy to narrate the story of where the meringue was invented. “The French and Germans staked their claims until my research highlighted its British origin,” the chef says. It’s this mix of culinary skills,well-researched knowledge into the history of food and a good-natured humour that seems to be Coxon’s recipe for success.

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