One of the first ever industrialised towns, Oldham, in the Greater Manchester area, arguably reached its heyday during the Industrial Revolution — a time when it was one of the most important centres of cotton and textile industries in England and was producing more cotton than France and Germany combined. While its socio-economic influence may have, since, waned (thanks to Levi’s), it still boasts of exports such as one of its native sons, Adrian Mellor, a chef who has recently taken over the reins of the kitchens at The Leela Palace. Armed with infectious brogue and bonhomie, formidable cooking chops and a clear vision of food, Mellor is all set to cook up a storm in India. Excerpts from an interview:
What piqued your interest in food?
At around 13, while at school, I came top of the class for my Victoria Sandwich. So it was either a fluke or it’s something I could be good at, so I got a job washing dishes in a local restaurant and saw the chef shouting at everyone. I said that is what I want to do. It was an instant gut feeling that I wanted to be with food and experience the excitement of creating flavors and essences.
You’ve travelled a fair deal. Was globetrotting something you consciously sought?
I was lucky that my parents were quite adventurous and we regularly went to Indian and Chinese restaurants at the places we travelled to and lived in. It gave me a sense of the ‘exotic’ in my impressionable years and that stuck with me. Also, circumstance and opportunity had a huge factor in offering me the chance to live and work abroad, especially in those days. Plus I never had any aversion to taking risk-led assignments. So that helped as well.
Given that you trained in classical European cuisine, what drew you to Asia? Also, which is your favorite Asian restaurant?
An exciting opportunity arose unexpectedly. Within a week of having a conversation on the phone with a headhunter, I was in Singapore. There was no mention of salary or benefits. There’s a great quote. ‘If you’re offered a seat on a rocketship, you don’t ask what seat. You just get on’. As for the restaurant, the Singaporean Hawker Centre will always be at the top of my favourites.
How was your experience handling the food at the royal court of Jordan. ?
It was the most challenging assignment and yet, it was so much fun. We had to be agile, responsive and always prepared for last minute changes. I was in charge of the royal menu for three years in a row, where we were constantly on the tip of our toes.
What would Adrian Mellor cook at home for his family and friends ?
Having lived in Asia for almost 20 years now, we tend to always eat out (easier and cheaper). If and when I do cook, it’s breakfast and BBQs. I am in the middle of having a new house built in Philippines where my family currently stays. I plan to have a brick oven and a large hog pit installed there and I will also get a tandoor from India to cook for my family and friends.
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