On May 7 morning, celebrity chef Suresh Pillai was busy with the inauguration of his restaurant in Kochi. But a phone call from his close friend Sunil made him forget all about the inauguration, because he was in for a surprise. It was a call requesting Pillai to cook for a private get-together attended by legendary film star Kamal Haasan in Chennai.
Although it was hard for Pillai to digest the surprise for some time, soon he was all geared up to present his signature Kerala fish delicacies to Haasan at the get-together on May 9. Speaking to indianexpress.com about the experience of cooking and serving to his “idol”, he said, “The experience was surreal. I have cooked for many celebrities, but this time around it was very special and a fanboy moment for me. I was amazed by his vast knowledge of food. He knew the hacks to clean fish and to prevent smell emanating from fish. I spent about five-six hours at his office and he told me how he had loved eating at a toddy shop in Kuttanad, near Alappuzha. ”
Pillai says that Haasan loves the Kerala cuisine, especially the karimeen (the official fish of the state), and he can eat it three times a day. “I cooked my signature dishes — fish nirvana and pan-fried sardine. Fish nirvana was cooked using karimeen sourced from the Ashtamudi lake in Kollam, whereas the sardine was sourced from the sea in Kochi. Fish nirvana is first marinated with Kerala spices and grilled. Later it is cooked on a banana leaf in a pot and topped with coconut milk, black pepper and ginger. After tasting the fish, he remarked that the food was excellent. He also cut the fish, added sauce and served it to the guests, ”says Pillai, who runs Restaurant Chef Pillai in Bengaluru and owns RSP Hospitality. He has cooked for many celebrities such as Chris Gayle, Roger Federer, Virat Kohli, Tiger Woods and MS Dhoni.
Since it was a live cooking session, Haasan also happened to learn the techniques of deboning a fish from Pillai. “Karimeen has a lot of bones and I showed him how to remove them without mashing the flesh. He was very keen on learning it. He loves karimeen a lot and is not a big fan of shellfish. I also shared with him my experience in Kollam back on the day when I was amid a chaotic crowd to buy tickets for his film Guna. He had a good laugh listening to it, ”says Pillai, who is now gearing up to launch another restaurant specializing in Kerala-style food on Brigade Road and a north Indian-cuisine restaurant at Whitefield in Bengaluru.