Chef Naren Thimmaiah is the iconic face, the exemplary tower of success behind the celebrated Karavalli.
Think of South West Coastal cuisine, and there’s no other name you would reckon with more than the widely acclaimed Karavalli, Taj Gateway, Bangalore. Success is exhilaratingand powerful when achieved, and when you sustain the touchstone you have created for 25 years, you then stand as tall as Karavalli. Yes, this legendary restaurant of the Taj properties has perpetually reinvented itself to success for the last quarter of a century. The driving force behind this glorious restaurant is Chef Naren Thimmaiah who’s been around since its inception.
Hailing from the land of coffee and culinary spices, Coorg, Chef Thimmaiahgrew up in this greenest of lands with his family of three brothers and parents. While growing up, he never had any inclination towards cooking or taking up culinary sciences as a profession nor had he the foggiest notion that he would be a name to regard with in the culinary world. His only exposure towards anything around food was helping his mother pluck curry leaves and chilies from their backyard; his only qualification, on his on admission, was eating yummy food that his mother prepared.
Without any set academic directions, he enrolled himself to bachelors of commerce degree with a thought of fetching a lucrative career. During this time is when he decided to forge his own path for success and chose to opt for another degree program – bachelors of hotel management. While in his fifth semester, one of his professors noticed his remarkable skills in the kitchen, and advised him to specialize in it, and this made all the difference says Chef Thimmiah.
With his charismatic smile he says “I started off my career with Taj, and I’m still around here in Karavalli”. The then 23–year (no space between “–“ it looks like you are trying to explain something after the hypen with a space) old had joined the opening team of Karavalli, and scaled to be the pillar of success and the frontman of this timeless establishment.
His strong work ethics, unwavering focus and precision has truly given him the mantle of being the paramount upholder that he is at Taj. He accredits his eventful stint at Karavalli to the management of Taj who has offered him flexibility to operate at free will and exercise his imaginative abilities revolving around the restaurant, and take lead. He’s proud of the team he’s built in his kitchen who has the onus of carrying a legacy each day. He admits that the guest relationship or understanding your guest psychology is as or more important than maintaining culinary quality conventions you set. He indicates, “You may have the greatest of the products, but when you fail to comprehend and customize according to your guest needs, the purpose of creating such a product is defeated”. As he speaks, he excuses himself to have a quick dialogue with a guest who wears a happy face and is ready to exit. On reclaiming our conversation, he says “the gentleman is our guest since years, and he now wants us to eliminate one of the ingredients he’s been advised not to in take”. At Karavalli, it’s more of coming home to your meals where your meal is designed to suit your needs and palate alike.
Karavalli is eponymous to the South West Coast of India; the popular name given to this belt. The restaurant is a visual and tasteful retreat that has rediscovered the recipes of every good grandmother of this region. It brings to you the regional cuisine of this coastal stretch beginning from Goa to Karnatakato Kerala coasts – the three states on this seacoast. The food has been inspired by recipes taken from home cooks of this region having various religious influences that adds to the diversity in this shoreline cuisine. The delicacies that are served up at Karavalli has base & roots from the homes of varied communities of this region - Havayaka Brahmins, Konkanis, Bunts, Saraswat Brahmins, Namboodaries, Mangalorean Christians, Syrian Christians, Moplah Muslims. The culinary brilliance of this region and communities is brought to you on the dining tables of Karavalli.
Chef Thimmiah says the key to the success story of Karavalli lies in sustaining the classic demands of quality, of the cuisine they serve, that it has given rise to; and closely holding his star team to recreate the magic each day. He adds saying it’s taken them a great time period to create the glory that it now basks in – initial decade was spent in creating and building the brand followed by mastering the art of reinventing itself for guests to keep coming back again. A passionate doer by nature, Chef Thimmiah believes every good product has its customers; it’s a need that you create to the guest that makes them come back to you. He believes in creating experiences to his guests. Evolving with time & technology, successful reinventions needs one to understand the pace the world is moving at. Karavalli serves simple comfort food (Karavalli is or serves?) that one would enjoy on a busy day or on a festival alike. He proudly says over 50% of his guests are die–hards who keep coming back time & again.
The concept behind designing this quintessential menu is an interesting one. As Karavalli is a restaurant that has created the demand for itself, guests come back to find their favorite dishes looking pretty on the menu. Having about 80 to 85 dishes listed on their menu, nearly three fourths of them are unchanged. This is what guests return for. The Kori Bharthad , Prawn Roast, Kane Bezule, Crab Milagu fry, OggaranedaArithaPundi, KoriGassiPacchakeri Stew &Appam are some of the classics you can revel in. The remaining of the menu is a space to exercise culinary creativity and offer innovation to the diners. There are frequent travels to the shoreline where the cuisine originates from to study culinary patterns of various communities who live there. The recipes are cherry–picked and refined to recipes of dishes that of a fine dining star restaurant. There’s also a section of an ad interim consisting of seasonal dishes – Patrade ,MaavinakaiMensukkai, BadenakkaiAmbli, BasaleKajippu, KarethemSukhem and more. This is available at only a certain time once each year making it a more special reason to relish the fare.
To get as close to its roots, and establishing the authenticity and originality, the food at Karavalli has got almost all its ingredients sourced from the places it emanates from. The fresh coconuts from Kundapur, spices, Kodumpuli&Kachumpulifrom Coorg, Areca from, Managalore; Red Rice, Ada ,Karmeen, from Kerala; Vinegar, Kokum, and Palm Jaggery from Goa. This brings out the true essence of the food to its genesis.
Talking about the subjectivity when it looks to liking & disliking a particular dish, Chef Naren adds “Regional cooking is mostly replication of what’s being done over a period of years matching the taste of the regional cooks, your grandmoms & mothers. Scientifically, the food has to be palatable. Indian cuisine has dominant flavours, and no ingredient should over power the other, and then comes the doneness of the food.” He very thoughtfully brings across his perception on cooking being a science and an art. It’s a skill that one may not be born with, but has to be developed over time with dedicated practice.
Conversing with Chef Naren, you infer he’s a methodical leader. From recruiting the chefs from the regions the cuisine Karavali is inspired and serves to leading the team effortlessly, he’s set up a defined process the restaurant adheres to.