Tharavadu Leeds: Meet the head chefs behind the Leeds restaurant famed for its south Indian food

You won't find chicken tikka or tandoori kebabs on the menu at Tharavadu.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 23rd April 2022, 4:30 pm

The award-winning Leeds restaurant, favoured by Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli, prides itself on its authenticity - serving dishes from the south Indian state of Kerala.

With its beautiful beaches and network of rivers and backwaters, the region has a strong fishing industry and is famed for its flavour-packed seafood curries.

And the experienced Keralan chefs at Tharavadu are devoted to bringing the flavours and spices from their home to diners in Leeds.

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From left to right: Head chefs Ajith Kumar, Rajesh Nair and Abdul Khadar of Tharavadu (Photo: Simon Hulme)

Head chefs Ajith Kumar, Rajesh Nair and Abdul Khadar lead the kitchen team together, designing the lunch and dinner menus.

“My first memories are of enjoying cooking in the kitchen with my mum," Ajith, 48, told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"I’d sit on the table top while she was making food. I was always very interested in watching her make something special.

“Later on, my mum got a care job in a hospital. I started to help her out, cooking rice and curries."

Ajith wants to bring his culture and food to as many Leeds diners as possible (Photo: Simon Hulme)

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Ajith got his first job as a chef when he was 18, working in India before moving to the UK in 2006.

He was a chef at a Keralan restaurant in Leicester, before moving to Leeds to be part of the founding Tharavadu team.

Ajith said: "I invest a lot of time into making sure the food is like what we make at home, making it restaurant-quality and building up our reputation.

The chefs pride themselves on their authentic Keralan cuisine (Photo: Simon Hulme)

“We always use fresh food and use authentic methods.

“Our food is something different. We have tight competition in Leeds, so we had to stand out - and we spend time on making good quality food.

“In the first year of opening here, we got a blessing. We were given an Oliver Award by the Yorkshire Evening Post.

"That really helped our reputation in the city.”

Tharavadu have gone on to win four Oliver Awards, including Best Speciality in 2022, as well as being recommended in the Michelin Guide for several years.

The restaurant is famed for its dosa, a thin crepe made of rice and lentils, filled with potato masala or Kerala-style chicken.

The meen kootan fish curry is Tharavadu's most ordered main dish, but it has plenty on the menu for vegetarians, including kadala masala chickpeas and the vazhuthananga curry - aubergines cooked in a paste of coriander seeds, roasted onions and chillies.

While Ajith, Rajesh and Abdul will never compromise the authenticity of their food, they're always finding new ways to make it accessible to Leeds diners - including launching a bottomless brunch deal.

From May, customers can get a vegetarian or meat thali with unlimited cocktails or house beer.

“I want my culture and my food to reach as many people as I can," Ajith added.

"Some people don’t like very spicy food - I don’t want to lose my flavour and my texture, but I want everybody to enjoy my food, people from any country, different types of people.

“Our customers love it and are so appreciative. A lot of them have never had this kind of food in their life.

"Making them happy, that’s the best feeling I can have as a chef."

How to cook Tharavadu's Wayanadan Kozhi chicken curry at home

Wayanad, a northern district in Kerala, is renowned across the world for it’s black pepper production.

This curry is made of boneless chicken cubes cooked with black pepper sauce, along with ginger, garlic and cashew nuts.

The best accompaniment is paratha.

Ingredients

Chicken – 500 gms, cut into medium size pieces

Onion – 1 1/2 cups chopped

Ginger – 3 tsp crushed

Garlic – 3 tsp crushed

Green chilli – 3

Black Pepper – 2 tbsp, crushed

Pepper powder – 1/2 tsp

Garam masala –1/2 tsp

Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp

Cashew nut paste – 10 no’s

Salt

Curry leaves - 5-6 leaves

Coconut milk – 300 ml

Vegetable oil

Fennell Seeds – ½ tsp, crushed

Method:

Heat oil in a pan. Add grated/crushed ginger and garlic, green chilli and curry leaves. Sauté it until the raw smell goes. Then add chopped onion and salt. Cook until it becomes transparent.

Add pepper powder, crushed pepper (1 ½ tbsp), turmeric powder, garam masala and coriander powder. Mix well.

Add chicken pieces. Combine everything well and make sure that chicken pieces are coated with masala. Add salt and again mix well.

Then add 1/2 cup of water and mix well. Close the lid and let it cook.

Reduce flame and cook it untill the chicken is done. Check inbetween, give it a stir and add more water only if required.

Once the chicken is done, remove the lid, add cashew nut paste, coconut milk and remaining portion of crushed pepper.

Mix well and allow it to boil. Remove from the heat.

Now the Wayanadan Kozhi Curry is ready to serve.