For almost 35 years, Ajoy Joshi has been sharing his love of Indian cuisine through his unique style of passion and exuberance. He says when it comes to cooking, it’s not about how much you add, but when and how you add, with his philosophy being about getting the process right. Perhaps this is also a wise philosophy for life.
Q. How did you come to live in Australia?
In 1988, I came to Brisbane from my home in Hyderabad, India. I am a cricket tragic and wanted to go to the country of the great Don Bradman. I believe in the “can cook, will travel” philosophy. If you can cook you can go anywhere; there are no boundaries in cooking. I spent a few years working in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. After I got married, my wife Meera joined me in Australia. She’s also a chef, and we opened our first restaurant, Malabar, in 1992.
Q.What made you want to stay and build your life here?
The most important thing was how this country just took me in. I found Australians to be easy-going people. They loved everything I cooked for them, and I got to talk a lot about cricket. I love the whole life here. I became a part of this country the day I landed. If I can add value in a small way to my community, then I belong to this place. My son was born here. This is his country. The only thing I don’t get is the beach. My son says I’m missing the best part of Australia. I’ll go to the beach, but don’t ask me to go into the water.
Indian food is all about Fursat and Mohabbat; patience and love. You can’t cook Indian food in a hurry. It’s a long process, done in stages. But if you give it patience and love, it will be magic
Q. Tell us about your restaurants.
Malabar was our first restaurant and the beginning of our spice journey in Australia. After selling Malabar, we opened Nilgiri’s in 1998, soon after the birth of our son. We wanted to showcase regional Indian cuisine with a difference. Our philosophy was to create delicious food, not the “curry in a hurry Indian” that people were used to.
The first few years of Nilgiri’s were exhilarating, and the community embraced us warmly. We moved from Crows Nest to a larger venue in St Leonards for 13 years, during which time we won the Best Indian award on numerous occasions, from both the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide and the Restaurant & Catering Association. Nilgiri’s has recently settled into a new home in Cremorne where we offer a range of cooking classes as well as an ever-changing menu.
At the same time, we have opened another restaurant, Tellicherry in Neutral Bay. Tellicherry is a region in India known for producing the best pepper in the world. At Tellicherry we serve our version of traditional coastal food with just the right amount of spice. It’s not a big restaurant. Our guests are practically sitting in the open kitchen where they can feel the heat and smells and immerse themselves in the cooking experience.
Q. What’s your philosophy on cooking Indian cuisine?
Indian cuisine has no real definition. Every household and every region has their own version. People call it a curry over here, but there’s no such thing as curry in India. In India, we call a dish by its spice or its protein or its region. Biryani comes from Hyderabad, where I am from. But there are about 180 versions of Biryani that are all authentic to those regions.
In Indian cuisine, it’s all about the process. It’s not just about how much you add; it’s also about how you add it. Because the quantities are entirely up to you, if you think there’s too much garlic or chilli, change the quantities. But you have to get the process right. You need to add every ingredient at the right time in the right way. That’s the process. And if you can get the process right, we’re in business!
Indian food is all about Fursat and Mohabbat; patience and love. You can’t cook Indian food in a hurry. It’s a long process, done in stages. But if you give it patience and love, it will be magic.
Q. How have your restaurants influenced your life in Australia?
Our restaurants have been our life. We’ve had wonderful experiences and met many friends; some have been coming to Nilgiri’s since day one. We’re very happy.
Come here for a new beginning. It’s like a new innings on a new field, and it’s up to you to get a good score.
Q. What advice do you have for immigrants and new arrivals in Australia?
Come here with an open mind. Understand
Q. Describe what your ideal world looks like.
Good food, plenty of wine and like-minded people. I’m pretty easy-going and simple to please. If you have nice wine, food and company, everything else takes care of itself.
You can also follow Nilgiri’s on Facebook.
Images credit: John Slaytor.