To coincide with the arrival of Queen Anne and Cunard sailing as four, our employee-led network REACH is shining a spotlight on our talented Cunard Chefs and celebrating cultural diversity through food.

Our next story is from Ajith Menon, Executive Chef onboard Queen Victoria…
Ajith with his family

Chef Ajith with his family

“Inspired by the aromatic flavours of my family’s restaurant business in my home city of Chennai, India, I started my culinary career as a Kitchen Trainee for the prestigious Oberoi Group of Hotels. From there, I wanted to explore the world and widen my culinary horizon so I was drawn to the cruise industry.

I began my career at sea when I was 24 years old, joining Carnival Cruise Line as a Trainee Sous Chef. A lot of hard work combined with challenges and learning from mistakes, and the drive to improve performance each day, ultimately brought me to my goal of being an Executive Chef at the age of 29. With the hunger to learn and experience different operations I ventured to different cruise lines before finding my place among the distinguished ranks of Cunard.

After over three decades of culinary mastery, including more than 25 years at the helm as an Executive Chef, I continue to approach my craft with the humility of a lifelong learner. My journey from the heart of India’s culinary scene to the expanse of the open seas has been a testament to my passion, dedication, and relentless pursuit of excellence in the culinary arts.

Ajith with the brigade onboard

Chef Ajith with the brigade onboard

My favourite port

My favourite port in the world is Buenos Aires, Argentina. During my voyages to South America, which often included journeys to Antarctica, I had the pleasure of visiting this vibrant city multiple times. One of my top recommendations for experiencing the local food is Calden Del Soho Grill. This cosy restaurant offers an authentic Argentinean dining experience, featuring freshly grilled meats and their signature barbequed Provoleta cheese, which is simply irresistible.

The restaurant exudes a warm family atmosphere, making it the perfect spot for a memorable meal. I had the joy of bringing my own family to experience the delights of Calden during a cruise to Antarctica, a cherished moment we’ll always treasure.

A taste of my culture
Avial

Avial

My favourite dish from home is Avial (Pronounced Aa-Vee-Yal), a native vegetable dish from the Southern Indian state of Kerala. It’s a sumptuous stew showcasing a medley of vegetables in a velvety coconut sauce with the subtle tang of yogurt and earthy essence of turmeric powder and fragrant curry leaves.

Legend has it that this culinary masterpiece was born out of necessity in a Maharaja’s Kitchen when the Chief Cook of the King of Travancore faced the challenge of unexpected guests and limited vegetable supplies. Faced with this culinary challenge, he ingeniously combined whatever vegetables were on hand, in turn creating Avial, which literally means ‘a mixture of vegetables’.

My affection for Avial runs deep, not only for its culinary charm but also for its nutritional powers, seamlessly combining many vegetables into one delectable dish. It serves as a great way to coax even the pickiest eaters, particularly children, into savouring their greens.

Both my mother and my wife possess an uncanny knack for preparing Avial to perfection. Its simplicity belies its culinary complexity, offering a great solution for using up vegetables. The key lies in the balance of ingredients, ensuring each component contributes harmoniously to the final masterpiece.

Chef Ajith’s recipe for Avial (serves 6):

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup ash gourd
  • 1-2 carrots
  • 1-2 plantain
  • 5-6 cut moringa drumsticks 
  • ½ cup French beans
  • 1 cup sweet potato
  • 1-2 Potato
  • 1 cup Indian big cucumber
  • 1 cup turtle beans green
  • 1 cup aubergine
  • 14-15 curry leaves
  • ¼ cup curd/yogurt
  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ cup freshly made coconut paste (½ cup fresh grated coconut, 1 tsp cumin seeds, 4-5 green chillies or as required)
  • Salt as required

Instructions:

  • Beat the curd/yogurt to a smooth mix.
  • Wash all the vegetables and the peel carrots, ash gourd, sweet potato and moringa drumsticks.
  • Cut all vegetables into similar size batons and keep the plantain in water to stop it from discolouring.
  • Make the coconut paste, mixing the coconut, cumin seeds and green chillies to the level of heat desired.
  • Add about 1 cup water, salt turmeric powder and 5-6 curry leaves to a pan and bring to the boil.
  • Add the moringa drumsticks first, then gradually add the other vegetables and cook until tender, not mushy. They should be crunchy but cooked through.
  • Now add coconut paste and mix well, cover and cook for 5-7 mins. Add more water if required.
  • Add the mixed curd/yogurt and mix well – the curd should not curdle.
  • Add 8-10 curry leaves and a tsp of coconut oil, check seasoning.
  • Cover and leave the pan for the flavours to infuse, and then serve with hot steamed/boiled rice on a banana leaf.

Thanks for sharing your story and favourite dish with us, Ajith! We’ll be sharing more stories from our Cunard chefs next week, so keep a look out. Missed our first story? You can find it here.

Celebrating culture through food in Carnival House

On Wednesday 29 May the team from REACH will be in the Atrium with snacks and treats for everyone to enjoy, so be sure to pop along and say hello!

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