Mehernosh Mody: La Porte des Indes


January 22, 2008

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The Legacy of France in Indian Regional Cuisine

The creation of the famous La Porte des Indes restaurants that sprinkle Europe is as much a love story as it is anything else.

In 1986, Mehernosh Mody hired a young chef, Sherin, as his assistant. They soon were inseparable, and their mutual love for one another and French-Indian cuisine bore the very first La Porte des Indes in London.

After a 2.5 million pound, two-year transformation, this quiet, humble restaurant soon became one of the most respected eateries in all of Britain — winning the praise of Pat Chapman, founder of The Curry Club.

He awarded it Best UK Restaurant twice, a difficult achievement considering Britain is home to 8,500 Indian restaurants. Today, the Modys and their small team of chefs prepare at least 300 meals a day.

The restaurant’s history and recipes are showcased in Mehernosh and Sherin Mody’s book, La Porte des Indes Cookbook: The Legacy of France in Indian Regional Cuisine.

Looking back

Before their success, however, Mehernosh and Sherin researched France’s presence in India. It is a history they share with readers early on in their book. In 1670, the French arrived on India’s southeastern coast. And for 300 years, a Creole community of people of French extraction and of Franco-Indians lived there.

Pondicherry is the largest remaining Creole community in India, and it was there the restaurants chose to travel. They discovered a surprising number of unique, delicious dishes in the tiny restaurants.

They imported and altered these dishes for their restaurants. The dishes complemented their already diverse menu of Indian fare — and helped to justify their French-influenced name. Their restaurants feature extensive wine lists, chipping away the stereotype that Indian food is best paired with beer or lassi, a yoghurt-based drink.

Captivating photographs

But it is Tony le Duc’s photographs of the recipes in their book — not the history or the spice index — that captures readers’ attention. The Bombay Savoury Street Snack, Sev Btata Puri, is a typical street snack served on poories. These savoury biscuits are topped with green and tamarind chutney — and in the glossy photograph, they look like little towers on the verge of toppling over.

The Modys include a diverse number of dishes: the rich deep-fried mango-influenced Chard and Water Chestnut Pakora, the delicate yoghurt-based Chilled Mango Soup, the spicy Tandoori Grilled Pawns, and the red chili Char-grilled Lobster. Bright red chilies contrast sharply against a curry-yellow soup in their Mild Chilies in a Nutty Sauce recipe, and the Kamal Karki Jaipuri, look like Ferris wheels rolling across the page, bringing life and an infusion of imagined flavors to the crispy fried lotus root and chilies dish.

These are dishes many of us have never tried, but we can imagine the tastes from our experiences eating Indian food and French food — and the photographs beg us to sample a fusion of both cultures.

About Mehernosh Mody

Mody is a Parsee from Bombay who is currently the executive chef of La Porte des Indes in London. He is a regular contributor and guest chef on UK Food’s Good Food Live.

About Sherin Alexander Mody

Mody is from Kerala, and after a successful career as a chef, she joined the Blue Elephant group in Brussels and helped co-launch La Porte des Indes — where she currently serves as executive director.

About John Hellon

Hellon is a Brussels-based food and travel writer. He is the author of Brussels Fare, a collection of his favorite restaurants and their recipes.

About Tony le Duc

Le Duc is an award-winning photographer who is well known for his culinary work.