A champion of ethnic cuisine and leading Indian chef, Regi Mathew, is co-owner and culinary director of Kappa Chakka Kandhari, a popular Kerala cuisine restaurant in Chennai, which he started with friends, John Paul and Augustine Kurian. A tribute to a mother’s cooking and food he enjoyed in his childhood, chef Regi has recreated these food memories without compromising its unique aspects or wholesomeness, while appealing to a new generation of diners.
With Kappa Chakka Kandhari, he returns to his roots in Kerala and champions regional food through the cuisine of his home state.
The restaurant brings the spotlight on mothers’ recipes which have a strong association with childhood memories and are formed more of estimates and from spontaneity rather than real recipes, although some might be old family recipes, as in the absence of proper documentation, these culinary treasures could be lost forever. After spending more than 25 years in the F&B industry, chef Regi decided to turn homeward and closely explore Kerala cuisine.
He spent three years travelling across the state, researching and working with over 265 housewives and 70 toddy shops across Kerala, some of who are now part of the kitchen team at the restaurant.
Regi’s love for cooking began while helping his mother in the kitchen when he was growing up in Kerala. After his father’s passing when he was a young boy, he grew close to his mother and spent lots of time with her. A graduate in Chemistry from Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, Regi studied Hotel Management and Catering Technology from IHMCT & AN in Trivandrum, Kerala. He also holds a post-graduate diploma in business management from XLRI Jamshedpur in 2010 and has been chief operating officer and corporate chef of a leading food and beverage company in India.
He began his culinary career with Taj Group of Hotels as a Hotel Operations Management trainee and went on to become the Sous Chef at Paradise Island, Taj West End’s signature Thai Restaurant. In 2000, after eight years at Taj West End, Chef Regi moved to Chennai to work with M Mahadevan, founder of Oriental Cuisines. Here, he conceptualised the Thai cuisine restaurant, Benjarong and Kerala cuisine restaurant, Ente Keralam. He further developed his Thai culinary skills training with chef Gaysenee of Shangri-La Hotel in Bangkok and chef Sumit Sampanchanyont of Oriental Hotel, Bangkok and at Suan Dusit Place of Rajapath University, Thailand.
To diversify his range of skills, Regi travelled to Spain in 2003, spending four weeks in Barcelona and Seville, to study local recipes and ingredients.
When he returned, he opened one of the first tapas bar in India, in
Passionate about sustainable business practices as well as supporting local industry and produce, Regi prioritises the
sourcing of raw materials directly from farmers.
Most ingredients he works with are sourced from specifically identified geographical locations to keep their flavour profile intact.
Also enthusiastic about old cooking styles, he is working on a research project on the science of Indian cooking and the importance of spices. As the head, Centre of Excellence at MTR Foods Pvt Ltd, Regi is an expert on the cuisines of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
He has curated two major pop-up food events in Bengaluru showcasing ethnic Karnataka vegetarian cuisine called Karunadu Swada (in January 2017 and 2018), which attracted approximately 5,000 people each time. The third edition of the event will be held in Bengaluru in early 2020. Similarly, he will host, Telugu Ruchulu, a showcase of Andhra and Telangana cuisine in Hyderabad in the first quarter of 2020. He is planning a similar event for Tamil Nadu cuisine.
Besides his mentoring role at the Centre of Excellence of MTR Foods, he holds advisory positions in the F&B Industry, lending his expertise towards establishing successful restaurants, food designing as well as menu engineering. In 2013, Regi also independently launched Tranquil Gourmet Solutions, committing to restaurant concept development and operations, food designing, and gastronomic consultancy.
He believes a wealth of knowledge and expertise around Indian cooking lies with cooks across the country, so he regularly hosts regional Indian food pop-ups with specialist home-chefs at his state-of-the-art Tranquil Gourmet Studio in Chennai.
The aim is to provide a platform and opportunity to showcase the variety and flavours of not just regional food but homestyle
cuisine as well, to revive enthusiasm for nostalgia that Indian food can so powerfully evoke.