Belfast Telegraph

Will Bowlby: Why shouldn't I do my own thing... everybody else is

Will Bowlby began cooking at the age of 10 and at 16 started his own catering company. Now, with a new book out on Indian food, the restaurant owner and writer talks to Ella Walker

You don't tend to go to Indian restaurants for fried chicken, and Will Bowlby did not go and set up his own Indian joint, Kricket, to serve it, but some things just happen.

His Keralan-influenced version, laced with turmeric and Kashmiri red chilli powder, is one of his menu regulars - but was a total accident, thanks to a tandoor-free kitchen and a small, convenient deep-fat fryer.

You'll find the fried chicken in Bowlby's debut recipe collection, Kricket: An Indian-inspired Cookbook, alongside his other signature dishes; samphire pakoras - the salty seaweed-like strands are deep-fried then dredged through a tamarind and date chutney; and bhel puri - a raw crunchy mix of deep-fried chickpea noodles, puffed rice, coriander fronds and zingy chutneys - which he's layering up on the pass as we talk.

Now 29, Bowlby started cooking aged 10 ("In a very amateurish way, obviously"), and was largely inspired by his grandmother and Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef. So keen on the chef life, he helped pay his way through university at Newcastle by setting up his own private catering company, Will2Cook, as a 16-year-old, cooking for family and friends' events. "It was good practice and people seemed to like it - although I was young, so they had to say that," he says wryly.

The plan was always to get through school and uni, then wrangle his way into a professional kitchen as quickly as possible (which ended up including working for chef Rowley Leigh at London restaurant Le Cafe Anglais). What had not been part of the agenda, incredibly, considering how his career's panned out, was Indian food. "I never really ate Indian food," he admits. "If I was to have a takeaway, I'd have a Chinese."

Even when he landed a job at prestigious, old-school Mumbai restaurant Khyber, it was to run a European-style kitchen. "I didn't go to India with the idea of doing something with Indian food," he says - but during the two years he spent there, he got sucked into the country's kaleidoscopic food scene. "It's hard not to, it's everywhere you go, you can smell it, you can see it in the street."

Bowlby started taking Indian cooking classes with the private chef of a Mumbai art dealer, and supplemented staff meals with hot and sour street food and kebabs eaten outside at ramshackle rooftop restaurants. Although, "I'm not going to lie," he adds with a laugh, "some days I'd just go to Pizza Express because I wanted to sit in an air-conditioned room and have a Diet Coke and a pizza."

He spent his last three months in India travelling, ostensibly to eat, and scribbling down his thoughts, ideas and the dishes he'd tasted as he trailed through Goa and Calcutta, scoffing handfuls of chaat in old Delhi, and shami kebabs in Lucknow "that were just meltingly soft, beautiful, wrapped in rumali roti [thin flatbreads]".

Then he came home, spent time in the kitchen with Indian chef Vivek Singh and launched Kricket with his business partner Rik Campbell. What started out as a two-man kitchen in a South London shipping container, by the end of this year will see Bowlby running three locations.

"I miss the simplicity of it, I miss seeing every single person walk through the door," he says of his 40ft tin restaurant, and its 'tiny, cramped kitchen'. "I loved it, I wouldn't change it for anything, it got us what we have now." And that includes fans like chefs Michel Roux Jnr, Pierre Koffmann and MasterChef champion Thomasina Miers.

Does he find it daunting, playing with traditional Indian flavours and foods? "And daunting in the respect that I'm also not Indian?" he says. "Yeah, I never really thought about that. I'm very, very much aware of India being a nation that's passionate about their food, and that also means that for some people, dishes have to be done in a certain way. I'm not saying that's not right, but in reality, every household you go to, every 100 metres you go, things are done in a different way - and everyone's 'right', so who's right?!

"Why shouldn't I do my own thing?" he adds, handing me a spoon and a bowl of that crisp bhel puri, traditionally made except for the slick of yoghurt draped across the top. "Everybody else is."

Kricket: An Indian-Inspired Cookbook by Will Bowlby, photography by Hugh Johnson, is published by Hardie Grant, £26

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:

Serves 4

8 boneless, skinless, free-range chicken thighs, cut into 2.5cm pieces

A handful of micro coriander cress

1 thumb-size piece of fresh ginger root, very finely sliced into strips

For the marinade:

300g Greek yoghurt

3tbsp mustard oil

2tbsp Ginger & Garlic Paste

1tbsp ground turmeric

1tbsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

2tsp sea salt

For the sauce:

2tbsp vegetable oil

4 green cardamom pods

2 black cardamom pods

4 cloves

2 fresh Indian bay leaves

4tbsp Ginger & Garlic Paste

2tbsp red Kashmiri red chilli powder

2 green chillies, split down the middle

1kg plum tomatoes, pureed

200ml double cream, plus extra to serve

250g unsalted butter

1tbsp garam masala

A handful of dried fenugreek leaves

Caster sugar, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

6tbsp mustard oil

For the ginger and garlic paste:

(Makes 1kg)

500g fresh ginger root, peeled and roughly chopped

500g garlic cloves, peeled

100-200ml vegetable oil

METHOD:

1. Make the ginger and garlic paste. Blitz the ginger and garlic in a blender, gradually adding enough oil to make a smooth paste. Store in a sterilised jar in the refrigerator. This will keep for up to two weeks.

2. Make the marinade. To hang the yoghurt, turn it out of its packaging straight into a muslin (cheesecloth), tie the ends and hang it over a dish for one hour. Make sure the yoghurt isn't stirred or disturbed, otherwise you will lose it through the muslin. Put the yoghurt in a bowl and add the marinade ingredients and stir together. Add the chicken to the bowl and coat in the marinade. Cover and leave in the refrigerator for 12 hours, or overnight.

3. When ready to make the sauce, heat the oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the whole spices and allow them to infuse in the oil for 30 seconds or so before adding the ginger and garlic paste, chilli powder and green chillies. Cook for a couple of minutes then turn the heat down to medium-low, add the tomatoes, then cover and cook for about 30 minutes until the sauce has reduced by one-third and the oil has separated from the tomatoes.

4. Remove the whole spices, then add the cream, butter, garam masala and fenugreek leaves. Season to taste with sugar and salt. Let the sauce simmer as you cook the chicken.

5. Sear the marinated thighs in a hot pan for about 15 minutes until just cooked through, then add them to the sauce. Mix and adjust the seasoning, if required. Just before serving, drizzle with some cream and top with fresh coriander and ginger.

WHAT YOU'LL NEED:

Serves 4

4tbsp yoghurt

Caster sugar, to taste

100g store-bought bhel mix

1/2 red onion, finely diced

1 green raw mango, finely diced

4tbsp Coriander Chutney (see below)

4 pinches of chaat masala

4tbsp Tamarind & Date Chutney (see below)

80g store-bought sev

A small handful of coriander cress or finely chopped coriander leaves

For the coriander chutney:

(Makes 450g)

500g fresh coriander, stems and leaves

200ml vegetable oil

A thumb-size piece of fresh ginger root

4 garlic cloves, peeled

2 green chillies

6tbsp lemon juice

Caster sugar, to taste

Sea salt, to taste

For the tamarind and date chutney:

(Makes 900g)

500g tamarind paste

2 cinnamon sticks

1tsp black peppercorns

2 fresh Indian bay leaves

300ml water

2tbsp Kashmiri red chilli powder

4tbsp date puree or a handful of fresh dates

200g jaggery or caster sugar

METHOD:

1. Make the coriander chutney. Blitz the coriander in a food procressor with the oil, ginger, garlic and green chillies until it forms a fine paste. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with sugar and salt. Store in sterilised jars in the refrigerator for up to one week.

2. Make the tamarind and date chutney. Boil all the ingredients in a large heavy-based saucepan over a low heat for about one hour, until well blended and thick. Set aside to cool. If you have used fresh dates, you may need to blitz the chutney in a blender until smooth. Once cool, store in sterilised jars in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.

3. Beat the yoghurt in a bowl and sweeten to taste with sugar. Set aside until ready to serve.

4. Put the bhel mix in a bowl, add the onion and mango, along with the coriander chutney and chaat masala. Mix well.

5. Spoon the mixture into mounds on four serving plates, then generously spoon over the yoghurt and tamarind and date chutney, leaving some yoghurt visible. Sprinkle the sev, and top with the fresh coriander. Serve immediately as it will become soggy very quickly.

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