High-End Indian Cuisine: An Untapped Market, Until Now

Chef Imran Ali discusses the challenges of introducing the cuisine to a new market

Tamarind

Tamarind of London was the first Indian restaurant in the world to receive a Michelin star, and has since received it for each of the past 13 years.

Introducing a foreign cuisine to the U.S. market takes time, strategy, and a standout concept. As executive chef of Tamarind of London, I’ve made it my goal to enhance and fine-tune the accessibility of the authentic Indian dining experience, from ingredients to menu design; it all plays a role in mainstreaming my vision to blend cultural authenticity with modern creativity.

As a bit of background, Tamarind of London is a member of the Tamarind restaurant group in Great Britain, which has received a Michelin star for each of the past 13 years. Tamarind of London is the first Tamarind location in the U.S. striving to parallel the success seen in the U.K.

Tamarind of London is the first concept on the West Coast to deliver authentic Indian food and dining in a high end setting, and I embrace the challenge of introducing guests to who we are and what we serve. It also remains a priority to always meet the challenges of delivering authentic high-end Indian food with a Michelin starred heritage to a market that is largely new to this concept. Working to fine-tune the product to a local market has been a major accomplishment. The key to making Indian cuisine mainstream in the U.S. is making a deliberate effort to blend Indian and Euro-American food cultures to create a unique and satisfying dining experience.

The key to making Indian cuisine mainstream in the U.S. is making a deliberate effort to blend Indian and Euro-American food cultures to create a unique and satisfying dining experience. Traditional Indian dishes provide guests with great aromas, hot and spicy flavors, irresistible bread, and meals that people can share. Combining all of these elements differentiates Indian cuisine from other foreign cuisines that are more mainstream in the U.S.

This blend gives guests a very familiar and "mainstream" feel when they enter and dine at our restaurant, without having to compromise on the element of the authenticity of the Indian dining experience. This ultimately enables us to present a product that our customer will feel comfortable with, but still find very unique and full of character.

I enjoy paying homage to India’s flavorful traditional favorites while artfully integrating California’s robust selection of seasonal, fresh and sustainable ingredients in every dish. The menu is diverse, much like the Indian culinary scene, and offers a wide range of items suitable for every occasion, mood, appetite, and palate.

A couple of my favorite dishes that are inclusive of these concepts are Tamarind’s tandoori sea bass and signature lamb chops. Both dishes are infused with Indian spices. These dishes both undergo a marinating process that lasts at least six hours and then are cooked to perfection in a 1,000-degree tandoori clay oven. These high-end proteins truly encompass our vision of intertwining traditional flavors and contemporary twists.

Our efforts to mainstream this concept don’t stop at our dishes; our efforts begin from the way we design our menus to the weeks of server training required of staff to gain a complete understanding of the cuisine. We pride ourselves on creating an atmosphere with engaging and intuitive design, personable service, and overall cleanliness in the restaurant itself.

Tamarind of London has not been an overnight success, and neither will be mainstreaming our concept. As we actively look to expand across the country, we continue to identify opportunities within the Indian food industry for high-end dining. Indian food is largely unexplored in the United States compared to other ethnic cuisines such as Mexican or even Chinese. I believe there is an opportunity for Indian food to be as popular as these cuisines, and it is Tamarind's vision to accomplish this, especially in the competitive and unforgiving high-end dining industry.

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