Curry mogul Das Sreedharan on his 23 years running ‘best veggie restaurant’ Rasa in Stoke Newington
- Credit: Rasa
Das Sreedharan tells Emma Bartholomew how he underwent a “born again” moment in Rasa, the veggie curry house he set up 23 years ago which launched his cooking empire and vision to save the world.
“It all started from here,” says Das Sreedharan as we tuck into some deep fried plantain at his Keralan veggie curry house, Rasa.
While restaurants come and go in Stoke Newington Church Street, 23 years after Das founded Rasa it is always packed out and has become an institution here.
Das had hopes of becoming a chartered accountant when he came to England aged 23 but the food lover realised that was a “stupid idea” given that he was already working in a restaurant.
He was unemployed for six months when it closed down, but decided to open his own place (despite the crumbling economy) to eat the kind of food that he’d “love to eat as an Indian”.
“Rasa was a complete shock to everyone at the time,” he said. “The menu was very different to what you see in normal curry houses – that wasn’t the food we Indians felt proud of eating or serving. It was like you go in through a tunnel, and one end to the other end it looks exactly the same. You taste the same flavour, the same colour, and many people had started to think Indian food was very unhealthy. But some Indian food is very healthy and has a lot of goodness.”
Rasa was soon voted the best veggie restaurant in the capital and was even getting written about by the New York Times.
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But Das wasn’t satisfied his chef was recreating the flavours of his mother’s cooking, and he started to experiment in the kitchen himself. Soon came the discovery he could actually cook.
“Realising I could cook was the greatest turning point of my life,” he said. “It was like having a new birth. For the next four years I was stuck in the kitchen. I was beautifully focused and spiritually involved in cooking.
“My mother taught me how to cook with love. I just followed what she used to do as I watched her cook as a child. Every time she touched the spice she closed her eyes and had some kind of devotion and prayers.”
Das now has an empire of 12 UK restaurants, and has appeared on TV with the likes of Jamie Oliver and Madhur Jaffrey and published four cookbooks.
This month he launched Rasa Gurukul, a retreat and organic farm near his birth village that sees orphans and underprivileged kids taught cooking skills by older people.
“This is a global solution for our future,” he said. “I’m so proud – I felt I was born again in Hackney.”