Omkar Mestry has had a long and fruitful career, spending many years in various roles within Hilton Hotels and Resorts. Since November 2020 he has been the head chef at Flora Indica – a delightful Indian fine dining eatery in South Kensington, which has grown an enviable reputation for providing top-quality Indian cuisine to take away during the latest lockdown. The restaurant pays homage to Scottish botanists who travelled across India during the Victorian period and sought out an array of exotic plants, and the décor, food and drinks present this beautifully.
Omkar is looking forward to presenting a selection of his Indian recipes with a western twist to clientele as soon as the doors can open once again. We caught up with the chef to learn of his inspirations, what he loves about crafting a new menu, and his love for coconut.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
I was an ardent gourmand since childhood, always curious about flavour, but the turning point was when my culinary professor at my university recognised my flair and creativity and suggested I be more serious and focused in the kitchen. As an obedient student I listened and began various experiments with different recipes, which soon turned into a genuine passion for creating dishes that can startle and delight. I owe him a lot for his guidance, it got me to where I am today, doing what I love.
What’s your signature dish?
It’s exciting to fuse cuisines and mix-n-match ingredients. At Flora Indica, the menu is inspired by ingredients discovered by Scottish botanists in India during the 1800s; a fantastic pairing that allows me to create unusual and always delicious results. Over the years, my signature dishes evolve as does my style of cooking. My current favourite is my recently developed idea, Malai coconut Barfi -the barfi is accompanied by a mango passion curd, crème Chantilly, pistachio crumble, mango caviar and citrus viola, which will soon be added to the Flora Indica menu as we reopen – a spoiler for the warmer months!
What are the most important considerations when crafting your menu?
Freshness is key, always. There’s a spark in building ideas around key ingredients, while other usual factors include raw materials, seasonality, a deep emphasis on local ingredients, fresh produce, cost, and waste management. I want to evoke lushness and get clientele excited. It’s an intricate process that I never stop enjoying.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
I was really interested in computers and programming so if I had not become a chef, I would have been a software engineer.
How have the lockdown restrictions affected your work?
Like most of the industry was, I too was furloughed. Initially, it seemed like a welcome break as chefs generally work such long hours, and it can be difficult to maintain the work/life balance, so spending time with family was a blessing. At Flora Indica, we received a wonderful response to our takeaway menu, which has seen us form a new reputation for Indian fine dining made available to your door. I also continue to experiment and better myself at home, trying out traditional Indian – Maharashtrian recipes; it’s important to continue learning whenever possible.
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with?
Coconut – so versatile! Raw, dried or as part of a sauce, it adds depth to both sweet and savoury dishes.
What are some highlights from your spring and summer menus?
A lot of focus on fusing ingredients, local produce and making Indian recipes with a western twist. I’m really looking forward to our clientele enjoying Flora Indica’s slow-cooked duck leg with sally potato and coconut sauce and the monkfish and king prawn with Bengali mlai curry sauce – wonderful flavours for spring and summer.
When are you happiest?
When I am with my family and when I am cooking – in that order.