Kappa Chakka Kandhari (KCK) may sound like a tongue twister to an outsider, but for Chennai, the cultural capital of India, it’s a kitchen keeping alive the aromas of the city. The restaurant takes its name from three ingredients unique to Kerala cuisine including the zingy Kandhari chilli.
My first visit to KCK in Chennai, which was recognised as part of The Oyster Club—an honour for lesser-known restaurants, cafes, little shacks in any part of the country that are quietly making waves with innovation and exceptional food—at LF Epicurean Guild Awards 2019, felt like a walk through our Syrian Christian neighbour’s house in Kochi. I usually spent my school summer holidays there. Nostalgia is probably the cornerstone of the KCK experience. It’s also the spark that brought accomplished chef and restaurateur Regi Mathew and his partners, Augustine Kurian and John Paul together; to recreate food memories from their childhood. Dishes cooked with affection using fine ingredients and heirloom recipes.
Chef Regi Mathew
Down memory lane
It was the love of their mother’s recipes that acted as the catalyst for this venture but KCK is more than just a collection of family recipes. The three promoters crisscrossed Kerala over three years stopping at 265 homes and 70 toddy shops—the new hubs for Kerala’s Instagram food generation—in search of recipes and dishes with stories to tell. On their expedition, they ended up with a treasure trove of 800 recipes, each with a fascinating tale.
I followed one of these tales to its source. Ramasseri a tiny village near Palakkad is known to make flat, ultra-soft idli in steam pots for over a century. You will find one of these idli masters at KCK. What almost became a dying recipe has seen a revival here. This light as air idli is served with flavourful sambar or chicken curry.
Another fascinating story plays out in one of my favourite dishes—Pidi Kozhi Curry, rice dumplings cooked with coconut milk and served with country-chicken curry. This is a dish that Regi remembers from his childhood visits to the church festival in Ramapuram. It’s not just about the story; almost every ingredient makes the trek from Kerala. Source of each ingredient has been carefully researched and tested before almost being geo-tagged such as the peppercorns from Pulpally in Wayanad or jaggery from Marayoor. Regi has adopted a ‘no compromise’ approach with every ingredient. This is why most of Kappa Chakka Kandhari seafood finds its way from Kochi. One bite of the Ayakura Melodu Vachathu, (spicy tangy tawa-grilled seer fish marinated in tart gooseberry, green peppercorn and bird’s eye chilli) and you realise that this long journey from Kochi was worth it.
Taste buds of nostalgia
Nostalgia might keep bringing Malayalees back to KCK but Regi understands that his pure and unadulterated vision of Kerala cuisine needs to transcend regional boundaries. KCK has already managed this in Chennai, where according to him, a large chunk of their repeat guests have no connection with Kerala. Regi’s confident that this template will succeed in Bengaluru, despite breaking the standard parotta, meen moilee and biryani stereotypes that Kerala cuisine often gets boxed into.