Q&A: Joe Thottungal, author of “Coconut Lagoon”
Joe Thottungal is a Canadian chef and the owner of the restaurants Coconut Lagoon and Thali Coconut Lagoon in Ottawa. For five years he worked in hotel kitchens in Toronto and Windsor and at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Ottawa, where he earned his Certified Chef de Cuisine (CCC) designation. In 2008, Joe was named Ottawa Chef of the Year by the Canadian Culinary Federation. In 2016, he won top prize at Ottawa’s Gold Medal Plates competition, followed by a silver medal at the 2017 Canadian Culinary Championships. His new cookbook, Coconut Lagoon is available in stores now.
How do you normally start your day?
I’m grateful to start a new day by reciting a rosary with my wife and three kids. My wife and I are on a tight schedule to make sure everyone is ready to go before 8am. I always enjoy a coffee with my wife and make sure I’ve taken time to read the newspaper.
What’s your favourite go-to ingredient?
Curry leaves and turmeric which are essential for a good South Indian dish otherwise it feels naked.
What food is your guilty pleasure?
I love a good strip loin grilled to medium and Lyonnaise potatoes. We cook it as a family almost every Tuesday night.
Who has influenced your cooking the most?
As cliche as this sounds, in my early years my mother was my main influence. It’s probably because I grew up watching her cooking, going through thousands of recipes. She comes to mind whenever I get stuck on a recipe: “What would mom do?” But nowadays my main influence comes from my loyal guests who enjoy my cooking and I learn from people who cook well .
Is there a food you can’t bring yourself to eat?
I always try to try everything but what really get’s my goat is over salty food. Also I never really had a liking for cold dishes. I typically enjoy hot food served immediately after preparation.
The thing I love about Indian cuisine is…
I love the intensive preparation involved in Indian cooking and my heart fills with joy when the dish taste so good after a lot of effort. I love the fact that curries can be prepared earlier and when you need it you can simply reheat. Curries taste much better the second day!