It takes guts to open a vegetarian cooking school in a society that is still highly carnivorous. One innovative chef chose to do this. Jay Morjaria founded Sutra Kitchen in Carnaby Street when there were no vegetarian- centred cooking schools in central London. Unusually, he also incorporates Japanese and Korean notes into his cooking.
Jay Morjaria’s Innovation
Jay Morjaria explains to us how he came to set up his meat free cooking school. “I realised that people, both veggie and non-veg, needed somewhere to learn to cook without meat. I started the business as a short-term pop up, but it was a success and I was asked to stay for over two years in that site. Eventually I decided to take the classes into peoples’ homes. This was a more personal approach to teaching and was equally popular. My clients had the pleasure of a chef in their home and learned to cook while they wore house slippers.”
Why Jay focuses on Japanese and Korean Cuisine
Before Jay became a chef, he worked in buying and design. This work took him to different parts of Asia. He was drawn, roughly two years ago, to Korea. He explains, “I found its cuisine fascinating and felt that the best way to learn about the food of a culture is to live and work in the country of origin. I learnt to make traditional Korean food at source which was exciting. I now work with both the Korean and the Japanese embassies on events promoting their countries’ food in the UK – unusual for a British born Asian who comes from a family that ran Indian restaurants.”
How Jay Busts the Myth about Korean Food
I bet we all associate Korean food with a couple of dishes. Jay rejects the stereotype. “Korean food is not just BBQ and kimchi. The bibimbap is a good place to start. It is a rice bowl with various toppings, some pickled, some cooked. It is spicy, tasty and nourishing, which would suit the South Asian palette.” So traditional dishes are a good place to start for readers.
How Other Restaurants and Chefs learn from Jay Morjaria
An important part of Jay’s work is getting restaurants to improve their menus. He also teaches chefs. How does he do this?
“With most existing businesses I begin by asking ‘how well does their menu fit with their concept?’ Then, I look at sales and the items that are not selling. The creativity starts once you have aligned the business and streamlined their menu. This is when you have the chance to update and introduce some innovation. A restaurant must set itself apart from others. It is a tough business, and everyone needs stand out in a highly saturated market.
Each site is different, and the skill set varies from chef to chef. The requirements of the restaurant will always dictate what I teach the chef. This is normally determined from the consultation process.”
On the topic of advice, we asked Jay to tell us how to eat more healthily. He replied, “As I am chef and not a nutritionist, I say have balance in your diet, eat more veg if you don’t already and be discerning about your choices. This is my way of eating and it works for me.”
Jay’s public profile, he says, gives him a platform “to talk to people about his thoughts on food and keeps people updated on my upcoming events. I also value my position in the hospitality industry, one that I have grown up in. I find that sharing my experiences helps others in their businesses and passion for food.”
Jay’s Pop Ups and Residencies
Jay says that his pop ups started in early 2017. “Nearly all have been sold out with more longer-term residencies planned throughout the coming year. At my events, my customers will experience modern East Asian food which is mostly plant based, which essentially means while there is well sourced meat and fish on the menu, vegetables take centre stage. I take a lot of my influence from Korea and Japan but also other parts of Asia.” Jay is clearly a success. He explains, “The restaurant consultancy is the most fruitful of my ventures, but my passion is to open my own restaurant. At the moment, I concentrate on cooking for people and hope they enjoy my food.”