After a 30-year career serving Indian food to Canberrans, chef and restaurateur Venkatesh Ramachandran and his wife Anandi are closing their restaurant Indian Accent.
Venkatesh came to Canberra in 1991 to open a small stall in the international food court that used to be near Glebe Park. He was attracted to the opportunity to run his own business with minimal investment, and could see an opportunity to put Indian food on the map.
“Back then there weren’t that many Indian restaurants in Canberra,” Venkatesh told Region.
Venkatesh and Anandi have had a few different restaurants over the past 30 years: Ruchi in Belconnen and, most recently, Indian Accent in the city. But they’re perhaps best known for Jewel of India in Manuka, which they ran for close to 20 years. It was a favourite hangout of diplomats, celebrities and politicians.
They were so used to seeing security guards that they didn’t even realise they’d hosted New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark until a radio station called to ask them about it! Apparently, back in the day, Anthony Albanese was a regular customer and Kevin Rudd celebrated his ‘last supper’ after standing down as Labor leader in 2013 at Jewel of India.
Despite his unique place in Canberra’s political history, Venkatesh prefers to tell the story of the time he gave Mark Parton an extremely hot curry live on the air.
“Mark Parton challenged me for the hottest vindaloo I could make. We gave it to him for breakfast and it was live coverage! It was a lot of fun,” he said.
“Then the whole team came to the restaurant for dinner, but of course I didn’t give them vindaloo!”
Over the course of their careers Anandi says that Canberra has changed and become more multicultural, and they’ve noticed that more Canberrans have travelled to India so they understand the cuisine and want authentic food. Venkatesh says that he would often hear customers say they preferred his curries to what they had in India, which he thinks is due to the good quality fresh produce in Australia. But in the early days of their restaurants it was difficult to find the ingredients they needed.
“Back in the 90s there used to be one Indian store on Lonsdale Street and he had very limited items he could bring across,” said Anandi.
“Every trip we went to India we would stock up on things we couldn’t get here. Now you can get everything!”
It was important to them both to maintain traditional recipes and authentic cooking styles in their food which they achieved by bringing chefs over from India to work with Venkatesh in the kitchen. Anandi helped their families to settle into Canberra, using her own migrant experience to assist them. At the time it just felt like a practical business move, but in hindsight it’s become a legacy that has shaped Canberra’s Indian – and culinary – communities.
“When I look back, I’ve actually helped make a life for people in Canberra. You feel good, you feel proud,” said Venkatesh.
“At that time we didn’t realise it was a community service. We just thought it was for our own benefit but it was indirectly helping the community … there are probably a dozen restaurants that have my ex-chefs.”
Now, the couple are planning to travel and take some time to decide exactly what they’ll do next. Although there’s no indication that they will retire completely. Venkatesh is still catering for events – up next is a traditional Indian wedding with over 200 guests – and he’s thinking about running cooking classes, or even writing a book.
They’ve leased the site of Indian Accent to Nepalese chef Bipin Bhattarai who is planning to open a momo restaurant soon. And Venkatesh has offered to teach him the recipes for a few of his iconic curries to keep the regulars happy. They’re looking forward to seeing where the business goes.
“It’s nice to see the younger generation have the same passion we had when we were that age. That focus to make things work. It’s nice to see that and good to be able to hand over and say, ‘Alright we’ve had our time, it’s your time now’.”
Original Article published by Lucy Ridge on Riotact.