Atul Kochhar: exploring the world one meal at a time

The first Indian ever to win a Michelin star talks travel with EDGAR.

Robert Chilton January 13, 2016

Atul Kochhar made history by becoming the first Indian to win a Michelin star with Benares in London 10 years ago.

He’s since opened restaurants around the world including Rang Mahal in Dubai and two more in Mumbai, one of which is a tapas place that was inspired by his trips to Latin America.

Here, he share with us some of his top travel tips, most-loved destinations and favourite hotels.

Where have you been lately?
I’ve spent time in Brazil and Mexico, which are really inspiring. Brazil is so social about food and I love that. You wear nice clothes, have some drinks, dance, then go bar hopping and eat tapas. They very rarely sit down for a proper meal.

Sau Paulo.jpg Sao Paulo.

How was Mexico?
Great place. The people are warm – and a bit crazy [laughs]. I did some cooking while I was there, which was fun. Food is the best language in the world because it connects people instantly.

What do you do on planes?
If it’s a long flight I watch movies. I have two young children so it’s difficult to find time to sit and watch films at home. Before I land I want to be totally organised about what I’m doing so I check my schedule. I have one small meal on a flight and a few cups of tea, that’s all.

What makes a good hotel?
As a business traveller all you want to do is collect your key and go to your room. I don’t need a member of staff to accompany me. I know where the lift is. The staff make or break a hotel. That little smile or a handshake make a huge difference. 

Which hotels do you like?
In England I love Chewton Glen in the New Forest. It’s serene, green and very English. My wife and I deposit our kids with the grandparents and escape there – it’s our hideaway. In London I think the Berkeley Hotel is fantastic and Armani Hotel in Dubai is impressive.

What’s your favourite city?
There’s always something happening in New York. The food scene is amazing and the hotels are wonderful, especially the Waldorf Astoria. I love to just sit on a bench and watch people come and go.

What about family holidays?
We are big fans of cruises. I think they’re coming back into fashion. Our last cruise was two weeks in the Mediterranean. Some places I got off the boat, some places I didn’t bother because I just wanted to chill. You can even do a bungee jump on the boat, it’s crazy.

Did you have a go?
No way!

What’s your dream trip?
I want to ride across India on a Harley-Davidson Fat Boy. I love motorbikes. When I lived in India I had an old Enfield 350 bike which I adored. I moved to London and my father sold it without telling me – I was gutted.

Waldorf Astoria Park Avenue Entrance.jpg Waldorf Astoria Park Avenue, New York.

Do you like beach holidays?
I get restless. Unfortunately my wife loves them so I have to lie there half-heartedly and say ‘Yes, darling, this is fun.’ Our favourite beach destination is Mauritius. The St Regis is very good and The One & Only is beautiful.

Eating must be a massive part of your travels?
Always. When I get to a new place the quest is to eat the local food from breakfast through to dinner. Wherever I go in the world I try to find an Indian restaurant. In Sao Paolo, I drove for three hours to find a place called India House that cooked Indian food with local ingredients, which was quite good.

Do you like to meet the chefs after the meal?
Yes, sometimes, if the food’s really good. I went to a restaurant in Mexico City and they were making tortillas by hand. I wanted to learn how to do it so this little old lady took me in the kitchen and showed me – it was fantastic.