Srijith Gopinathan — executive chef to San Francisco’s Taj Campton Place Hotel — found his career path to be fraught with what he says were “big time complications.” Hailing from southern India, Gopinathan had as traditional of an upbringing as any of his regional contemporaries possibly could — a mother who (at least initially) wasn’t the happiest at his culinary aspirations, and a family of engineers, doctors and the like to supplement that.
“I certainly was a black sheep,” Gopinathan said. But his time off the beaten path seems to have paid dividends. As of 2016, the Campton Place boasts two Michelin stars under Gopinathan’s reign, a feat very few restaurants in the world have achieved. In addition to that, Gopinathan holds the prestige of being the only Indian chef to have reached two star status as well. His role as a purveyor of fine Indian dining in the Western world is something he calls “a big responsibility.”
“Indian food is one of the finest and flavorsome cuisines in the world. Unfortunately Indian cuisine in West has not been represented by professionals. We are just getting there,” Gopinathan said. And his team at Campton Place have been quietly and admirably leading the charge in that respect. “We are an example for Indian-influenced fine dining … [and] we communicate that well to our guests.”
And there’s stark truth in that statement. His rotating menu consistently offers the best ingredients Indian cuisine has to offer, while also channeling the kind of avant-garde experimentation that can be better associated with the likes of Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal — but reaching that point took an extensive professional, and philosophical, education.
After pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Hotel Management, Gopinathan’s career path took him to a variety of destinations across the globe. Following his studies in India, he spent time at a variety of hotels in India before taking the helm at the Taj Exotica hotel in the Maldives. He later took to America to further his culinary education in Hyde Park, NY, at the Culinary Institute of America. Afterward, he found himself in the kitchen of famed two star restaurant Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in Oxford, England, where he further honed his craft and better mastered the fundamentals of Michelin-tier European cuisine. It’s these experiences that Gopinathan said affirmed his choice of taking up the profession of being a chef.
“That's when I figured I really wanted to cook and I enjoyed doing it,” he said.
Gopinathan has been the executive chef at the Campton Place since 2008. In that time, he has made a distinct name for himself thanks to his skill in finding a seamless cohesion between traditional southern Indian cuisine and classical, European fine dining. Touching on the fundamentals of his style, Gopinathan emphasizes that his adherence to quality ingredients is what helps bring his visions to fruition.
“It all starts with right ingredients. I always advocate for the best possible raw materials and try to maintain the integrity of the main ingredients … without masking [them] much,” Gopinathan said. “San Francisco also spoiled me much by providing me with [some] of the best ingredients in the world.”
Gopinathan’s ambitions aren’t settling anytime soon, either. After earning his second Michelin star in 2016, his eyes are still set on bringing fine Indian dining to the Western mainstream. Lately, he cites his Indian contemporaries’ culinary successes in London as a point of inspiration for his own visions.
“We should and will be part of mainstream scene here in less than five years. I’m sure of that.”