Suresh Pillai – Celebrity Chef from Kollam
Suresh Pillai, professionally known as Chef Pillai is a British Celebrity Chef of Indian origin. He hails from Kollam of the southern state of Kerala. Started his career in 1993 at the age of 17 as a waiter at a restaurant Chef King in Kollam, he later served as leading chef in various restaurant wings of London over 14 years. He also owns a restaurant chain branded Restaurant Chef Pillai.
Suresh Pillai started his career as a waiter in a local restaurant during his teens
His full name is Suresh Sasidharan Pillai. He was born in Thekkumbhagam village, Chavara, Kollam district, Kerala. Both his parents were coir labourers in Kollam, leading industry in the district those days. He completed his studies from Chavara, and was a chess player who played state and national level championships.
After completing 10th grade, he couldn’t get into S.N. College for Pre-degree studies, because of low marks. Though he got admission in a parallel college, he discontinued studies because of the financial condition of the family. He was only 17 years then. Initially he worked as security guard with a monthly salary of rupees 500, but quit the job as he was afraid to stay alone at night. Those days he dreamt about becoming a chess player too.
His first monthly salary was 450 rupees in 1993 as a waiter
He started his career as a waiter at a restaurant Chef King in Kollam. In those days, he actively participated in chess championships too, in Under-18 category. After beginning his career as a waiter, he started assisting chefs part time and learnt basics of cooking under different chefs.
At the age of 20, he moved to Casino Hotel in Kozhikode, where he learnt Malabar cuisine. He was active in chess those days too. As he couldn’t get a structured training in chess, he slowly gave up that dream. While working in Casino Hotel for three years, he finally realized that he need to choose either culinary or chess, and decided to go with the world of tastes.
In 1998 he moved to Coconut Grove, Bangalore, where he worked for six years and was promoted to head chef. During those years, he learnt more about South Indian cuisines such as Coorgi, Chettinad and Konkani.
He joined his first five-star hotel, The Leela Palace at Bangalore
After spending a few years in Bangalore, chef Suresh Pillai joined as management trainee at The Leela Palace. He was one among the 700 employees there. As he didn’t have a culinary degree, his experience in the profession was never considered. But within two years, he became an integral part of all kitchens of the hotel. He returned to Kerala, got married and briefly worked in Kumarakom Lake resort as chief chef.
In 2005, he got a call from London asking him to reach Mumbai in 2 days. He was also asked to carry batter to prepare appam, raw mangoes and pot tamarind. After reaching Mumbai, he made dishes as they directed and on the 5th day he got appointment from the prestigious Veeraswamy restaurant. Thus he moved to London and joined the Veeraswamy restaurant, the first Indian eating outlet in a foreign soil, originally established in 1927. His family also moved to Britain, and they took British citizenship.
He later worked as sous-chef at Purple Poppadom in Cardiff, head chef at Cinnamon Culture in London, sous-chef at Gymkhana, followed by head chef at Darbaar Restaurant and later at Hoppers. He worked as chef de partie, sous-chef, and chef de cuisine in different restaurants of London for 14 years, before returning back to India. He promoted Kerala cuisine as well as its fusion in various restaurants across London.
In 2021, he started his own restaurant branded Restaurant Chef Pillai in Bangalore, and the following year at hotel Le Meridien, Kochi. He frequently appears in different Malayalam TV shows as a participant, celebrity guest and judge, and also hosted cookery show Onnonnara Ruchi on Zee Keralam.
Suresh Pillai – Some interesting and less-known facts
1. He studied only up to class 10.
2. He was the under-18 chess champion of Kollam district.
3. He has served as a guest lecturer and guest chef at University of the Bahamas in its Culinary and Hospitality Management Institute.
4. He contested in British reality TV show, MasterChef: The Professionals (series 10) on BBC Two in 2017. He served fish dish, with a perfect blend of East and West.
5. A global ambassador of Kerala dishes, he gives insight into Kerala cuisine during his cooking experiences in other parts of the world.
6. When Covid pandemic hit the world, he took social media by storm through the videos he uploaded in Facebook. It included some of the traditional dishes of Kerala.