In the early 2000s I had an epiphany of sorts. As a chef in India and Saudi Arabia, in Toronto, Windsor and Ottawa I had spent years preparing the food of other places. Now settled with my young family in the nation’s capital I felt a powerful need to be an Indian chef again, to cook the food of my Keralan roots, of my mother’s kitchen, to reconnect to that spice heritage that was imbedded in my taste buds. I wanted to work again with coconuts, with curry leaves, cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, and cloves, with black mustard seeds and sour, smokey kudampuli. And I wanted to apply that essential box of spices to the remarkable ingredients available in the Capital region.
There was no shortage of Indian restaurants in Ottawa at the time, but they served the food of the north: dishes like tikka, butter chicken, sag paneer with garlic naan. My plan was to open my own place that would introduce to my adopted home of Ottawa the distinctive coastal cuisine of Kerala.
So, in 2004, Coconut Lagoon was born of a former sports bar on St Laurent. The early days were tough. Many people walked in, saw no butter chicken, no naan bread, and walked out. What kind of weird Indian restaurant was this? But we stuck to our guns and slowly, slowly, word spread that the Indian food we served was different…but delicious. We received some good press and our tables continued to fill up. We were offering dishes and flavours the city was unfamiliar with, but they were having an impact. And I felt, with pride, that Kerala had landed in Ottawa.
I don’t need to tell anyone how devastating COVID-19 has been to restaurants, but to add to the heartache, in May 2020 our beautiful Coconut Lagoon restaurant was destroyed by fire. But rest assured we are rebuilding, bigger, better, and more determined than ever to offer an exceptional dining out experience. Stay tuned!