When a hotel has reached the heights of its power, just a name is enough to make peoples eyes light up. The Four Seasons is one of them, opening its first hotel in 1961, it has since gone on to expand to the four corners of the globe, and become famous for offering pure luxury to its guests. The secret behind the Four Seasons success is, aside from good old fashioned hard work, a careful eye to seek out the best talents.
The Four Seasons London at Park Lane keeping true to its mantra has Chef Mario Perrera, one of the pioneers of South Asian fine dining in London.
Mario was also one the first South Asian chefs on Park Lane, initially training at St. Jospeh’s College, in Colombo, Sri Lanka; he began his career at the Taj Samudra, in Colombo, finally completing his culinary training at the Ceylon Hotel School. After that he was caught by wanderlust, so, in 1998, travelled to England, where his brother was living. He quickly found a notice that the Dorchester Hotel was looking for a chef, once hired he became the mentor of the renowned chef Henri Browsi.
Speaking exclusively to Think Shaadi, Mario explained about his long time passion for creating and experimenting with South Asian cuisine – “My passion for cooking comes from growing up in a home with two parents who were great cooks. Looking back I can remember a moment when I realised my passion for cooking. I was nine and my mother (a hairdresser) was ill so, I decided to cook a Sri Lankan meal for her, just as she had done for me. She still laughs about how at that age I managed to replicate an entire, authentic, meal for her!”
Working for the Dorchester, as one of the only South Asian chefs, was a fine achievement, as Mario says – “I saw the job advertised and after walking in I met the hiring chef and said “I’ll start tomorrow” to which he replied “sure, see you at 9am”. I was probably the only Asian in the kitchens and within a couple of years I’d risen from third commis to first commis.
Working his way up through the ranks at the Dorchester proved felicitous, as Mario caught the eye of many in the world of luxury cuisine, with his finely executed creations. Just over two years he was head hunted by the Four Seasons team, who hired him as their top sous chef, at their Park Lane hotel. Now in his new position, Mario works a little differently he told us – “At Four Seasons I am a little more hands on and like to get involved from the start where possible so we can exceed our guests’ expectations from the very beginning, to the very end.”
Photos courtesy of Raj Takhar | Xpressions Photography
Throughout his illustrious career, Mario has fed the great and the good, delighting the palates of such people as the former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, former US Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush, pop star Michael Jackson, film star Johnny Depp, and of course H.M Queen Elizabeth II. We had to ask Mario what his routine is like cooking for such esteemed guests, to which he replied – “During my career I’ve cooked for numerous Heads of State, the Queen 6 or 7 times and been the personal chef for the King of Bahrain. However my routine never changes as I always set out to deliver the same level of excellence for every guest, which is something we aim to deliver in every aspect at Four Seasons.” And his favourite guest to cook for was of course the Queen – “Without a doubt the Queen is probably the highlight of my career and something I’m very proud of.”
As the undisputed master of South Asian cuisine, it’s safe to say Mario has placed it firmly alongside the wealth of other cuisines at the Four Seasons, with guests clamouring to indulge their taste buds. Mario says – “Our reputation for Asian cuisine has been developing hugely over the past 3 and ½ years, as shown by the increasing popularity of our venues for Asian events.”
The Four Seasons has done something quite unique, as one of the first luxury hotels to offer guests South Asian cuisine in house, and with Mario at the helm; he knows how to cater for both the curious and the older generation. “The older generation of Asian guest typically likes traditions and follows certain cultures, whereas the younger generation tend to observe the same traditions but like to modernise them. For example the older generations might typically like a 5-course seated meal, whereas the younger generation might typically prefer a dinner based on small street-food based dishes. The skill comes in finding a balance between the two to keep our guests happy, and this is why we stress the importance of numerous tastings, with photos and tasting notes, so everything is as it should be.”
During our interview with Mario, he treated us to some of his dishes, and it’s easy to see why he gained so much popularity over the years. The dishes on offer included pani puri with pineapple, jal jeera with ginger vodka, papadi chat, dhokla with tamarind chutney, balentine of chicken tandoori with Bombay potato and mahkni sauce, each were as mouth watering as the last.
Mario has always said that to cook good South Asian food is all about the right balance of flavours. It’s something which he has always held dear to him, along with mixing the traditional with modern in regards to presentation.
Finally, we couldn’t go without asking Mario to give some advice to couples planning the perfect wedding menu, to which he replied – “I would emphasise the importance of menu tastings, so that we can make sure everything is just how the couple hoped and exactly how it will be on the day. Once everything is exactly to their tastes, we document and photograph it, which removes any surprises and avoids any unnecessary stress on the day. This allows them to fully enjoy their big day, which, after all, is why they come to us and it is our absolute pleasure to see!”
With the success of South Asian cuisine at the Four Seasons continuing to grow, along with Mario’s stardom, he stays to his roots as a family man, with a deep passion for cooking – feeding his guests with the same love as he does at home xx