Chef Devi Prashad Kandel, better known as Devi, moved to Hong Kong from Assam in northeast India in 1990, originally to work at a fast food restaurant run by a friend in Tsim Sha Tsui. Since then, he has built a reputation as one of the most sought-after Indian chefs in the city, cooking at the old Ritz-Carlton and the Conrad, where he launched a popular Indian buffet, as well as a stint at the Happy Valley Football Club. He joined East hotel in Taikoo Shing when it opened two years ago.
Now the buffet that Devi cooks every Wednesday evening at the hotel's Feast restaurant has made it a destination for lovers of Indian food. The weekly changing special for lunch and the ?la carte and room service dishes are also big draws.
Devi and his wife have three children: two girls aged seven and 18, and a son aged 15.
What did you make of Hong Kong when you first arrived?
I just remember looking up at all the skyscrapers, which I'd never seen before. I had come from a very small place, and I was very happy to be here. But I worked from 7am to 11pm, so I didn't enjoy that part of it.
What are the main differences between Indian and Chinese cooking techniques?
We use a lot of black pepper, red chilli powder, turmeric and many other spices in Indian cooking. Chinese cooking uses white pepper and far fewer spices. The dishes are not as spicy, but they can still be hot.
Are there any other differences in palate?
Traditionally, dosa [crisp, rolled pancakes made from rice batter] would be served with dhal lentil curry, but our customers don't seem to like the lentils. In India we would actually drink the dhal.
Was the Indian food immediately popular with guests?
I started with one dish, a seafood prawn curry with green mango. That was very popular, so the next week I added chicken curry with potato. They're still my two favourites.
What's the most popular dish on the menu?
Chicken tikka. It's the most ordered dish in the restaurant and for room service, as well.
What do you cook at home?
My wife and I like Indian food, but my children don't. They like going to Spaghetti House, Pizza Express and McDonald's. My wife is from Goa, which has very different tastes from Assamese cuisine - it's sour and hot - so I often make that for her and sometimes she'll cook it for me.
I also cook a lot of Chinese at home. I've learned a lot from the chefs I've worked with here and at other hotel kitchens. I can do a good wonton soup and seafood fried rice.
What is the secret to making great Indian cuisine?
You need a lot of time to prepare. Some dishes must be marinated all day as you need the spices to penetrate into the meat. Lentils have to be soaked in water overnight. For great naan bread, you need to make the dough at least two hours before you bake it so it will rise properly.
Is it easy to find Indian ingredients in Hong Kong?
It couldn't be easier. There are so many Indian shops in Wan Chai, Central and Causeway Bay.