As part of our ongoing series on Canadian Restaurants That Give, we‘re sitting down with Chef Joe Thottungal of Coconut Lagoon. Since joining Mealshare in late 2016, this Ottawa restaurant has donated 3,832 meals to hungry youth. That's something to chew on!
FBC - Tell us about Coconut Lagoon?
CL - Coconut lagoon restaurant is a one-of-a-kind restaurant which serves the cuisine of Kerala in a very modern setting. We serve simple, and good food. We have been in business for the last 15 years.
FBC - And you've just launched your second restaurant, what can you tell us about Thali?
CL - Thali restaurant is an unique concept with no menus. All the dishes will change on a daily basis. It'll be communal tables where everybody comes together to enjoy good food, local craft beers and fine wines. The food will be very creative and celebrate all regions of India. The space is very modern and simple with a copper accent. And I am happy that I will be doing a Mealshare item beginning in the new year.
FBC - You came to Canada in 1998. Can you believe it was 20 years ago, does it feel longer than 20 years or does it feel like yesterday?
CL - Yes, I have now been here 20 years in my adopted country of Canada. I still remember when I first arrived, the old days working and admiring all Toronto had to offer. My 20 years in Canada have been very eventful and colourful. I thank Canadians for welcoming me with open arms.
FBC - You were born in the State of Kerala in South India and I see a handful of menu items using Kerala spice or done Kerala style. Can you tell us a bit more about Kerala style and what types of spices are used together?
CL - Kerala style means lot of tempering, cooking an entire dish in one pan (ie. not like baking/frying the meat separately and adding into the sauce). Lots of cooking is done in coconut milk and coconut oil. For spices, we use a lot of cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and cardamom, which grows in my backyard in Kerala.
FBC - You opened the doors of Coconut Lagoon almost 15 years ago which is an eternity in the restaurant business. What do you think has been the keys to your success and longevity all this time?
CL - We were very consistent in our offerings with good quality and finely executed dishes. Coconut Lagoon has always been my baby. I was with this restaurant when it was born, when it started to walk and now it's grown-up and walking on its own and I am really proud of it. My success belongs to my entire staff. Without them I could never be where I'm at. Some of my great staff have been with me since day one of Coconut Lagoon.
FBC - What should people know about the culinary scene in Ottawa?
CL - Ottawa is very vibrant with lots of unique cuisines and themed eateries. The people of Ottawa have great taste and an open mind to try new things.
FBC - In 2017, you won Silver at the Canadian Culinary Championships in Kelowna. What did that mean to you personally and for your restaurant?
CL - I was proud and very happy to put Kerala cuisine and Coconut Lagoon on the national scene. I think it also encouraged lot of young chefs to stick to their own cuisine. Personally, I definitely got more grey hairs from the championship but it also left me humbled and honoured.
FBC - Coconut Lagoon features two Mealshare items, Naddan Kohzi Curry and Madras Eggplant Masala. What can you tell us about those two dishes?
CL - Both dishes are popular dishes in our menu. These dishes have been there from the very beginning and are pure comfort food. I want our guests to enjoy and experience these typical south Indian dishes while they helping to feed hungry youths.
FBC - You recently announced a cookbook is in the works coming out in May 2019,“Coconut Lagoon: Recipes from a South Indian Kitchen.” Is this something you’ve been wanting to do for a while? What can people expect from your cookbook?
CL - Yes indeed. I wanted to share my recipes and experiences with the world and this book will do exactly that. The recipes and techniques are very simple, straight-forward and well written by my co-author Anne Desbrisay.
FBC - For all the restaurants out there that think doing something like being involved with a charitable organization like Mealshare will take up too much time or too much of their profit, what would you like to tell them?
CL - I believe the motto is, "if you are successful, let's share it with the needy." I always believe it is in me to give!!!!
FBC - Is there anything else you’d like to share about Coconut Lagoon?
CL - My staff consist of 9 different countries and we always eat at least one meal together at the restaurant.
FBC - Thanks for your time Chef Joe.
CL - Thank you for asking me to take part.
For those in Ottawa and surrounding area, be sure to visit Coconut Lagoon and now Thali!
As part of FBC’s ongoing relationship with Mealshare (FBC's main charity partner), we’re sitting down and interviewing Mealshare restaurant partners from across Canada who have pledged to help them on their mission to end youth hunger in Canada and abroad.
To learn more about how you can make a difference one meal at a time as a restaurant or supporter, visit Mealshare.ca. And always look for the Mealshare logo.