Tamilselvan Thangadurai started cooking in Pittsburgh restaurants in 2006. Unlike many of the other top chefs of the region, you probably have
never heard of him.
His kitchen at Kohinoor restaurant
[ facebook.com/kohinoorindopak] in Monroeville is
clean but cramped. There’s a creaky four-burner
stove that’s better suited to a low-rent apartment
than a professional kitchen. The tandoor, sweet
with burning coal embers, is slightly cracked on
one side. It would be much easier in this kitchen
to just microwave frozen naan and serve already-grilled chicken.
That’s something Thangadurai would never
He’d rather stay up cooking until 5 a.m. —
something he does nearly every night — than
settle for serving a mediocre product. “I love to
cook. That’s it. That’s my secret,” he says.
In a period of “you’ll-eat-what-I-serve-you”
tasting menus, Thangadurai says he believes his
job is to cater to every customer in his restaurant. Whether a group of doctors asks him to
make a specific crab curry from their home
region or a newbie wants a spice level of zero, everyone he serves should leave Kohinoor happy.
“If they don’t like the food, I get a headache.
I take it so seriously. If they don’t like it, it means
they’re not happy and their money wasn’t well
spent,” he says.
Thangadurai was born in southern India and
moved to Pittsburgh to live with his wife. He
says he feels frustrated by restaurants constantly
serving dumbed-down, low-quality versions
of the “greatest hits” of Indian food. It’s a point
well taken: We’ve become so accustomed to an
all-you-can eat, generic reduction of a great and
Pittsburgh is a city with a cadre of skilled bar professionals. For this exclusive list of bar geeks, we had to make some tough choices.
isn’t just the World’s Greatest Sideshow Performer — he’s also Pittsburgh’s ambassador of All Things Tiki. Lucky spent his youth obsessed with mid-century modern culture, but, he says, when he was given
Sven Kirsten’s “The Book of Tiki” when he was 21, he found his true calling. Now he’s a member of an official tiki organization, active in an online community and a leader of two underground Pittsburgh tiki groups. He even proposed to his wife at
The Hukilau, the nation’s largest tiki gathering. Lucky can be found crafting cocktails on Thursdays at Tiki Lounge, Fridays
at Maggie’s Farm Rum and occasional Saturdays at The Independent Brewing Co.
For the full list of bartenders, visit pittsburghmagazine.com/bestblog
6 BRAINIEST BARTENDERS
BY HAL B. KLEIN | PHOTOS BY LAURA PETRILLA
Grow. Cook. Drink.
Talented, unsung chef Tamilselvan Thangadurai produces authentic
Indian dishes at Kohinoor in Monroeville.
2 whole chickens, each cut into 8 pieces
7 tablespoons ghee
3½ tablespoons garlic paste
4 green chiles, seeded and diced
8 red chiles, 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds &
a pinch of onion seeds, ground together
2½ pounds tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup ginger, chopped
½ cup cilantro, chopped
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
1 teaspoon fenugreek
½ onion, sliced and sautéed
Sauté garlic paste in ghee over medium heat
until light brown. Add red chiles-coriander-onion seed mixture, and then after 30
seconds add tomatoes, green chiles, 3/4 of
the ginger, 1/3 of the cilantro and onions.
Reduce heat and simmer 4 minutes. Add
chicken, bring to boil, lower heat and simmer
for 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients
vast nation’s cuisine that it’s easy to forget that
Indian food, in the hands of a talented chef such
as Thangadurai, can be as transcendent as the
farmiest farm-to-table supper.
“People have eaten that [stereotypical] food
for the last 20-30 years, and now they’re bored.
People don’t want everything bland and covered
in sugar. They want the real taste now. They want
to taste the spices,” he says.
Take ever-popular chicken tikka masala:
A typical Americanized preparation is amped
up with tomato paste and sugar at the expense
of onions and ginger. What’s often served is
rubbery chicken breast covered in a vaguely
Indian, tomato-soup sauce. Not so at Kohinoor.
Thangadurai’s chicken tikka masala is savory
and earthy, with knee-dropping aromatics. You’ll
Thangadurai says that just because people
might start to know his name now, his hunger
for improvement isn’t going to slow him down.
Even in his small kitchen far from the southern
tip of India, he says, “I’m learning every day.”