In the last 15 years, chef Joe Thottungal has been a dishwasher, a bartender, a cook, and a busboy—whatever needed to be done at his east-end restaurant Coconut Lagoon. Now he can add a new occupation to that list: cookbook author. His new book, named for the restaurant, is a joyous celebration of the cuisine of Kerala, the state in India where Thottungal grew up.
Fittingly, the book was launched on May 15, 2019, the 15th anniversary of Coconut Lagoon’s opening. To celebrate its arrival, loyal customers packed the restaurant along with some luminaries of Ottawa’s food community like Stephen Beckta (he’s very tall and easy to spot in a crowd) and Anne Desbrisay, the veteran food critic and writer who helped Thottungal write the book. An early and vocal fan of the restaurant, Desbrisay gave a lovely speech outlining the years of hard work and sweat equity that led to Thottungal’s success and the chance to create a book that tells the story of his food and of his journey, from India to Canada and from breakfast cook at the Royal York Hotel to owner of two restaurants with last year’s opening of Thali, a lunch-only spot on O’Connor Street.
You better believe I bought a copy.
For his part, Thottungal said he feels fortunate to have had the opportunity to find success by exposing Ottawans to the southern Indian food he grew up eating in Kerala. He and his team spent the day of the launch cooking a glorious buffet for guests to enjoy, including a whole-lamb biryani, roasted whole salmon with curry sauce, colourful salads, homemade pickles, and sweets—a taste, as it were, of what the book has to offer. You better believe I bought a copy.
I’ve been a huge fan of Coconut Lagoon for several years—I think I’ve taken at least a dozen people there by now—and I am so excited to cook from this book, which contains my most-wished-for recipe: Malabar parathas, the flaky, buttery flatbreads that come with most dishes at the restaurant and that I always eat too many of but can never resist just one more piece to mop up my sauce with. The book also includes Coconut Lagoon’s famous mango shrimp curry and, yes, their butter chicken recipe.
Congratulations to Thottungal and his team on a wonderful book and 15 years of delicious cooking. I wish them many more years of success to savour.