"Using very simple ingredients, such as potatoes or tomatoes, prepared in the style of each cuisine, you would find that the French dish would result in a sublime expression of the precise flavor of the main ingredient, while the Indian one would give you an intense explosion of a combination of heat and spice that would almost overpower the main ingredient. In my kitchen... I retain the basic principles and balance of French cuisine while introducing the profound bouquets of Indian cooking."Fusion cuisine has cooled as a culinary trend since the '90s when Jallepalli was emerging as a visionary chef, but the two recipes included with the J-Post article show that her creations remain eminently compelling and appetizing (yes, it's just about lunchtime for me). On the jump, I have attached her obituary from The Commercial Appeal, which ran Jan. 28, 2002 (it is not available online).
AT HER POPULAR restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, she added Indian spices like black mustard and cumin seeds to enhance such French dishes as ratatouille, the stew of Mediterranean vegetables, and finished it with fresh cilantro. She didn't shy away from veal, combining it with lentils and flavoring the entree with French herbes de Provence, and olive oil, as well as Indian toasted mustard seeds and a curry blend that she made from roasted Indian spices. Even her foie gras gained an Indian touch, with fennel seeds and a crust of sauteed chickpea flour and ginger. She also recommended wines to accompany her dishes.
PICTURED: Dr. Lou Reiss steals a kiss from his wife, Raji Jallepalli-Reiss, on her final night cooking at Restaurant Raji in this Jan. 1, 2001, file photo.
Raji Jallepalli-Reiss, who from her small restaurant in Memphis sent waves of change through fine dining in America, died at home just before noon Sunday.
She was 52. She had received a diagnosis of terminal adenocarcinoma late in November.
"It was a painless, peaceful ending, " said her husband, Dr. Louis Reiss.
Jallepalli-Reiss opened East India Company in February 1989, serving sophisticated versions of Indian fare in an elegant setting. After several years of reading, traveling and persuading well-known chefs to let her help out in their kitchens, she created the concept that blended classic principles of French cuisine with Indian ingredients and spices and gave birth to the French-Indian fusion movement.
She particularly came under the influence of the man she long regarded as a mentor, Jean-Louis Palladin, chef of Jean-Louis in Washington.
Jallepalli-Reiss was born in Hyderabad in south India, to a family whose servants did the cooking. Later, when she became an internationally known chef, she often commented that her profession and fame caused consternation in her family. She came to the United States in 1969.
With degrees in microbiology and medical technology, Jallepalli-Reiss brought a meticulous sense of finesse and proportion to the creation of deceptively simple dishes that seemed to detonate with myriad flavors and nuances combining the traditional with the exotic.
Her habit was to call suppliers and purveyors in midafternoon to see what was fresh that day and then plan her nightly four-course menu, which offered no choices or substitutions. The atmosphere she strove for was that diners would feel as if they were sitting down in her house where she was cooking a meal just for them.
"No one was more important to her than the person she was cooking for, " said her supplier Tom Cassidy, president of Cassidy Foods/American Seafood. "She was always looking for an unusual fish from Hawaii or the best quality. She'd call every day to see what was available, and that's how she started her menu."
Working in a tiny kitchen, often with only a dishwasher and occasionally a sous-chef, Jallepalli-Reiss gradually attracted the attention of critics and writers around America and Europe, bringing a steady stream of journalists, photographers and gourmets to East Memphis. She changed the name of her establishment to Restaurant Raji in 1992.
Her developing fame took Jallepalli-Reiss on far-flung cooking assignments. In May 1992, she made her first appearance at the James Beard House in New York as part of a "Salute to Women Chefs in America."
In January 1993, she prepared several of her signature dishes for the "Reunion on the Mall" during the first Clinton inaugural festivities. She prepared a dinner with Palladin at the Union League Club in New York in April 1995 and in April 1996 cooked at the Indian Embassy in Paris.
She was a favorite chef and instructor at food and cooking festivals around the country.
Other chefs with whom she worked and became friends included Charlie Trotter of the eponymous restaurant in Chicago; Daniel Boulud of Daniel and Cafe Boulud in New York; Jean-Georges Vongerichten of JoJo, Vong and Jean-Georges in New York; and Alain Passad, chef of L'Arpege in Paris. Palladin died of lung cancer on Nov. 25.
The most recent development in her career outside Memphis led to collaborations with two restaurants in New York. Jallepalli-Reiss acted as consulting chef to Surya, an Indian restaurant that opened in Greenwich Village in the fall of 1998. Beginning in 2000, she was executive chef at Tamarind, another Indian restaurant in Manhattan, to which she traveled once a month to oversee kitchen operations and preparations.
In 2000, HarperCollins published Jallepalli-Reiss's cookbook, "Raji Cuisine: Indian Flavors, French Passion."
In July, Jallepalli-Reiss moved her restaurant from Brookhaven Circle in East Memphis to Peabody in Midtown, coupling it with a guest-house, Maison Raji.
"She was an exceptional person, " said Patrick McNamara, who worked as captain at her restaurant. "I've worked with lots of chefs, and it was a privilege to be associated with her."
Survivors also include two sons from her first marriage to local endocrinologist Dr. Panduranga Jallepalli, Dr. Prasad Jallepalli of Baltimore and Satish Jallepalli of San Francisco; two stepdaughters, Shauna and Stephanie Reiss; her mother, Radha Rampalli, and three sisters, Padma, Sita and Vijayanti Rampalli.
Reiss said his wife will be cremated and a memorial service will follow later. Canale Funeral Home has charge.