A.J. Jayapal is a chef in a hurry. Just 33, he has already worked with some of the Capital Region’s finest chefs, including Dale Miller at Jack’s Oyster House and Carmine Sprio of Carmine’s Restaurant. He was the executive chef when the Albany Pump Station, the ever-bustling downtown brew pub, first opened nine years ago. He has cooked with international celeb-chefs such as Wolfgang Puck, Jacques Pepin, and Emeril Lagasse.
He’s won a toque-full of medals at national and international food competitions, including first place at Heineken La Parade des Chefs at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City, American Culinary Federation’s Culinarian of the Year, and numerous gold medals at Albany’s Culinary Cornucopia Awards (just to name a few). Currently the head chef at the Albany Country Club, Jayapal also runs Miss Sydney’s Secret Family Recipes, a burgeoning side business which makes chutney and marinade based on traditional recipes from his native India.
Not bad for an electrician.
Jayapal, who came to upstate New York with his family from India at age 11, actually earned a degree in electrical construction and maintenance from Hudson Valley Community College. But when he found himself out of work after a temporary electrical job ended, he changed careers. “For some reason I wanted to cook,” he said. “I loved to cook at home. My mother was always cooking great Indian food.” So he enrolled in Schenectady Community College’s culinary program. “Ten years later, here I am,” he laughs.
Here, there and everywhere, it seems. This spring, Jayapal was invited on a New York State agricultural trade mission to Cuba, where he prepared the Pride of New York dinner for Cuban dignitaries. “This was an open trade,” he explains. “They were very interested in New York products, like maple syrup and apples, so we highlighted those foods. They also wanted me to cook with my own products, which was an accomplishment for us, since our company is so small. The entrée was my product: a beef soaked in Miss Sydney’s Marinade. We made the sauce out of our chutney. We used carrots, parsnips, potatoes. The dessert was an apple cheesecake with Riesling [white wine] ice cream from Mercer’s Dairy.”
Jayapal’s homegrown business began with a desire to work with his native cuisine. In 2000, he started planning a line of products; soon after, his wife, Shannon, gave birth to their daughter, Sydney. And A.J. gave birth to Miss Sydney’s.
His first product, Miss Sydney’s Original Marinade, is his own recipe. “It’s actually a combination of very different soy sauces,” he reveals. “We use palm sugar instead of brown sugar — it’s sweeter with a unique aftertaste. There are a lot of spices and different stuff in there, but once you taste it, you’re hooked.” He recently added Indu’s Chutney, based on the recipe his mother, Indulata, brought with her from India. “It’s made in the traditional style, with dates and raisins, which makes it more savory than American chutney,” he says.
With the help of his mother, wife, and in-laws, Jayapal makes his condiments in an industrial kitchen on a farm near Syracuse. Every three months, he loads up his truck with ingredients and produces about 100 cases each of marinade and chutney. “They are all hand-made, hand-bottled, and hand-labeled,” he says. Most of the cases are also hand-delivered to the specialty markets around the Capital Region that carry them. The rest can be found — and ordered — through his Web site, www.misssydneys.com. As for introducing native Indian cuisine to the upstate region, Jayapal admits it’s a lot of work — but definitely fun. “The tastes are unique; people either love it or hate it,” he laughs.
“But so far, everyone has loved it. They’ve gone nuts over it.”
Beet Juice & Red Wine Couscous and Apple Fennel Slaw
1 pork tenderloin, cut into 8 medallions and marinated in Miss Sydney’s Original Marinade for at least 1 hour
1 cup beet juice (use either 2 large red beets processed in a juicer, or the juice from 2 cans of red beets)
2 green apples
2 fennel stalks
1½ cup mayonnaise
2 cups uncooked couscous
1 cup red wine
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sear the pork tenderloin on both sides in a hot pan and finish in the oven for about 10 minutes (you can also grill it).
3. While pork is cooking, combine beet juice and red wine in a pot and bring to a boil.
4. Pour beet juice and red wine over the uncooked couscous; steep, covered, for 2-3 minutes; set aside.
5. As couscous steeps, thinly slice the apple and fennel and combine with the mayonnaise to create coleslaw. Season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
6. Fluff the couscous with a fork. Season with salt and pepper to taste; set aside.
7. To plate, scoop out couscous, followed by the apple/fennel slaw. Then add the pork.