Being a Catholic chef can earn many kudos, but what about the nickname “Bacon World Champion”? That’s because Chef Peter Radjou won the 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 Baconfest in Virginia and the 2018 Bacon World Championship cooking competition in Orange Beach, Alabama, and he tucked away a sizable reward. But this Roanoke chef feels the most grateful for feeding 300 students daily at the Roanoke Catholic School in Virginia

Devoutly Catholic, the Radjou family from the Southern part of India start their day with praying the Rosary and a novena on their way to work. The chef himself is a cradle Catholic who attended Catholic schools until he graduated from high school. Then he attended a local culinary academy in India, and later signed on to work for hotels and cruise lines.

But why cooking? As he explained, “My dad was very creative and tried experimenting with food at home,” he said. “I think I got some interest from that, and people said, ‘Good, go to culinary school.’ So I went for three years and trained in several big hotels.” As a student, he had to take 16 different subjects. And in the final year, the student chooses the major. “I chose cooking culinary skills,” he said, “and then I was sent to special training in Bombay, Bangalore and Chennai. I am fascinated by my heritage by people who have such a diverse knowledge of food.”

He and his family ended up moving to Manassas, Virginia, about 25 years ago. He worked in restaurants there, and then went on to opening a wildly famous Indian restaurant known as the White Tiger in Washington, D.C., before closing that and moving to Roanoke, Virginia. There his cooking career continued, where he was hired by the Roanoke Catholic School. “I felt that this job was given to me by God,” said Chef Radjou. There he serves some rather atypical dishes that are not macaroni and cheese but instead often stir-fried pork and chicken tikka masala, and even braised tilapia.

And he not only cooks for the Catholic school but he also opened up a local Indian restaurant, the most noteworthy and the one still in business is Taaza Indian Restaurant in Grandin Village in Roanoke. 

Chef Radjou is eternally grateful to God for his Catholic faith and attributes his devotion because of how his parents raised him. “My parents were Catholic and my grandparents were converts from Hinduism and after that,” he said. “I was an altar server and my mom, a devoted Catholic, went to Mass daily. We said evening prayers. It was a great upbringing,” he added, noting that his two daughters have graduated from Roanoke Catholic school, making a big impact on their life.

Chef Radjou said that his faith has also made a big impact on his own life. “I went through rough times,” he said. “But God is always there for me. I start the day with prayer and say the Rosary on my way to work. I want to do the will of God. And it makes me happy to see people enjoy my food.”

 

Chicken Tikka Masala

Serve with steamed basmati rice or Indian flatbread (naan). Serves 4.

  • 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken cut into 1-inch cubes

Marinade:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt 
  • 1 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder 
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 6 bamboo skewers, soaked in water

Sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger paste
  • 1 teaspoon garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon coriander powder
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 3 large vine-ripened red tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon dry fenugreek leaves 
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala powder
  • Cilantro for garnish

Directions:

Combine all the marinade ingredients in a large pan and add the chicken pieces. Marinate the chicken for a minimum of three hours or overnight. Thread the chicken on skewers and discard the marinade.

Grill or broil chicken turning occasionally to cook through, about 8 minutes, and set aside.

Meanwhile, to make the sauce, melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Sauté the onion until translucent. Add the ginger and garlic and sauté several minutes more. Add the chili powder, coriander powder, and cumin powder, stirring in well. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes more. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes are cooked through. Stir in the tomato paste and salt. Remove from the heat, and set aside for about 10 minutes, or until cool enough to blend. 

Bring the sauce to a boil, remove the chicken from the skewers, and add the pieces to the sauce. Reduce the heat to low, and cook while stirring in the heavy cream, the garam masala, and fenugreek leaves. Garnish with cilantro, and serve.