He’s no average Joe.
Between running two successful restaurants, Coconut Lagoon and Thali, and helping to feed the hungry and less fortunate, Joe Thottungal has also managed to publish a new cookbook, My Thali: A Simple Indian Kitchen, full of flavourful recipes from his native Kerala.
Thottungal invited well over 100 friends, customers and community leaders to his official book launch, held Tuesday evening at Thali, located at 136 O’Connor St. The funny thing is, he has a second party planned for tonight.
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Thottungal was presented with a framed letter of congratulations by Mayor Mark Sutcliffe, who thanked the restaurateur and award-winning chef for his leadership in the community and for representing “the very, very best of Ottawa”.
The mayor praised Thottungal for his philanthropy and volunteer work. “That’s what our city is all about, and there’s nobody that demonstrates that more than Joe.”
In return, Thottungal gifted the mayor a signed copy of his new book, which can only mean one thing in the Sutcliffe household: more home-cooked Indian dishes.
After the speeches and presentations wrapped up, the two community leaders were seen giving each other a hug.
Thottungal, or “Chef Joe” as he’s affectionately known by many, has dedicated his latest book to his wife Suma in recognition of the work she does managing the household while he’s busy being an active community member. “Without her, I cannot do anything,” the father of three told OBJ.social.
Thottungal once again worked with Anne DesBrisay, an award-winning food writer, on his latest publication. She also co-authored his inaugural 2019 cookbook, Coconut Lagoon: Recipes from a South Indian Kitchen.
“When Joe called me last spring, wondering if a second cookbook was in order and, if so, would I help him with the writing, it took me about a quarter of a second to say, ‘You bet’,” DesBrisay told the room. “Collaborating with Joe on anything that Joe takes on is a pleasure and a privilege. It’s also delicious and highly educational.”
In attendance were members of the diplomatic community, elected officials and business leaders. The brief remarks were emceed by Thottungal’s friend Warren Creates, head of the Immigration Law Group at Perley-Robertson, Hill & McDougall. The likable lawyer got everyone to raise a glass to congratulate Thottungal, his team and DesBrisay.
Creates is part of a 23-person group of Canadians heading to India in a few days to join Thottungal as he takes them all on a guided culinary tour of his home state of Kerala.
Thottungal extended special thank yous to his dedicated staff, to DesBrisay, and to his fellow chefs and restaurateurs who attended that night. Seen were Katie Ardington (Beckta restaurant group), Rich Wilson (Beckta dining & wine), Charles Part and Jennifer Warren (Les Fougères), Yannick LaSalle (chef for the Supreme Court of Canada) and Sheila Whyte (Thyme & Again).
Celebrity Indian-born Canadian chef Vikram Vij, who’s good friends with Thottungal, was there to support him. So was Deirdre Freiheit, president and CEO of Shepherds of Good Hope. It’s one of the charities Thottungal helps out.
The room also heard how Thottungal was a driving force behind the creation of the Food for Thought charity. It got its start during the early stages of the pandemic, when Thottungal opted to put his extra food to good use, helping to feed low-income individuals and families, rather than have it spoil during the restaurant shut-downs.
“Word spread of what was going on at Thali and, within days, more food was donated, more chefs hands were offered — many of them are here today – more volunteers arrived to package, and drivers to deliver,” said DesBrisay. “It was the ramping up of a program called Food for Thought, now a vibrant charity serving thousands of meals a week to the food insecure in this city.
“Joe sees where there is want, rolls up his sleeves and gets it done. His innate need to share, to feed and to educate is why this second cookbook.”
Thottungal has faced his challenges, such as losing Coconut Lagoon to a fire in May 2020. The room heard how his insurance broker, Michael Scrivens from Scrivens Insurance and Investment Solutions, was there throughout the claim to make sure Thottungal got back on his feet. Coconut Lagoon reopened at its same location, on St. Laurent Boulevard, last summer.
Other guests included Michael Curran, publisher of the Ottawa Business Journal. Thottungal was named 2022 Newsmaker of the Year at Ottawa’s Best Ottawa Business Awards.
Every copy of My Thali sold that night saw Thottungal make a donation to Food for Thought. The lineup to purchase a book and have it signed by Thottungal and DesBrisay was long, but the Pala goat curry, Kadai chicken and other Keralan cuisine served that night helped to pass the time in a tasty way.
Many guests left the restaurant with multiple copies, with the intent of gifting the extras to friends and family. Nobody looked more happy to be carrying a pile of books than Sonia Bebbington, our city’s new chief librarian.