Monday, 1 July 2013

Firing my tastebuds

The Dumm ki Champ
It's always sad to see a chef leave the city--but hoteliers and chefs are notorious for hopscotching through the world. This time, it's the turn of Executive Chef Anurudh Khanna, of the Park, New Delhi, who moves to the Westin in Pune in a couple of weeks. Anurudh, I have always felt, was under-utilized at his current post. This became evident when he presented the summer menu at Fire, the Park New Delhi's, Indian restaurant.

Chef Khanna is not a bookish chef, his research is of the 'try and try again till you succeed' school of practical cooking. The dishes which make up his new menu are different, but don't forget that in the ned you have to cater to the tastes of the discerning customer. The menu is a refreshing change and this, of course, is something Fire has been craving for awhile. Alas, it is Chef Khanna's swan-song at the hotel and for the moment, in the city.

I've always liked the food which Chef Khanna cooks. I've sampled his brilliance in dishes like the paan biriyani, which was the result of researching many different recipes, before arriving at a formula uniquely his own. The new menu also has a few fantastic dishes. Dishes which Chef Khanna had, apparently, been unable to introduce in the restaurant menu earlier. I guess the fact he is leaving gave him the impetus to present them now.

The bean three ways, includes a rajma shammi kebab, edamame masala and a bean poriyal. The shammi almost reaches galawati-smoothness and the yogurt in the mix mimics the fat you would find in the mutton version of the kebab. I also loved the edamame masala, which reminded me of ghugni, a Bengali chickpea snack.The Dumm ki Champ with morels and lasuni palak, which was served up last was stripped of most of its fat, the flesh came off with the first bite and given it was New Zealand lamb, didn't give off a fatty smell. It was a meal I really enjoyed at Fire, after a long time. Let's hope Chef Khanna's successor will be able to keep innovating, and Chef Khanna gets to reach even tastier peaks at his new post in Pune.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

School of Cooks

The students and teachers of batch 1 at OCA post a lovely lunch.
I am an admirer of Sabyasachi Gorai, or Chef Saby as he is known among the restaurant going crowd in the NCR. Even though he has global exposure, there is a part of him which remains quintessentially the boy from Asansol. So when Saby invited me to come and have a meal at the newly opened Olive Culinary Academy inside the Mehrauli Olive, I was curious enough to accept.
Chef Saby, hands on as always.
First things first, the spiel according to Saby. The Olive Culinary Academy offers a one year course pretty much concentrated on culinary skills. You get five hours of kitchen every day. That's twenty-five in a week. It's not a cheap proposition at 2 lakhs a pop, but then you're getting an 'international accreditation' and more importantly in my view a six-month solid work session at Olive followed by a certificate from Olive. Buoyed by the propaganda, and surrounded by the efforts in the kitchen by Batch 1A, I was hungry and expecting good things.
Enough funda, now for the meal. The students are a mix of those who have worked in hospitality to mature students to those wanting to do something fun (and having the means to do so).
The meal about to begin!
The meal was a mix of students and teachers and the outstanding dish of the day was a ratatouille which was perfect in its balance and flavours and softness of the veg. It showed care and intelligence in cooking. Other elements of the meal needed minor tweaking, like the creme brûlée for instance. I'm sure the students with their intensive sessions in the kitchen will be able to perfect their techniques. I was also very very happy to see the bread made by the students, being an absolute zero in the baking section myself.
The students have a lot to live up to, since they have taken over the greenhouse, an area where I have enjoyed many fab meals while Saby was at the helm of things at Olive, Mehrauli.

What I was happiest about though was to see a bunch of students who were confident, alert and aware of what was happening around them and I think a huge responsibility lies on their shoulders as they're also the academy's brand ambassadors. A good meal and a fun interactive session. I'm hoping to be invited again, because the only way is up and the food is already pretty good.

The Perfect Sunday

There is something welcoming about a good breakfast. I consider it my favourite meal. In fact, I can have breakfast three times a day, if it wasn't for the damned arteries! It's also the only meal of the day where I welcome repetitiveness. Living in Delhi, Sunday brunch has always been a bit of a sore point. Restaurants and five stars have lots of choices, as long as you have the cash, or a story to write. Eating your way through to a profitable experience though, is far from easy.
Take my example, I am usually hungry all the time. I have been a morning person for as long as I remember. On a Sunday morning, my appetite is at its peak and everything I see on a brunch menu, usually laid out like a scrumptious Persian harem, is fair game. But after half-an-hour of eating, I'm full and most of the dishes stay untouched.
Tired of trying to stretch our stomaches to their individual limits, a couple of friends and I, decided to start a brunch club in Delhi. With great gusto we began sculpting the perfect breakfast, consisting of eggs benedict, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, sausages and bacon. This may seem too English to many, but its still my favourite Sunday meal, and usually keeps me full till 6 in the evening. And we had a parantha session, a Bengali breakfast of luchi and alurdom, but the egg theme recurs with unerring regularity.
I'm happy to report that our brunch club is doing quite well, as long as the three founder members are in town. Others have fallen by the wayside because of scheduling issues, but we have remained true.

The most recent meal included a dish which I have perfected over the years, scrambled eggs. Now, don't turn your noses up, my version of scrambled eggs is just eggs and butter. It's cooked over a low fire and stirred continiously, like a risotto. It takes time to come together, mine usually takes half an hour, but the result is light, yellow and needs just a touch of salt and pepper (since I use salted butter) and melts in your mouth. I think the perfect scrambled eggs needs a minimum of 3 eggs and a good dollop of butter (entirely to taste), per head. This is for Sunday brunch, not everyday breakfast, mind you. Let the butter melt before you whip the eggs with a fork to a omlette mix consistency, then stir over the low flame till it reaches a creamy texture. Take it off the heat when you consider it 80 per cent done, because it will continue cooking. The result, as you you see in the photograph above, makes my Sunday special.

Friday, 11 January 2013


I love the cold. For someone of my size, this is a time when I'm not bathed constantly in sweat and it also allows me to stuff my face with fatty proteins and not feel uncomfortable later--believe me in the hotter months I stick to fish religiously.

But the single-most important food-related reason for me to love the winter season is because this is the time when I can enjoy my favourite food. Soup. Any kind of soup. From simple consommés, filled with rich flavours of meats--dark red and steaming hot–to the thick broths with potatoes and leeks, I love them all!
But the soup that holds a special place in my heart, one that I've loved since I was a little—both in age and size—is the kind of soup you get in an Asian (as in Far Eastern) restaurant. It's the kind of soup where you put in everything. As a cook, it's soup which makes my creativity shine. How do you play with the flavours and not allow one to overwhelm the other, and still have a dish where you can identify the flavours and enjoy the combinations.
But enough about my romance of soup in general, let's get on with the story of last weekend, when Delhi was freezing and my soul was craving soup. Not just any soup, but a large, meal-encompassing creation. So a friend of mine and I went over to Gung for just that. A meal which consisted of just one soup, along with a few shot glasses of sochu (a kind of Korean vodka) and of course the little accompaniments which they serve up with every meal. I look forward to this restaurant all summer long because the food otherwise is too spicy for me to digest otherwise.
The soup which I had last Sunday was beef bulgogi and octopus, but the thinly sliced beef grilled just right and then thrown into the flavoursome broth and the octopus which was cooked and cut with a pair of scissors right in front of us was a little tough maybe, but that is only to be expected. It was the vegetables,rice noodles and what I assume is the Korean version of dumplings (like in European cuisine) which really took our meal to another level.
What I find different about the soup is the lack of the sweet edge, which I find in both Chinese and Japanese food, and as a diabetic, this is most welcome. The other thing I liked about the meal was that the soup was the hero of our meal. The whole dish was spicy, but not in a way which burnt my tastebuds, though it did make me break out into a sweat. It was a pity that the small dishes of savouries which were served before had filled us up a bit. Because I would have liked to have finished it all. I did enjoy the warmth which spread over me all the way on my drive home. And yes, the sochu did play its part.