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kitchen showmen

Eat, drink, learn

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BOOKED OUT: Busaba's five-course cooking demo and lunch is priced at Rs 1, 600 a head

In times past, people attempted to cook off the TV. They would try, usually unsuccessfully, to pick new culinary tricks off such kitchen showmen as Yan Martin (Yan Can Cook) and Sanjeev Kapoor (Khana Khazana ), but, of course, they couldn't keep up in real time. Then along came the MasterChef series, and it won for culinary viewing a wider parish - people young and old, with or without a KitchenAid. What MasterChef did was whet our collective appetite. We were suddenly awakened to the fact that cooking could be exciting and entertaining. But we now yearned to get closer to actually cooking (not just gawking at) harisa chicken skewers and Greek ribs, champagne savarin and eggplant chutney. Along came the restaurant-sponsored master class.

The master class - traditionally a class for advanced students conducted by a specialist - has been a recent addition to a restaurant's offerings and it brings foodies right to the kitchen table. The executive or sous chef takes the class, picks a couple of dishes off the existing menu, or chooses from a selection about to debut, clears up space in the dining area, sets up a makeshift kitchen and gets to work. Guests are usually given copies of the recipes exhibited, and get to eat the results. The concept - which has become fairly successful - works on several counts: those keen on cooking get a ringside view of experts tackling a sophisticated item, the restaurant draws custom and a potential clientele, and a good time is hopefully had by all. "People are always curious to know how to make a dish, although cooking at home is different from cooking at a restaurant, " points out Rahul Akerkar, managing director of deGustibus Hospitality, which runs the Indigo chain in Bombay.

CMYK, the concept bookstore with attached cafê which is run by Roli Books, introduced themed master classes early this year for adults and children, including workshops on baking, on easy exotic desserts, low-cal health food like summer salads and quick-fixes for professionals and singles on the go. Anjali Bakaya, head of retail for Roli Books, explains the trend, saying, "People are getting more experimental with new cuisines and recipes, both in cooking and dining. "

The attendance, depending on the size of the restaurant, and the nature of the demo, ranges from 15 to 35 individuals. Some of the master classes are ticketed events, with prices in the vicinity of Rs 1, 000 to Rs 1, 500. Busaba, a pan-Asian chain in Bombay has what it calls the Live Cookout, where Nikhil Chib, owner and executive chef, cooks up some of his signature dishes like satay, Mee Goreng, and such like.

Roshmin Mehandru, who looks after PR and marketing for Busaba, says they often have to turn people away, such is the turnout. At its five-course cooking demo and lunch, priced at Rs 1, 600 a head, guests are given more than a run-through of the recipes. They are taken through each dish, familiarised with the recipe, explained the ingredients and unique tastes they offer and introduced to the technique and secrets of what makes the dish perfect.

Master classes work well as promotional tools too. In June, website Brown Paper Bag and The Four Seasons in Mumbai held a dim sum-making workshop to promote the hotel's new dim sum chef, Xiao Feng Shi. While The Four Seasons only occasionally does such master classes, it does hold private cooking classes for small groups. These are custom-made classes that cost about Rs 5, 000 a person for a three-hour session. "You tell us what you want to learn, " says executive chef Clinton Cooper. "For some reason people are obsessed with macaroons, cupcakes and tiramisu. " Whatever the dish, there's now a class teaching you how to master it.

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