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Contemporary food

Desi top chefs



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<b>Manish Mehrotra, 37 </b><br><br><b>CHYAWANPRASH MEETS CHEESECAKE </b><br><br><br>I'm not here to compete with butter chicken, " says chef Manish Mehrotra. "I love it - whenever I am abroad I really start to crave butter chicken, and when I get back to Delhi the first thing I do is to go to Punjabi By Nature. But that's not what I do. " <br>Certainly nothing could be further from butter chicken than the complex food at Indian Accent. The menu harbours surprise on surprise: glistening tawa-roasted foie gras with flecks of churan fleur de sel and pomegranate kernels, applewood-smoked bacon kulchas, red snapper in pinenut poriyal. Mehrotra draws ingredients from every corner of the globe, but the food remains essentially Indian, trading the oily richness of traditional Indian restaurant cuisine for a complex parade of textures and flavours. Some appear to have an extravagant swagger - the notoriously over-the-top foie gras-stuffed galauti kebab, for instance - but the carefully crafted pairings make unexpected sense. "The foie gras and the galauti kebab <br>are both big delicacies with a similar melt-in-the-mouth texture, so they complement each other perfectly, " says Mehrotra. He serves his signature starter with a strawberry-and-greenchilli chutney that brings out the sweetness of the foie gras and the spice of the galauti. <br>Patna native Mehrotra graduated from the Institute of Hotel Management in 1996, and from his first job onwards (in the kitchens of the Taj Mumbai's Thai Pavilion ), began to focus on pan-Asian food. The menu at his first restaurant, London's Tamarai, for instance, follows the "lotus trail" from Chettinadu in southern India to all over China and South-east Asia. But when Old World Hospitality decided to set up its contemporary Indian restaurant, he saw the possibilities and asked to be put in charge of what would open as Indian Accent in 2009. <br>"There is now a space for contemporary Indian food;it's only come up in the last five years, " says the 37-yearold. He is singularly unruffled as he works in the kitchen, pulling out the many components of each dish (with so many complexities to each, plating at peak time can be harrowing): peeled pink pomelo segments, chickpea cress, miniature Goan pao bread, amaranth seeds. <br>"You should never change the original taste of something, " says Mehrotra as he brings out his kadhai duck in a green mango reduction bolstered with jaggery, and topped with tangles of Middle Eastern kataifi pastry. "Chicken tikka chaat should taste like chicken tikka. Whatever the ingredients, they have to match the original dish, because there's a good reason behind traditional pairings. " He follows this philosophy closely, using elements that push the limits of "Indian" food;leavened with a sense of humour that's best displayed in desserts like the Old Monk-soused rum ball, the Chyawanprash cheesecake and the Phantom candy cigarette that comes with blacksesame-and-sugar "ash" strewn below. Evidently, butter chicken doesn't stand a chance. <br><b><br><br>NAINTARA MAYA OBEROI </b><br><br>

Desi top chefs

August 13, 2011


Manish Mehrotra, 37

CHYAWANPRASH MEETS CHEESECAKE


I'm not here to compete with butter chicken, " says chef Manish Mehrotra. "I love it - whenever I am abroad I really start to crave butter chicken, and when I get back to Delhi the first thing I do is to go to Punjabi By Nature. But that's not what I do. "
Certainly nothing could be further from butter chicken than the complex food at Indian Accent. The menu harbours surprise on surprise: glistening tawa-roasted foie gras with flecks of churan fleur de sel and pomegranate kernels, applewood-smoked bacon kulchas, red snapper in pinenut poriyal. Mehrotra draws ingredients from every corner of the globe, but the food remains essentially Indian, trading the oily richness of traditional Indian restaurant cuisine for a complex parade of textures and flavours. Some appear to have an extravagant swagger - the notoriously over-the-top foie gras-stuffed galauti kebab, for instance - but the carefully crafted pairings make unexpected sense. "The foie gras and the galauti kebab
are both big delicacies with a similar melt-in-the-mouth texture, so they complement each other perfectly, " says Mehrotra. He serves his signature starter with a strawberry-and-greenchilli chutney that brings out the sweetness of the foie gras and the spice of the galauti.
Patna native Mehrotra graduated from the Institute of Hotel Management in 1996, and from his first job onwards (in the kitchens of the Taj Mumbai's Thai Pavilion ), began to focus on pan-Asian food. The menu at his first restaurant, London's Tamarai, for instance, follows the "lotus trail" from Chettinadu in southern India to all over China and South-east Asia. But when Old World Hospitality decided to set up its contemporary Indian restaurant, he saw the possibilities and asked to be put in charge of what would open as Indian Accent in 2009.
"There is now a space for contemporary Indian food;it's only come up in the last five years, " says the 37-yearold. He is singularly unruffled as he works in the kitchen, pulling out the many components of each dish (with so many complexities to each, plating at peak time can be harrowing): peeled pink pomelo segments, chickpea cress, miniature Goan pao bread, amaranth seeds.
"You should never change the original taste of something, " says Mehrotra as he brings out his kadhai duck in a green mango reduction bolstered with jaggery, and topped with tangles of Middle Eastern kataifi pastry. "Chicken tikka chaat should taste like chicken tikka. Whatever the ingredients, they have to match the original dish, because there's a good reason behind traditional pairings. " He follows this philosophy closely, using elements that push the limits of "Indian" food;leavened with a sense of humour that's best displayed in desserts like the Old Monk-soused rum ball, the Chyawanprash cheesecake and the Phantom candy cigarette that comes with blacksesame-and-sugar "ash" strewn below. Evidently, butter chicken doesn't stand a chance.


NAINTARA MAYA OBEROI


<b>Vikram Khatri, 33 </b><br><br><b>NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, BUT CLOSE </b><br><br><br>Ididn't like science at school. I was really bad at it, "says chef Vikram Khatri, scoring a piece of salmon belly with a fearsome-looking Japanese sushi knife. Then, without irony, he whips out a blowtorch in mid-sentence, and flash-sears the top of the fish, saying over his shoulder, "Searing the belly caramelises the extra fat;it's a very fatty fish, unlike tuna. " He adds, grinning, "But then, all of food is about science: expansion, contraction, heating, cooling, changing. " <br>Khatri certainly knows his fish. The blowtorch has turned the salmon belly to a near-melting silkiness, set off by a smear of wasabi and lemon-chilli oil. He worked for nearly seven years at Delhi's big-ticket sushi destination Sakura, under the exacting eye of five Japanese chefs. Then he moved to Sydney, working at modern Japanese restaurant The Ocean Room, and as he grins, "eating my way through as many Japanese restaurants as possible". When he moved back to Delhi to help the Olive group set up Ai three years ago, opening a standalone Japanese restaurant was considered a risky move. But Khatri, who is thin and spare like his food, says he never had trouble persuading people to try his stone-baked miso-brushed black cod, his jasmine-tomato "tea" or his tuna tataki. "Ai came into existence as if it had always existed, " he laughs. "Our menu is very simple. Basically, you need top-notch ingredients that work in harmony with each other. Then your job's done. " Top-notch ingredients are undeniably at the fore of Khatri's cooking, with inventive combinations like barley-miso pork chops with miso mustard, teriyaki-grilled baby artichokes, and tenderloin with apple and yuzu. Everything is spare and strippeddown, splashed with garlic chips, or swirls of sesame seed or pork crackling as garnish. <br>"You must really know your basics, otherwise you can't create good contemporary food. " He adds, in between advising a lunch party on what rice to order, "For instance, the word "sushi" means "fermented rice";it has no relation to raw fish. Once you understand what sushi was all about, historically, you can innovate as you like - bacon, tempura, grilled eel. " <br>Provenance is also important to Khatri, whose menu is emblazoned with the names of places: Andaman tuna, Scottish salmon, Shillong black rice. Ai has tied up with The Altitude Store, an organic and natural foods store in Delhi, and a supplier in Shillong, who sends them organic wild rice, Meghalaya black rice, wild mushrooms and even bamboo leaves for plating. He says, meditatively, "For me, simplicity is the biggest thing. We used to do some molecular gastronomy, but I felt it wasn't a big draw here. Now we've moved towards highlighting ingredients, towards the organic and local. With good ingredients, the sky is the limit. " That's the kind of axiom that proves creating elegant, harmonious food isn't rocket science. <b><br><br>NAINTARA MAYA OBEROI </b><br><br>

Desi top chefs

August 13, 2011


Vikram Khatri, 33

NOT ROCKET SCIENCE, BUT CLOSE


Ididn't like science at school. I was really bad at it, "says chef Vikram Khatri, scoring a piece of salmon belly with a fearsome-looking Japanese sushi knife. Then, without irony, he whips out a blowtorch in mid-sentence, and flash-sears the top of the fish, saying over his shoulder, "Searing the belly caramelises the extra fat;it's a very fatty fish, unlike tuna. " He adds, grinning, "But then, all of food is about science: expansion, contraction, heating, cooling, changing. "
Khatri certainly knows his fish. The blowtorch has turned the salmon belly to a near-melting silkiness, set off by a smear of wasabi and lemon-chilli oil. He worked for nearly seven years at Delhi's big-ticket sushi destination Sakura, under the exacting eye of five Japanese chefs. Then he moved to Sydney, working at modern Japanese restaurant The Ocean Room, and as he grins, "eating my way through as many Japanese restaurants as possible". When he moved back to Delhi to help the Olive group set up Ai three years ago, opening a standalone Japanese restaurant was considered a risky move. But Khatri, who is thin and spare like his food, says he never had trouble persuading people to try his stone-baked miso-brushed black cod, his jasmine-tomato "tea" or his tuna tataki. "Ai came into existence as if it had always existed, " he laughs. "Our menu is very simple. Basically, you need top-notch ingredients that work in harmony with each other. Then your job's done. " Top-notch ingredients are undeniably at the fore of Khatri's cooking, with inventive combinations like barley-miso pork chops with miso mustard, teriyaki-grilled baby artichokes, and tenderloin with apple and yuzu. Everything is spare and strippeddown, splashed with garlic chips, or swirls of sesame seed or pork crackling as garnish.
"You must really know your basics, otherwise you can't create good contemporary food. " He adds, in between advising a lunch party on what rice to order, "For instance, the word "sushi" means "fermented rice";it has no relation to raw fish. Once you understand what sushi was all about, historically, you can innovate as you like - bacon, tempura, grilled eel. "
Provenance is also important to Khatri, whose menu is emblazoned with the names of places: Andaman tuna, Scottish salmon, Shillong black rice. Ai has tied up with The Altitude Store, an organic and natural foods store in Delhi, and a supplier in Shillong, who sends them organic wild rice, Meghalaya black rice, wild mushrooms and even bamboo leaves for plating. He says, meditatively, "For me, simplicity is the biggest thing. We used to do some molecular gastronomy, but I felt it wasn't a big draw here. Now we've moved towards highlighting ingredients, towards the organic and local. With good ingredients, the sky is the limit. " That's the kind of axiom that proves creating elegant, harmonious food isn't rocket science.

NAINTARA MAYA OBEROI


<b>Pooja Dhingra, 25 </b><br><br><b>PARIS JE T'AIME <br></b><br><br>Macaroons in Mumbai were nutty, biscuit-like sweets that were sold at old fashioned bakeries. Then Pooja Dhingra came along. And her macaroons are neither nutty not biscuit-like. They are gorgeous little confections of chocolate and fruit flavoured cream entrapped between fluorescent shells. <br>Dhingra owns Le 15 Patisserie. From her central kitchen in Lower Parel, the genial pastry chef dispatches French style pastries and cakes to clients and outlets at Worli and Lower Parel. In a month, she will open her own cafê on Breach Candy, Cafê Crème. But the focus of her operation is the macaroon. Even her kitchen is designed in a way that enables the making of macaroons. "It's one of the most difficult things to make, " she explains. <br>This most Parisian of desserts decided the course of Dhingra's career in 2008. She was in Paris when she tasted her first macaroon. "It was the best thing ever, " she says. <br>Dhingra had been studying hospitality management in Switzerland at the time. Her Parisian epiphany made her realise that her place was in the kitchen making sweets. So she joined Cordon Bleu in Paris. Dhingra's mother, who runs a baking business from home, had taught her how to make cakes. But that didn't quite prepare her for Cordon Bleu. "I knew about brownies and cheesecakes, " she says. "But I didn't know what an opera cake is supposed to look and taste like. " After Cordon Bleu, Dhingra spent three months living every child's fantasy: an internship at a small chocolate shop. <br>When Dhingra returned to Mumbai in 2009, she began her business from home and the next year, opened her central kitchen. The name of her shop comes from the fifteenth arrondissement in Paris, where she lived and studied. "The essence is bringing what I liked in Paris, " she says. Apart from macaroons, her offerings include salted caramel cake, chocolate cakes and the opera cake, which, Dhingra learnt, is a dramatic stack of coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, layered in a Joconde sponge (an almond sponge cake). <br>She says her motto for her staff is "taste, taste, taste". Lucky staff. "Actually they don't like desserts any more, " she says. And is she sick of desserts? "I wish, " she says. "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night craving a cupcake. But I'm not allowed to bring desserts home. "<br><b><br><br>PRONOTI DATTA </b><br><br>

Desi top chefs

August 13, 2011


Pooja Dhingra, 25

PARIS JE T'AIME


Macaroons in Mumbai were nutty, biscuit-like sweets that were sold at old fashioned bakeries. Then Pooja Dhingra came along. And her macaroons are neither nutty not biscuit-like. They are gorgeous little confections of chocolate and fruit flavoured cream entrapped between fluorescent shells.
Dhingra owns Le 15 Patisserie. From her central kitchen in Lower Parel, the genial pastry chef dispatches French style pastries and cakes to clients and outlets at Worli and Lower Parel. In a month, she will open her own cafê on Breach Candy, Cafê Crème. But the focus of her operation is the macaroon. Even her kitchen is designed in a way that enables the making of macaroons. "It's one of the most difficult things to make, " she explains.
This most Parisian of desserts decided the course of Dhingra's career in 2008. She was in Paris when she tasted her first macaroon. "It was the best thing ever, " she says.
Dhingra had been studying hospitality management in Switzerland at the time. Her Parisian epiphany made her realise that her place was in the kitchen making sweets. So she joined Cordon Bleu in Paris. Dhingra's mother, who runs a baking business from home, had taught her how to make cakes. But that didn't quite prepare her for Cordon Bleu. "I knew about brownies and cheesecakes, " she says. "But I didn't know what an opera cake is supposed to look and taste like. " After Cordon Bleu, Dhingra spent three months living every child's fantasy: an internship at a small chocolate shop.
When Dhingra returned to Mumbai in 2009, she began her business from home and the next year, opened her central kitchen. The name of her shop comes from the fifteenth arrondissement in Paris, where she lived and studied. "The essence is bringing what I liked in Paris, " she says. Apart from macaroons, her offerings include salted caramel cake, chocolate cakes and the opera cake, which, Dhingra learnt, is a dramatic stack of coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache, layered in a Joconde sponge (an almond sponge cake).
She says her motto for her staff is "taste, taste, taste". Lucky staff. "Actually they don't like desserts any more, " she says. And is she sick of desserts? "I wish, " she says. "Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night craving a cupcake. But I'm not allowed to bring desserts home. "


PRONOTI DATTA


<b>Gresham Fernandes, 30 </b><br><br><b>HAMMING IT UP </b><br><br><br>Chef Gresham Fernandes is on a mission to reacquaint palates with the pleasures of pork. Swine dining, his monthly ode to the pig at Salt Water Cafê, is a dinner for which up to 20 people can register. It has 20 dishes that range from the Goan pork vindaloo to Brazilian sorpotel to roasted pork shoulder with milk jam. "Pork is a meat that no one really explores. On most menus the only thing you would see are pork chops or pork tenderloin. We cook right from the nose to the hoofs. " <br>Fernandes has a natural affinity for pork as he grew up in an East Indian family in Bandra. He says that he has been experimenting with food for as long as he can remember. "Both my parents worked so breakfast was never made, " Fernandes says. "I began to find my way around the kitchen at a fairly early age. My grandmom was also a great cook, so I grew up watching her cook. I was cleaning chickens and cutting pigs at ten. " After graduating from the Rizvi College of Hotel Management, he spent over three years training at The Leela. <br>Today, he is the group executive chef of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality, which owns Salt Water Cafe and the Mocha chain of coffee shops and runs the kitchen at The Tasting Room at Good Earth. He is also in the process of opening an independent restaurant called Shroom in Delhi. Set to open in the first week of September, it is Fernandes's dream project. "It's not going to be just Italian or French;it's experimental, fun-dining. " <br>Fascinated by molecular gastronomy, Fernandes's biggest inspiration is celebrated Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. "Adrià has raised the bar to a whole new level, " says Fernandes. "When we approach ingredients we think, 'This is foie gras, caviar or truffle, this is very expensive and should be prepared in a particular way. ' For him every ingredient was equal. He could cook with a banana and really explore its taste. " Inspired by Adrià's unusual pairings - such as tuna and watermelon - Fernandes introduced a trout with strawberry sauce at Salt Water Cafê. <br>At the same time, Fernandes stays close to his roots and his adventurous cuisine is peppered with East Indian influences. His crab cakes have the tang of his grandmother's masala and he does a prawn pickle ravioli. The chef's favourite food is still the food of his childhood - and anything to do with pork. Fernandes's dream meal is braised Iberian pork tails and pan-fried langostinos (a crustacean) at Mugaritz, a Spanish restaurant. "I hope that's my last meal, " he says. <br><b><br><br>NEHA THIRANI </b><br><br>

Desi top chefs

August 13, 2011


Gresham Fernandes, 30

HAMMING IT UP


Chef Gresham Fernandes is on a mission to reacquaint palates with the pleasures of pork. Swine dining, his monthly ode to the pig at Salt Water Cafê, is a dinner for which up to 20 people can register. It has 20 dishes that range from the Goan pork vindaloo to Brazilian sorpotel to roasted pork shoulder with milk jam. "Pork is a meat that no one really explores. On most menus the only thing you would see are pork chops or pork tenderloin. We cook right from the nose to the hoofs. "
Fernandes has a natural affinity for pork as he grew up in an East Indian family in Bandra. He says that he has been experimenting with food for as long as he can remember. "Both my parents worked so breakfast was never made, " Fernandes says. "I began to find my way around the kitchen at a fairly early age. My grandmom was also a great cook, so I grew up watching her cook. I was cleaning chickens and cutting pigs at ten. " After graduating from the Rizvi College of Hotel Management, he spent over three years training at The Leela.
Today, he is the group executive chef of Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality, which owns Salt Water Cafe and the Mocha chain of coffee shops and runs the kitchen at The Tasting Room at Good Earth. He is also in the process of opening an independent restaurant called Shroom in Delhi. Set to open in the first week of September, it is Fernandes's dream project. "It's not going to be just Italian or French;it's experimental, fun-dining. "
Fascinated by molecular gastronomy, Fernandes's biggest inspiration is celebrated Spanish chef Ferran Adrià. "Adrià has raised the bar to a whole new level, " says Fernandes. "When we approach ingredients we think, 'This is foie gras, caviar or truffle, this is very expensive and should be prepared in a particular way. ' For him every ingredient was equal. He could cook with a banana and really explore its taste. " Inspired by Adrià's unusual pairings - such as tuna and watermelon - Fernandes introduced a trout with strawberry sauce at Salt Water Cafê.
At the same time, Fernandes stays close to his roots and his adventurous cuisine is peppered with East Indian influences. His crab cakes have the tang of his grandmother's masala and he does a prawn pickle ravioli. The chef's favourite food is still the food of his childhood - and anything to do with pork. Fernandes's dream meal is braised Iberian pork tails and pan-fried langostinos (a crustacean) at Mugaritz, a Spanish restaurant. "I hope that's my last meal, " he says.


NEHA THIRANI


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