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Wine & Dine

Scaling the food chain

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CLASS ACT: At Rakhee Vaswani's Palate Culinary Studio, clients can choose a cuisine by literally putting their finger on a map. They learn all sorts of dishes from Spanish tapas and Arabic kabsa to Fujian rice and Dutch truffle

If the idea of a cookery class evokes the image of a friendly neighbourhood aunty with some spare time and a kitchen, we hope it's sepiatoned. The humble cookery class has moved into restaurant kitchens and department stores, aunty now wears a French tablier and students don't mug up recipes. Instead, business-like logoembossed recipe files and exotic supplies exchange hands swiftly after the fee is paid. At Le 15 Patisserie's culinary workshop it promises to transport the sweetness of Paris all the way to Elphinstone people zip in and out in uniform aprons and chef berets. There are pictures of the Eiffel Tower, ribbons and sugar art are strewn around the worktable and the smell of freshly baked cupcakes is an instant mood gratifier. Owner Pooja Dhingra, who has studied hospitality at the Cesar Ritz Colleges in Switzerland and earned a diploma in French pastry at Le Cordon Bleu, says she set up shop to declare war on the Indian mind-block against French cooking. Dhingra, who holds classes on French bistro cooking, eggless baking, cupcakes and fine dining, sends off clients with a goodie bag of the day's produce, an apron, recipes, notes on French cooking and ingredients that are difficult to source locally. Her French home-cooking workshop, which includes an entire meal, is also a lesson is geography. It takes you through Provence with its ratatouille, makes a pitstop at Dauphin for a quick French potato gratin and concludes with sweet crpes from Brittany, "That's France on your plate, " she smiles. In Santa Cruz in Mumbai, at Rakhee Vaswani's Palate Culinary Studio, clients can choose a cuisine by literally putting their finger on a map, and learn everything from Spanish tapas and Arabic kabsa to Fujian rice and Dutch truffle. Vaswani's culinary studio is fitted with everything from an Italian oven and induction gas to a Teppanyaki griddle and a dim sum steamer. Vaswani, who hosted cooking lessons from home earlier, says the transition from cookery class to culinary studio hasn't been easy. "Don't even ask me how long I waited for this Italian oven to be exported to me, " she says, wiping the top clean.
Her clientele includes the usual fare of housewives, food writers, working professionals, and some gastrosexual men. "We even have special sessions for couples, " says Vaswani, adding that she has interned with Lebanese and French chefs. Vaswani, who admits she attempts dishes she enjoys at local restaurants, says that with every upgrade in cuisine, there's a hidden cost on the exotic ingredients demanded by the recipe. She offers to shoulder the burden by selling small packages of exotic ingredients (like rice vinegar, a sushi star kit, wasabi powder) that have to otherwise be sourced in bulk from importers. To please the well-travelled and well-heeled Indian, says Vaswani, authenticity is a must. Dhingra too says her French cooking classes are authentic, "the kind my French friend Marie's mother would make at home", but admits that some recipes need changes, keeping in mind basic restrictions like the difference in food supplies in France and India. "The cream and butter, for instance, are different, " she says. "We experimented with what we had and tried to achieve the same taste." Another common adaptation for the Indian palate is replacing beef with chicken. Chef Penpa, who calls the shots at Sampan, an oriental restaurant at the Novotel Hotel in Juhu, Mumbai, recently conducted a class to share his culinary tips. He too believes authenticity is sacred, but replacing red meat with chicken and adding gravy to dishes are thumb rules to please Indian palates. In Delhi, Hotel Imperial holds fortnightly culinary sessions conducted at a cooking station set up at Daniell's Tavern. The hotel's senior VP and GM Vijay Wanchoo is the brain behind the project. Sometime back, guests learnt the nuances of Goan fare and soon they will be instructed in Ayurvedic and health food. At the end of a session, guests get to sample the dishes, receive a certificate if they've attended four classes in a row and, if they're lucky, win a meal for two at one of the hotel's restaurants. The restaurant kitchen is not the only unlikely cookery class venue. Gourmet store Godrej Nature's Basket regularly conducts cooking demonstrations. After the Italian cuisine and amuse bouche (single-bite starters) workshops in Mumbai and Delhi stores, the chain is dedicating one to the scorching heat. MD Mohit Khattar says the workshop will showcase "fuss-free, time-saving exotic summer food". With inputs by Kanika Dhawan
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