Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Hotelier-Hobby Cook Yadavendra Singh To Revive Old Recipes at Samode Haveli Restaurant

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

JAIPUR'S 175-YEAR-OLD Samode Haveli, the boutique luxury hotel at the bustling Gangapole, will soon have a heritage cuisine restaurant that promises to be the Pink City's new culinary destination. It is the brainchild of Yadavendra Singh, the younger of the two brothers who have put Samode, an old principality of the Amber (Jaipur) state 40km away from the city, on the world luxury traveller's map.
A quiet corner of the ornate restaurant at the Samode
Haveli, which will soon have a new menu based on
 an old manuscript with 400 recipes of forgotten
dishes, including 12 varieties of taftan.
The addition of the restaurant will be a bonus for Jaipur, which does not have many options other than the tried, tested but predictable LMB, or Johari Bazaar's Laxmi Misthan Bhandar, and Niro's, which was opened in 1949 by a former manager of Delhi's Kwality restaurant and has over the years attained iconic status. Like so many disappointed travellers, Yadavendra Singh, who has been a passionate cook since the age of 13, wonders why Jaipur does not have a "seriously ethnic, authentic Indian restaurant". It upsets him to see people equating Rajasthani cuisine with Lal Maas, which "does not exist the way restaurants present it because it is our everyday mutton curry and each family has its own recipe for it."
A descendant of Rawal Berisal, who signed the 1818 treaty with the East India Company making Jaipur a protectorate, and of Rawal Sheo Singh, who served as the state's prime minister for many years and built the Indo-Saracenic Samode Palace, Yadavendra Singh can tap into a multi-ethnic gene pool. His maternal grandmother is from Tripura's royal family, which explains his passion for fish and seafood, and his paternal grandmother is from Nepal, which is why the elaborate Nepalese thali is on the Samode menu with the rider that you have to order it a day in advance.
The food that will be served at the upcoming restaurant, though, will be drawn from an old hand-written manuscript with 400 recipes that Yadavendra Singh dusted out from a pile of hand-me-downs. An uncle of his deciphered the text and an old jeweller converted the weights and measures (sers and chhataks) into modern metric units. The manuscript is strewn with surprises and recipes of dishes that have long been forgotten. It has recipes for 35 different kinds of breads, including 12 varieties of taftan and the Goan poi, a breakfast staple which is like a baguette in texture.
"Making a menu is the most difficult part," Yadavendra Singh says. "It doesn't come in a day." Not that he's complaining, because nothing pleases him more than the opportunity to discover and try out new recipes. You can sense the excitement from the way he talks about the recipes collected painstakingly from royal houses across the country by Raja Dilip Singh of Sailana, whose son Digvijay Singh put them together in the best-selling cookbook, Cooking Delights of the Maharajas. Yadavendra Singh's eyes light up when he talks about memorable dishes from the book, such as Safed Maas and Mutton Dahi Bhalla.
"I enjoy food and love wine, and I cook every day," Yadavendra Singh says, listing Indian, Japanese and Vietnamese cuisines are his personal favourites. "I can cook 90 per cent of the dishes on the Samode menu." When I met him, he was planning a trip to Thalassery (the old pepper town of Tellicherry) in North Malabar for a 10-day homestay and Mappila cookery course at Ayisha Manzil, which is run by C.P. Moosa and his wife Faiza. Yadavendra Singh brings passion to the table. I am sure it will show up in his restaurant.

Singapore's Iconic Harry's Bar Opens in New Delhi's Select Citywalk After Mumbai Debut

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN Harry's Bar opened at Boat Quay in Singapore in 1993, named presumably after the Venetian watering hole immortalised by Ernest Hemingway, or the ones in London and New York, the island-nation didn't have much of a nightlife to write home about. This little hangout by the Singapore river, opened by an American expat named Jim Gelpi, brought live music, cool vibes and the culture of the after-office tipple to Singapore, and it soon became the favourite of punters of all nationalities making and breaking fortunes in the neighbouring financial district.
One of them was Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who made world history by single-handedly bringing down Barings Bank racking up losses of over $1 billion in 1995. A colourful character who had been turned out of the Singapore Cricket Club because of a racist slur, Leeson loved the drink that is now famous as the Bank Breaker -- one part each of whisky and the melon liqueur Midori and two parts of soda water. When Leeson stepped out of prison in Singapore in 1999, the patrons of Harry's got free beer for two hours and the waiting staff wore T-shirts that said: "Leeson Learns His Lesson".
There was another regular too -- he came to the bar five evenings a week. He was Mohan Mulani, a Singaporean Sindhi who had returned from America after getting a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and History from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), and spending a year as a management trainee at IBM. He was working for his family business, whose office was nearby, and he fell in love with the place. So much in love, that he invested in the place after overcoming Gelpi's initial reluctance. Within a year, the original shareholders had a falling out, so Mulani just bought them out.
Harry's Bar has been around for 20 years and
The original Harry's Bar at Boat Quay, Singapore,
was opened by an American in 1993
is one of Singapore's acknowledged icons. Expanding to 26 outlets (plus five associated restaurants and a 22-room boutique hotel) under Mulani's leadership, Harry's Bar is a Singaporean success story with its own premium lager and a vast fan following. In its early years, it survived the collapse of Transco Holdings, the textiles and investments company Mulani had set up with his father on his return from America, after the South-East Asian economies went into a tailspin in 1997. A heart-broken Mulani had then left for San Francisco to start a new life, but he returned to his home country after 9/11, unable to stand the atmosphere of fear and loathing in America, and did not look back after he opened the second Harry's Bar in 2003.
And now, Harry's Bar, after a successful launch at Powai in Mumbai, has opened at the Select Citywalk in Saket, New Delhi, next to Spaghetti Kitchen on the second floor. Mulani continues to be the Executive Chairman of Harry's Holdings, but his and his wife's stake in the company has been picked up by Everstone Capital, an investment firm started by two former Goldman Sachs executives, both Indian. Everstone has substantial investments in the restaurant sector in India and the Indian foray of Harry's Bar clearly is the result of the interest the investment firm has in this market.
With the opening of Harry's Bar, whose cocktails have been designed for the local market by the acclaimed mixologist, Shatbhi Basu, the Select Citywalk second floor has grown into a gourmet zone, with old favourite Spaghetti Kitchen, the classy vegetarian restaurant Sattvik, the ever-popular Mamagoto and the revitalised Punjab Grill, which now has a brilliant new menu designed by yet another Manish Mehrotra acolyte, Gurdeep Singh (you'll read more about it soon).

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

DINING OUT: Delhi's First Restaurant by a U.K. Celebrity Chef Off to a Great Start

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IT'S NOT often that you get served the best risotto you've had in many years straight out of the pan by an international celebrity chef who has a warm-hearted laughter and vehement views on the wine that is sold in his own restaurant.
London's celebrity chef, cookbook
writer and television presenter, who
sold  his chain of restaurants in 2012,
has returned to the business with
Zerrucco by Zilli at The Ashok
in Delhi's Diplomatic Enclave 
It was a Friday night and Aldo Zilli's first day in India, a country he had known only through its spices, Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein's television shows, and one of our best exports, Atul Kochhar, chef-owner of the Michelin-starred Benares restaurant in Mayfair, London -- the two had met 20 years ago at a television cook-off. He showed no signs of jetlag (he thanked British Airways for it) and laughed heartily when I said Jacob's Creek (the wine of the evening) was Wimbledon's official plonk and therefore fit to be served only to the Williams sisters.
I knew I was being uncharitable (because the restaurant, Zerruco by Zilli, was a couple of days away from its official opening and hadn't yet got its wine supply) and perhaps politically incorrect, but you can be just yourself when you're with Zilli, who has more restaurant success stories, best-selling cookbooks, product endorsements and newspaper columns than most other celebrity chefs, and yet wears his status very lightly. His Italian roots show up when he makes every guest feel special not because it is good for business, but because he's genuinely warm-hearted.
Zerruco by Zilli has come up where Mashrabiya, the Middle Eastern restaurant run by Arjun and Amit Amla at one corner of The Ashok, used to rock with its heady mix of belly dancing, good food, flavoured shishas and pleasing ambience. It survived longer than Maroush, the rooftop Lebanese restaurant at the ITC Maurya, but it had ceased to make business sense.
Zerruco by Zilli has stepped into Mashrabiya's vast space. Sprawling across a 3,000-square-foot dining room, with a 70-foot-long backlit panel made with individually designed wooden pieces, and an equally expansive al fresco area with its own bar and wood-fired pizza oven, it is Zilli's first foray into the restaurant business after 2012, when he sold his chain in London (the most famous name among them being Zilli Fish). And it promises to be Delhi-NCR's liveliest Italian restaurant serving what Italian chefs do best -- cook food whose simplicity is as beguiling as its bouquet of tastes and flavours is seductive. The laudatory tweets from the fortunate few who partied till well beyond midnight this past Sunday -- it started as a brunch, but there was no stopping the guests -- echoed the same feeling even as Zilli exclaimed: "OMG Indian people can party 12 hours later"!
Promoted by Kashif Farooq and Prashant Ojha, who turned Urban Pind into a nightlife phenomenon before it had to shut after the landlord demanded a rent that the duo couldn't afford, the co-branded restaurant has also benefited from the expertise of its principal consultant, Manish Baheyti, a former senior executive with The Oberoi Group who also had a stint as Director of Marketing at the Hyatt Regency New Delhi. As General Manager of The Trident Bhubaneswar in 2005, Manish, who's from one of Rajasthan's minor royal families, posted the hotel's highest profit in 23 years. The trio clearly bring a wealth of experience to the table and only they could have braved the one year it took them to build the restaurant out of a space that had become a rubbish dump after Mashrabiya shut down.
Kashif, who's 33 and a graduate of Delhi University's Sri Venkateswara 'Venky' College, has an interesting back story that I have to share here. The young restaurateur spent his early childhood in Srinagar, but had to relocate with his family to Japan because his father could not cope with terrorist extortion threats. "Kashmiri Pandits weren't the only people who were made refugees by terrorists," Kashif said with feeling. He had always wanted to be in the business of hospitality and next big dream is to open a hotel in Dubai. "Why not in India?" I asked. He replied that it is very difficult to do business here.
My meal with Zilli alternating with Kashif, Manish and an old friend, image consultant Pareina Thapar, started with minestrone soup -- I loved the way it was served just the way I have been having it since childhood, without any modernist interventions. Next came the crispy fried squid tossed with fresh chilli, garlic chips and coriander -- a temptress, it's one dish that would keep drawing me back at Zerruco by Zilli, as would the silky wild mushroom risotto. The Margherita Pizza was, again, just the way you'd have it in Naples.
Another Italian classic, Melanzane alla Parmigiana, layers of fried aubergine with tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil, was also presented without any fuss or frills, and the vegetarian tagliatelle was brought alive by a red pepper sauce. But the show-stoppers were the pan-roasted seabass fillet with fennel and orange salad, potatoes and spiced red wine sauce, and the Cicchetti Lamb, which is a mover and seller at Manchester's acclaimed Italian restaurant after which this pan-roasted rack of lamb with a red wine glaze takes its name. It's home-style Italian fare whose beauty is that it is well-made and connects with the soul.
With Zilli's life being regular fodder for my favourite U.K. newspaper, Daily Mail, there's not a nugget of it that is not known to the reading public, so I merrily flaunted my knowledge of his stiletto ravioli, which he had originally designed for the U.K. edition of Vogue. He quickly produced two of them, the green (and more popular) one being stuffed with mushroom and ricotta, served with asparagus and tomato mascarpone sauce.
The baked dark chocolate and chilli fondant complemented with vanilla ice-cream was the fitting finale to the treat. Zilli proudly declared that it beat the entry by a Michelin-starred chef on a television show. Well, Zilli doesn't need a Michelin star to prove his credentials. He has mastered the art of stunning simplicity.

Friday, 20 December 2013

DINING OUT: Indian Accent Shows One More Time Why It's Unshakably No. 1

WHERE: Indian Accent, The Manor, 77, Friends Colony (West)
WHEN: 12 noon to 3 p.m.; 7 to 11 p.m.
DIAL: +91-11-43235151; +91-9871117968

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHEN A chef comes visiting from Nairobi, where does one take him out for a meal? I suggested the Cyber Hub, which I regard as a foodie continent that must be replicated in all cities where people have to wrestle with dining-out options, but Karan Suri, whom I have known since the days when he set up Le Cirque and Megu at The Leela Palace in Chanakyapuri, said his wife's dream was to have Manish Mehrotra's warm doda burfi treacle tart at the Indian Accent.
Manish Mehrotra (seated, with a young
colleague behind him) has reasons to be
proud of the dish he's holding -- duck
khurchan and flamed foie gras in a
masala cornetto. It combines a wow
taste with inventiveness. Seated on the
table is the most unusual yet perfect
marriage of seared prawns, churan ka
, quinoa puffs and 

 melon crisp. Image: Courtesy of
Ramesh Sharma, Mail Today.

The wife's will had to prevail (and who were we to strike down a meal at one of the country's finest restaurants?), so we went to Indian Accent for a lazy lunch over a bottle of Sula Dindori Reserve Shiraz 2010, my favourite red wine, and an at-times disheartening conversation on the state of hospitality education.
The conversation, enlivened by Manish, whom Karan had known from their days on the sets of the India-Pakistan cookery show, Foodistan, was provoked by my observation that the syllabus at hotel management institutes around the country doesn't reflect the vast changes that have taken place in the business of food. New concerns, new ingredients, new techniques and new talent are powering restaurant menus, and age or experience is no longer a barrier to entry, as I realised when I tasted the outstanding spread of Manish's acolyte, 26-year-old Saurabh Udinia, at the Masala Library in the Bandra Kurla Centre (BKC), Mumbai.
It is this newness of thinking that oozes out of every helping of Manish's winter menu executed by his 'other half' -- his old team-mate Shantanu Mehrotra (they're not related). We were privileged to preview it, for Manish was keen to know what we felt about it before unveiling it to Indian Accent's patrons next week.
To give you an idea of the newness of the menu, I must start with the dish that came at the end -- slow-cooked lamb shank in corn malai with pink peppers. It was Manish's reinterpretation of the Kashmiri/Iranian aab gosht, or mutton cooked with milk, saffron and spices, but the replacement of milk with corn malai and the touch of pink peppers gave the preparation a consistency and layers of texture that are missing in the original.
The same inventive jugglery and interplay of textures was evident in the chicken tikka meatballs served on a bed of chopped tomato makhni. You can in fact make the chicken tikka meatballs at home by roughly chopping semi-cooked chicken tikka pieces, rolling them with chicken mince,  and then frying the balls before cooking in a makhni gravy. You'll find these a welcome departure from uni-textured chicken mince balls.
The same degree of thinking out of the box has gone into the Kashmiri morel mussallam (it's indeed a treat to bite into a plum morel!) served with crushed roast walnuts and parmesan papad; duck khurchan and flamed foie gras in a masala cornetto; fish baked with Amritsari masala butter and served on a bed of sarson ka sag and makki ki roti (I'll go back again just for this dish); and pork belly cooked in a gravy of walnuts and prunes. Even the amuse bouche -- mini blue cheese naan with corn shorba shot -- was a mini gastronomic experience.
Indian Accent's guardian angels have retained the old favourites, especially the meetha achar Chilean spare ribs served with sun-dried mango and toasted kalonji seeds; the incredible anar and churan kulfi sorbet; and the unmissable kulchas (especially the one filled with chilli hoisin duck). You can have all of these, or a bit of some, but whatever you do, don't leave without my favourite dessert -- besan laddoo tart, mithai cheesecake and winter fruits. It's a fitting finale to a meal that'll leave you in a state of levitation that's said to be induced by substances of another kind!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

FORTUNE COOKIE: Meet the Man Who Invented Tuna Pizza

This column first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated December 19, 2013. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers. If you wish to see the original page, please click on the link given here and then go to Page 17.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Masaharu Morimoto strikes a pose
with his sashimi knives at Wasabi,
his signature restaurant at the Taj
Mahal Hotel, New Delhi.
A COUPLE of months back, Ankur Chawla, ex-Taj staffer and author of 14 Hours, a gripping first-person account of the 26/11 terror attacks, was remembering Masaharu Morimoto from the pre-opening days of Wasabi, the Japanese-American chef's signature restaurant at the Taj Mahal Hotel in New Delhi. Chawla said he was taken by surprise to see an internationally renowned chef with a ponytail moving around anonymously in a T-shirt, shorts and sneakers.
So, you can imagine my surprise when I sat down to interview Morimoto, looking just the way Chawla had described him, shielded by a neat pile of tempting petit fours on the layered dish that hoteliers call a 'charlie'. I started by asking him if he remembered his 'acolyte' Akira Back, the Korean-American who has just opened his eponymous restaurant at the J.W. Marriott in the Aerocity, and that was enough to draw the normally reserved chef into an animated conversation.
He said he had not seen Akira Back till he went to dine at his restaurant Yellowtail in Las Vegas and that the chef-restaurateur who insists he's Morimoto's protege is not the inventor of the tuna pizza. Of course, he said with an impish smile, he did not mind being flattered by imitators. "I am not a celebrity, but the media has made me into one," Morimoto declared, adding that now it seemed all he had to do was "just talk, talk, talk".
Well, he shouldn't be complaining about being a celebrity, for he owes his worldwide fame to the Fuji TV reality show, Iron Chef, and its U.S. spinoff, Iron Chef AmericaA shoulder injury had made Morimoto opt out of Major League baseball and start training as a sushi and kaiseki (Japanese haute cuisine) chef, before he got to own a restaurant in Hiroshima. He first wanted to go to America, to cash in on what he now calls the "sushi boom", during the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984. He had to postpone his plan by a year because he took that long to find a buyer for his restaurant. When he finally left for the U.S. in 1985, he had with him "the cheapest" round-trip ticket and his flight from Hiroshima to New York had three stopovers -- Osaka, Seoul and Anchorage. He had booked a round-trip ticket because he was certain he would have to go back home, but he never got to use it for the return flight.
After working at different restaurants in his adopted city, the as-yet-unknown chef took charge of the Japanese kitchen at the Sony Club, which was the private dining room of top directors of the Sony Corporation, and was hired by Nobu Matsuhisa, the man who's synonymous with modern Japanese cuisine, to open the first Nobu in New York as executive chef in 1994.
Having worked and trained under the master, Morimoto launched his own restaurant in Philadelphia in 2001. It became as famous for its Japanese cuisine with western touches as for its exuberant decor. "Food is only 30 per cent," Morimoto said to me, underlining the salience of "design, decor, music, atmosphere," and then quickly added the caveat: "But it is my 100 per cent. I can't control your mood, but I can make the taste of my food change it."
I asked him about his invention, tuna pizza, or why he calls sashimi, carpaccio on the menu, and he said, "I have made the entrance wider for people who were not aware of Japanese food. I want to bring the customer to my cuisine." Morimoto is a gifted chef with a sharp eye on business and the talent to manage talent, which, I guess, is the only way you can run multiple restaurants. "I am like a conductor of a symphony," Morimoto said, making gestures to show a conductor wielding his baton. "I manage different skills and talents."
He said that before a chef joins a Morimoto restaurant, he or she has to spend three weeks at either Philadelphia or New York. Before opening any restaurant, he trains the chefs personally for a month and only after he's satisfied with their work, he allows the ribbon-cutting. "I have good chefs in each restaurant," he said in reply to my question on being able to maintain consistency across his many establishments.
Since 2001, awards, accolades and new restaurant openings have been Morimoto's constant companions. Morimoto opened Wasabi at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower in Mumbai when it was still early days for his restaurant empire, which now stretches from Philly to Hawaii, via Napa Valley and Tokyo, but the move worked.
The challenge was to maintain a consistent supply line for ingredients. "The important thing was how and from where to source fresh fish for the Indian market," Morimoto said, adding that he has managed the issue with his suppliers in Japan. The other departure for him was a menu that is 50 per cent vegetarian, but a creative chef finds his way around every speed-breaker. Morimoto created the corn tempura, for instance, as an alternative to his best-selling rock shrimp tempura. He has mastered the art of catering to the local palate. All he insists is that his ten signatures must be on the menu of each of the Morimoto restaurants. I asked him in what ways is Mumbai is different from Delhi. In Mumbai, Morimoto said, people have money, so they spend on good food; in Delhi, people travel, so they seek out the food they had on their last vacation.
Morimoto is a great believer in the TPO (Time Place Occasion) theory. You've got to be at the right time, at the right place, with the right product. There's more, though, to the success of Morimoto, and who can say it better than he? "If we have been successful, it is not because we are lucky," he said. "The timing of our entry may have been right, but we also have done a good job." People who've dined at Wasabi, although the meal may have set them back substantially, would agree with the Iron Chef.

HEMANT OBEROI can justifiably claim to have logged more frequent flyer miles than any other Indian chef. His celebrity status dates back to the late 1990s, when he first attracted media notice with his Californian Indian (Cal-Indian) cuisine topped by the famous 'naanzza' (naan baked like a pizza with butter chicken sauce, mozzarella and tandoori chicken).
Fame comes at a price -- in Oberoi's case, it has meant he lives out of airports, hotels and suitcases on most days of the year as he goes around the world serving heads of state and showcasing Indian food at international festivals. In return, the Ferozepur-born corporate chef of Taj Hotels has had the privilege of getting Bill Clinton to eat dahi vada at the Ambani residence and of inspiring the former Conservative prime minister of Great Britain, John Major, to depart from state banquet protocol and asking for a second helping.
With so many anecdotes to share (many of which he'll have to carry with him to his afterlife), and so much to offer to cookery enthusiasts, I had always wondered why Oberoi hadn't put his recipes, including those of his modernist interpretations of traditional Indian dishes, together in one book. Arvind Saraswat, another Taj veteran, did it before him, but his work, The Gourmet Indian Cookbook, where he floated the idea of fruit-based sauces, did not find many takers. Oberoi has finally taken the plunge and he unveiled The Masala Art: Indian Haute Cuisine (Roli Books) last week at the Taj Palace restaurant after which the book is named.
My first take-away from the book was Oberoi's long working day. How does a man manage to look so happy and not seem to age when he reports for work at 9 a.m. and calls it a day at 11:30 p.m., which is the time he reaches home and  goes to bed after having his customary cup of tea. What I like about the recipes is that though they come with a twist (Beetroot Lassi, Lemongrass Rasam, Crab Samosas and Masala Chai Kulfi, for instance), and the dishes look like works of art, they are easy to follow by hobby cooks who wish to add a dash of zing to their family meals or wow their guests at a family meal.

IT IS a privilege to be born with a surname revered in 165 countries and a fixture in the recipes of more than 300 cocktails. Alfred Cointreau represents the sixth generation of a drink that was born when Edouard Cointreau (not to be confused with the man who founded the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards) perfected the recipe for it in 1875. Unsurprisingly, Alfred, 26, who believes in travelling out of his home city, Angers in the Loire Valley, after every two weeks, is passionate about his official role: Cointreau Heritage Manager. He showed it on his recent visit to New Delhi, where he was a star at the popular speakeasy, PCO at Vasant Vihar.
"At the beginning you have an orange peel and at the end the 'heart'," Alfred said, describing the production process of Cointreau. The orange liqueur, or triple sec, depends entirely on what Alfred calls the "perfect balance" of the four ingredients -- sweet and bitter peels sourced from Brazil, Ghana, Haiti and Spain, and selected by the master distiller, Bernadette Langleis; alcohol derived from beetroots; and sugar. Peels of three oranges go into each bottle of Cointreau (and 15 million of them are produced every year) and these are macerated in alcohol and water for six months before sugar is added during the distillation process. It's amazing how the world's best things have the simplest origins.

MY personal dial-an-encyclopaedia for the pleasures of life that come in liquid form, Vikram Achanta of, astounded me the other day by pointing out Great Britain drinks three times more beer than India. The poms deserve the suffix 'Great'! Imagine a nation of 63 million people outperforming one with a population of 1.25 billion by three to one!
Now that I have entertained you with useless information, do follow Achanta's lead and order a 'In the Rocks' at The Aviary, the highly acclaimed Chicago cocktail lounge and restaurant of the famous Grant Achatz (of Alinea fame) and Nick Kokonas. This cocktail is not served on the rocks; instead, it comes in a sphere made with ice. Ice is so important on The Aviary's menu that it has an ice chef, entrusted with the job of devising newer ways to use ice in unheard-of ways!

Friday, 13 December 2013

DINING OUT: The Monkey Bar Has Arrived with Food in its Soul

This review first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated 13/12/2013. Please go to Page 23 after clicking on Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

WHERE: Commercial Centre, C 6 & 7,  Vasant Kunj (Adjacent to Kotak Mahindra Bank and Mini Cooper showroom)
WHEN: 12 noon to 12 midnight
DIAL: (011) 41095155
MEAL FOR TWO (WITHOUT ALCOHOL): Rs 1,200+++ (vegetarian) / Rs 1,800 (non-vegetarian)

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A cosy nook at the city's most
anticipated new bar, which has
been designed for conversations
over soul food and alcohol
with new friends
MONKEY BAR couldn't have a more appropriate name. It makes a monkey out of the idea of stuffy dining, which is ironic because its lead chef and co-owner, Manu Chandra, is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who earned his spurs at Olive Bar & Kitchen in Bangalore. It makes a monkey out of hierarchies, what Delhiites revel in, because its gastro-pub seating promotes the practice of strangers becoming friends after an evening well spent in the company of good food, one's favourite poison and people you'd like to know.
And it makes a monkey out of the mindset of the city's bar owners, who believe, and it's impossible to stir their conviction, that a watering hole can rock only if it gets under-aged drinkers drooling at the thought of popping their alcoholic cherry in the company of loud teenagers who puke as much as they imbibe. It is a bar for grown-ups who believe in food and alcohol being the lubricants of intelligent conversation (in the afternoons, it doubles as a restaurant for families). The deejay does pump up the volume as the evening progresses, but the music is just what a particular generation likes to hear, or shake a leg to, and it allows you to hear yourself.
After garnering awards and accolades in its first year in Bangalore, Monkey Bar has opened at the glass pyramid in the C-6 & 7 Commercial Centre, Vasant Kunj, where the famed Ministry of Sound arrived from London and opened in a blaze of hype and expectations some seven years ago. It didn't survive after upsetting the residents in the neighbourhood, who complained about having to see young men and women totter out of the club at a time when elderly people would be taking their morning walks.
The RWA got into the act and got Ministry of Sound out, and people started whispering about the vaastu of the place not being right. I was talking about the place with a restaurateur friend a couple of days back and even he complained about the bad vaastu, but the problem was the Ministry of Sound formula (overcrowded weekends, under-age clientele and extended hours), not vaastu. Monkey Bar is all that Ministry of Sound wasn't -- it's the new watering hole of the generation that has had its share of binge drinking and snogging in public places, and is now seeking out a place where like-minded people gather to exchange ideas or just have fun, and go back home before the Cinderella Hour.
Wholesome comfort food is what really sets apart Monkey Bar, which is to be expected from a chef who loves to get his hands dirty in the kitchen, and from his mentor, AD Singh, who believes it's good food that draws people to restaurants, especially in a discerning city such as Delhi. Monkey Bar raises everyday food to a brilliant new level. I started my evening with Tiger Steak, silken fillets of Bangalore steak wok-tossed with pok choy in a South-East Asian spice mix that's impossible to forget much after the meal.
After the flying start (literally, because I had a drop of Blair's Original Death Sauce with bhoot jolokia), the rest of the meal was a procession of food that touches a heart: bacon-wrapped tandoori sausage dog; jumbo wings with sour cream and blue cheese dip; MoBar Bork, or double-cooked crispy pork belly that just melts in the mouth; Liver on Toast, where the toast also comes slathered with chicken liver pate; Chilli Brain -- minimal and memorable; Bang Bang Prawns -- simple yet sexy; and the addictive sticky date pudding with toffee sauce. In the spirit of Monkey Bar, our table had become a congregation of people I'd never met before, but we just connected over food. You'd expect it at your friendly neighbourhood bar, wouldn't you?

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Taj's Grand Master, Hemant Oberoi, Unveils his First Book and a Tempting New Menu at Masala Art

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

ONE OF the biggest mistakes The Oberoi group made was not to hire Hemant Oberoi. He was asked to tweak his surname because there could be only one Oberoi in the group. The young man destined to become the country's most accomplished chef of his generation refused to relent. Instead, he joined the Taj, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Hemant Oberoi, Corporate Chef, Taj
Hotels, unwinds at Masala Art, the
restaurant he created 12 years ago at
the Taj Palace in New Delhi. This

picture has been taken by Hoihnu
Hauzel, journalist and food writer.
I met the Corporate Chef of the Taj Hotels at Masala Art, where he was celebrating the launch of his debut book, The Masala Art: Indian Haute Cuisine (Roli Books), 12 years after the restaurant, one of his three famous babies, opened at the Taj Palace in New Delhi and revolutionised the way people looked at our country's gastronomic heritage. It made good old-fashioned ganne ka ras (sugarcane juice) sexy. It gave a new spin to the everyday phulka by getting it made a la minute on a trolley by the table. It introduced the fashion of cooking in olive oil and pairing kebabs and curries with wine. Its menu carried art by Paresh Maity and Prabhakar Kolte, and on its walls hung the works of Jitish Kallat -- that was when nobody knew him. It did away with live ghazals in favour of contemporary piped music.
In other words, it did what no Indian restaurant had dared to do before. Since Masala Art, as Oberoi said with his characteristic blunt wit, there have been many CCPs (cut, copy and paste restaurants), but the original has stood its ground and spread to Mumbai -- Masala Kraft at the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower and the more seafood-driven Masala Bay at Taj Land's End -- as well as Bangalore in the avatar of Masala Klub.
Oberoi subsequently developed two stellar new concepts -- Blue Ginger, the country's first Vietnamese restaurant (first in Bangalore and then in Delhi), and thereafter Varq at the Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, which introduced the city to Oberoi's Indian take on haute cuisine -- but Masala Art remains his most definitive contribution. It is only appropriate therefore that he has chosen to name his first book after the restaurant.
"What next?" I asked the grand master. "Wait till next year," he replied. "I am presenting a concept that I have been working on for seven years. The restaurant will be the first of its kind in India." Oberoi did not elaborate, but he did rev up my imagination.
The first thing that struck me as I leafed through the lavishly illustrated book is the work schedule he still follows. He may have served presidents and prime ministers (in fact, if he writes a book on the dignitaries he has fed, it will be a runaway best-seller), but his working day still stretches from 9 in the morning to 11:30 at night, when he returns home to a cup of tea. It reminded me of the early days of Masala Art.
In the course of an interview, I asked him whether he ever gets family time. He narrated a very funny story. He said that people he knew described their growing children in terms of their height, but he could only talk about his two sons in terms of their length, because he always saw them sleeping. It's surprising that the two boys have followed in their father's footsteps, but they must have been fired by the awards and accolades he has earned in his crowded life.
That was also the time when the then prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, insisted on taking Oberoi around the world so that he could showcase the best of Indian cuisine in official banquets. I asked Oberoi how it was to live out of travel bags, hotel rooms and airport lounges. He said he works on restaurant concepts on flights because he gets uncluttered time only when he's flying! Unsurprisingly, he doesn't let his mind rest even after he launches a new restaurant.
At Masala Art, for instance, he has launched a new menu, which is more national in character. It has beauties such as the broccoli and kaffir lime shorba, crab masaledar (or peppered edamame for the vegetarians) in filo, balchao seabass, bhatti ke asparagus, haleemi gilawati (a refreshing departure from the standard gilawati kebab), ghee roast chicken (Oberoi has retrieved an original recipe of this favourite dish of Aishwarya Rai's community, the Bunts of Kundapura in Karnataka's famed Udupi district, dating back to the 19th century), bharwan guchchi with malai ki sabzi (stuffed king-size morels with a curry made with cream), and an amazing gajar ka halwa filo cigar with rabdi, fresh strawberry elaneer payasam and malt kulfi, which must rank as one of the chef's most striking innovations.
His proverbial rabbits from the magician's hat, though, were the see-through glass mini-handis for the dum ki biryani, which the renowned German glassware makers, Schott Zwiesel, took two years to develop. Oberoi's brief to them was that they should produce a glass handi so that each portion of biryani is cooked individually in the oven and the chefs are able to see it rise. It takes a grand master to visualise a product that turns a meal into a gastronomic journey.

Young French Chef from Bouvet Ladubay Family Shows It's Easy to Make Cabbages Kings

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IT'S NOT hard to recognise a creative chef. She turns the simplest of dishes into a gastronomic experience. Choux farcis is peasant food -- it's an unpretentious cabbage roll, as old as civilisation. But not in the hands of Marie Monmousseau, younger daughter of Patrice Monmousseau, the charismatic CEO of Bouvet Ladubay, the Loire Valley cremant (sparkling wine) brand that Vijay Mallya's United Spirits Limited had acquired from Starwood Capital in 2006 after the French government scuttled his bid for Champagne Taittinger.
Marie Monmousseau (left), formerly with Zuma, Le
Petite Maison and Locanda Locatelli in London, with
her sister Juliette at the  Bouvet Ladubay dinner
at ITC Gardenia in Bangalore earlier in the week
She has worked in London as a chef for ten years, working up the kitchen hierarchy at Zuma, Le Petite Maison and Locanda Locatelli, whose Dubai restaurant she opened and ran for a couple of years, but Marie Monmousseau believes a good chef must have the talent to turn around an everyday dish into a gourmet sensation. She left her six-month-old son back home for her week-long cooking tour of Mumbai and Bangalore, where she cooked up little storms with her gourmet re-interpretations of home food.
Accompanied by her multi-talented sister Juliette (a film distributor and graphics designer who's now helping her father with the wine business), Marie reinvented choux farcis by replacing the traditional filling of pork with duck mince and adding foie gras, which is strategically positioned at the centre, dried ceps (or porcini), black truffles from picturesque Perigord, in the region of Aquitaine between the Loire Valley and the Pyrenees, and onions. It was to be the main course at a Bouvet Ladubay dinner that was being hosted later in the evening at the ITC Grand Central in Lower Parel, Mumbai. Marie treated me to a sneak preview -- and it was enough to convince me that she had the talent to turn the everyday into the exceptional.
I was sharing the table at Shanghai Club, where the young chef from Chengdu served us a hearty 'working lunch', with Abhay Kewadkar, the force behind the UB Group's foray into wine with the Four Seasons brand, and Kuldeep Bhartee, the hotel's general manager and a world traveller who has been even to Hungary and Turkey in search of new wines. It was a conversation that skimmed many topics -- from the horror of the 26/11 attacks on the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Mumbai, to the silken beauty of the Four Seasons Barrique Reserve Shiraz 2009, which followed the sparkler from Loire Valley, to my observation that Shanghai Club has got to emerge out of the shadow of its hugely famous big brother, Kebabs & Kurries. Shanghai Club has opened at the WelcomHotel Dwarka in New Delhi and you'll soon be reading about it, but I can guarantee, without having gone there yet, that it wouldn't disappoint you.
The lunch started with canapes with two different toppings -- black olives and capers, and duck liver -- that were so perfectly executed that I wondered why even our finest establishments haven't nourished the culture of serving canapes that stir up the appetite and not just quell hunger pangs. The canapes were just right for the bubbles of Bouvet, which incidentally is the pouring sparkling wine at Cannes, and is exported to more than 40 countries. Sufficiently lubricated with alcohol, our lunch ended with what is known in the Monmousseau family as Le Gateau du Marie and Creme Anglaise (the understated custard was the perfect accompaniment to the cake, which disappeared without a trace!). Le Gateau du Marie is a chocolate fudge cake, but what makes it strikingly different is that it is dusted with sesame seeds along its outer perimeter. That gives the slightly gooey cake a crunchy finish. It's an inspired juxtaposition of textures, which only a six-year-old (which is how old Marie was when she first made this cake) could have done without caring for the consequences!
Marie is all set to launch her own restaurant, Le Route du Sel, at the Bouvet Ladubay estate in February on the banks of the Loire. Le Route du Sel, Marie explained, allude to the old trade route used by salt merchants to transport the commodity across the river. The name couldn't have been more appropriate -- salt, after all, is at the base of most food (and is now even being used increasingly in desserts). From the pictures Marie showed, Le Route du Sel is a cosy 40-seater (the seating will be raised to 120 in the summer so that diner can soak up the mellow sun) with warm Mediterranean colours. Just what you'd expect out of a restaurant showcasing Marie's brand of home-style gastronomy.
Juliette has been talking to Indian travel agents who organise bespoke tours to put the Bouvet Ladubay estate in Saumur on their map. It already attracts more than 40,000 tourists every year. They go to see 'The Sunken Cathedral' in the wine cellars in the depths of the quarried-out tunnels and caves from where monks in the 11th century took out white stones to build the powerful La Belle d'Anjou Abbey. The Sunken Cathedral is a contemporary sculptor's tribute to the architecture of the abbey enhanced with music and light,  turning the walk down the wine cellars into a spiritual experience.
The Bouvet Ladubay tourist experience also includes a visit to the Full Metal, the 14,000-sq-m, state-of-the-art winery run in parts by robots, which was inaugurated in 2008 by the then Indian ambassador to France (and later the country's foreign secretary) Ranjan Mathai and Vijay Mallya. Kewadkar said you can see the whole of the winery only if you bicycle around it! After quenching their thirst for wine knowledge, tourists move on to the Contemporary Art Centre, which houses the work of some of the foremost European artists, and the private theatre, which is also popular today for business meetings. Juliette said Marie's restaurant will complete this experience, giving tourists yet another reason to visit Bouvet Ladubay. Wine, food and art -- could one ask for more?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sixth-Generation Cointreau Shares the Secrets of the Success of his Family Legacy

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IT IS not enough to have an exalted family name to assure you a corner office in the Remy Cointreau business empire. Alfred Cointreau knows this better than anyone else.
The sixth-generation inheritor of a great legacy, and the only one of his 15 cousins to follow in the footsteps of Edouard Cointreau, his famous forebear, Alfred, 27, started his working life unloading dried orange peels, the foundation of his family's business, sourced from suppliers in Spain, Africa and South America.
As Cointreau Heritage Manager,
Alfred Cointreau was on his first visit
to India, where he arrived after
travelling to Beijing, Shanghai,
Kuala Lumpur and Singapore
Each bottle of Cointreau, the world's most popular orange liqueur, which is sold in 165 nations and goes into making more than 350 varieties of cocktails, uses up the dried peels of three oranges. With an annual production of 15 million bottles, therefore, Cointreau consumes several hundred thousand sacks of orange peels year after year. And the oranges, I was informed by Alfred, are made into jams and marmalades in their countries of origin even before the peels dry up.
After dirtying his hands unloading sacks of orange peels, Alfred spent the rest of his initiation year under the wings of Cointreau's master distiller, Bernadette Langlais, in Angers (France), picking the best peels for the production process (you need to develop the nose of a perfumer for this delicate art) and then master the science of distillation.
"You can't learn my job sitting behind a computer. When I completed my first distillation, I had tears in my eyes," Alfred recalled when he met me at one of the board rooms on the 28th floor of the ITC Maurya Towers. "I go back to the stills every six months to make sure I don't forget the basics." As Cointreau's Heritage Manager, a position that makes him the face of the product to bartenders and journalists around the world, Alfred cannot afford to do it.
When I asked Alfred why his company sources orange peels from so many different suppliers, he pointed out that the quality of orange peels can vary in one country from year to year because of weather conditions. Langlais travels around the world each year to zero in on the oranges whose peels she would use. Spain, Brazil, Haiti and Ghana, though, have consistently supplied orange peels to the world's largest consumer of this commodity.
Like a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat, Alfred brought out two orange peels from a little bag that travels with him around the world. One was orange and sweet, bursting with exuberant floral aromas once it was cracked open to release its essential oils, and the other, bitter and mottled green, which was more understated. Edouard Cointreau's recipe, which has remained unchanged since he perfected it in 1875, is all about achieving the "perfect balance" between the flavours of the two.
Cointreau has four ingredients: pure alcohol derived from sugar beet, water, orange peels and sugar (240 gm per litre). In the first stage of production, the orange peels are macerated for six months in pure alcohol and water. What follows is distillation in 13 column stills with elongated swan necks and made only with red copper.
"Between the distillation stills and the bottle is the reduction process," Alfred explained, producing from his bag of goodies three bottles of distillates labelled Head, Heart and Tail. It is the Heart that has all the flavours. It is the chosen one that goes into the final product. The reduction process is essentially about stabilising the alcohol content at 40 per cent -- it is completed in two stages, first with water and then with sugar. "At the beginning you have a peel and at the end you have the heart," Alfred added dramatically -- he didn't have to try very hard to prove he's the best man for his job!
Edouard Cointreau called his product a 'triple sec' because the flavours were three times more concentrated with many times less sugar than other orange liqueurs -- 240 gm versus upwards of 300 in the case of others. These qualities make Cointreau a dependable ally of bartenders and they have made it the soul of three iconic cocktails -- Margarita, Sidecar and Cosmopolitan. Bartenders around the world are constantly reinventing classical recipes, using ingredients as different as apples, peaches and cherries in France and kaffir lime and galangal in Singapore, but Cointreau has been the constant.
Not surprisingly, Alfred doesn't like to be in his office for more than two weeks at a time. He wants to travel, to connect with bartenders around the world, to discover more about the Cointreau heritage. "I don't want to be just an email address for the men and women who work for the brand," he said. With Cointreau selling in 165 nations, Alfred shouldn't have worries on one count -- travel. He has lots of it to do in his lifetime.

Monday, 9 December 2013

From Rome with White Truffles and Michelin Star Touch

This review first appeared in Mail Today on November 29, 2013. I am reproducing it now because a number of my friends, professional contacts and readers missed it in the newspaper.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

I HAVE often wondered why certain chefs get Michelin stars and the rest of the world doesn't. Is there a massive PR machinery or a gargantuan corporation that propels a chef into this exclusive club? Or do they earn their greatness as a result of the sheer brilliance of their talent?
After having a meal prepared by Francesco Apreda at Travertino, The Oberoi's Italian restaurant, which is these days redolent of the aroma of the season's freshest white truffles from Alba, I am convinced that it takes a powerhouse of skills and imagination to get a Michelin star. Apreda, whose tall, lean athletic frame makes him look more like a footballer than a chef, presides over the Imago restaurant at the Hassler, the classic hotel that stands tall on top of the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Francesco Apreda presides over Imago,
a restaurant offering a 360-degree view
of Rome from the top floor of the Hassler
perched above the Spanish Steps
Perched on Hassler's topmost floor, Imago is famous for the amazing 360-degree views it offers of Rome's histoic landmarks, but Apreda ensures that the meals with a view are remembered as much for the gastronomic experience and the artistry on the plate. What makes him doubly interesting is the mastery with which he melds Japanese elements -- from miso and shichimi to sake and seasonal flowers -- into his modern Italian cooking style.
He's also the first Italian chef I have known who carries a test tube filled with a blend of peppers from six different geographical regions, including Thalassery (Tellicherry), and ground sesame, which he uses to lend his risotto a well-travelled flavour. Marco Polo would have loved Apreda's risotto. Japanese chefs have incorporated French influences to create the much-acclaimed Japonaise cuisine. Apreda can legitimately claim that he's the inventor of the Italo-Japanese cuisine and he knows his Japanese ingredients very well because he has worked for many years in Japan.
Insular Italian chefs may find it difficult to digest the blasphemy of this cultural cross-pollination, but Apreda's cuisine is all about bringing diverse aromas and flavours to the global table. And to raise the oomph value of his menu, he has brought with him his personal hoard of white truffles from Alba. This has been a good year for truffles because of steady showers throughout Italy's summer, so the prices are in the 'manageable' range of 4,000-6,500 euros for a kilo. Last year's crop, which had been hit by unseasonal rains, started at 6,000 euros.
So when Apreda brings a truffle covered in a bell jar and shaves it delicately into your onion and wild mushroom soup with a touch of red miso, goat's cheese and a herb tempura, treat it with respect. See how the shavings transform a humble fried egg served with a delicate cauliflower dressing, toasted almonds and celeriac. And taste the difference the combination of white truffles and shichimi, or togarashi, the Japanese chilli-hot seven spice mixture, makes to Parmesan ravioli served in a cold tuna broth spiked with bonito flakes and craft beer. It's not for nothing that truffles bring back memories of torrid sex.
But you don't need truffles to give you that sense of wow when Apreda presents his sake-glazed black cod with a purple foam and flowers of the same hue. It's a masterpiece. When it was presented to my host, Henry Moses, Country Manager, Qatar Airways, he whipped out his Galaxy to take pictures. "You can't eat this work of art without shooting pictures of it," he said. Henry looked visibly happy that the airline has partnered with the white truffles promotion by flying Apreda in.
The Italian master is an equally accomplished dessert chef. Like a good Italian son, he has reinterpreted his Napolitan mother's shell-shaped pastries, sfogliatelle, by giving them the samosa look, and serving cherry sauce and green tea ice-cream on the side with white truffles. He raises the bar even for the vanilla bean ice-cream by presenting it like a tapestry with caramelised hazelnuts, Valrhona emulsion, salt crystals and white truffles. You don't get a Michelin star for nothing.

The Claridges Sees Changes at the Top and Hosts Spanish Michelin-Starred Chef at Sevilla

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE CLARIDGES in New Delhi is in the throes of transition. Oliver Martin, the quietly efficient regional general manager who had kick-started a major turnaround of the hotel, has left the organisation and been replaced by Atul Lall, for whom it's been a homecoming.
After heading signature hotels of The Oberoi and Taj groups, Lall was appointed general manager of The Claridges New Delhi in 2005, but he left the hotel in 2007 to become the COO-International of Berggruen Hotels, an operator of mid-market hotels known for its Keys brand in India, and then he successfully opened the country's first Fairmont in Jaipur.
The Majorcan Michelin-starred chef, Andreu Genestra,
will present his native specialties and the genre-defining
New Catalan cuisine with his own twist at Sevilla
In the middle of these changes, the hotel's much-acclaimed al fresco Mediterranean restaurant, Sevilla, will see a 30-year-old Spanish Michelin one-star chef unveil his culinary genius on December 10. He'll be the second Michelin-starred chef to arrive in Delhi after Francesco Apreda, who came from the Imago restaurant at the Hotel Hassler in Rome to The Oberoi last month with a bag full of enticing white truffles and his own brand of Italian cuisine with a Japanese touch. (See my review of Apreda at Travertino that first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated November 29.)
Starting as a dishwasher at the age of 16, Andreu Genestra has interned for two seasons at Andoni Luis Aduriz’s iconic Mugaritz restaurant, worked at the home of Juan Mari Arzak, one of the masters of New Basque cuisine, and with Ferran Adria at El Bulli and the Alsatian-born celebrated Barcelona restaurateur, Jean Louis Neichel. This varied exposure has given Genestra the skills and the breadth of vision to straddle the worlds of both his native Majorcan kitchen and the genre-defining New Catalan cuisine.
He is now the chef-owner of his eponymous restaurant at Hotel Predi Son Jaumell in the Majorcan town of Capdepera. The restaurant is as famous for reviving the indigenous low-gluten Xeixa wheat variety in the attached farm, and using it to make breads, cakes and even its own beer, as for what the Michelin Guide calls its "enticing" set menus.
The Guide, in its short review, has this to say about Genestra's establishment: "A restaurant with a delightful porch-covered terrace and a pleasant dining room, whose decor is restrained yet elegant. The à la carte is very much contemporary in feel and based around local and organic ingredients. Enticing gastronomic set menus."
A TripAdvisor reviewer from England narrates his experience: "Four of us tried the 35€ dinner menu, which was both original and creative. The fish course arrived in its cooking bag. The setting inside was a bit minimalist but the service was most attentive. We plan to return and next time shall try the √† la carte menu, which has more choice."
The restaurant remains shut from November 16 to February 14, which is when Genestra travels around the world. His peregrinations have taken him to Brazil, France, Russia, Sweden, the U.K. and the U.S., and also to Kuwait, where he managed the royal family's kitchen and consulted with Lazurd, the upper-end caterer of the Middle East. Interestingly, his current menu features Coconut Rice with Brown Crab, Anchovy Dough and Kuwaiti Black Lemon Sauce.
Genestra's travels have gifted him an evolved worldview. Last month, he joined other Majorcan top chefs in the spectacular Hotel Castell Son Claret to prepare a fund-raising dinner for the benefit of the victims of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in the Philippines. For the big-ticket event, he prepared goat cheese gnocchi with consommé of sopas mallorquinas, which are thin slices of the Majorcan bread pan payes, and caper and truffle jam. And he served a mix of yoghurt ice-cream with apricot and cinnamon prepared with a traditional ice-cream maker.
Like all capable chefs, Genestra lets the ingredients, sourced from his backyard, do the talking. At his restaurant, he says, the vegetables are picked daily at the farm when they are at their flavourful best and the fruits still have the early frost of the morning. The olive oil is made with olives picked from the trees growing in the farm, the hens are fed with Xeixa wheat so that they benefit from the cereal's qualities, and soon, the restaurant will have its own wine produced from its own grapes.
The young chef is an ardent practitioner of the locavore philosophy of sustainable dining, but above all, he's a talented chef who promises to bring his brand of excitement to Sevilla, where evenings turn magical in these winter months.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Lite Bite Foods to Take Franchisee Route as it Powers A Major Expansion Plan

By  Sourish Bhattacharyya

LITE BITE FOODS launched itself in 2001 as the Indian master franchisee of Subway, when the international chain opened its first Indian outlet at Saket. Twelve years on, the Rs 120-crore F&B brand, which has seen a 30 per cent growth in its topline year-on-year, is looking for franchisees as it sets itself the target of becoming a Rs 500-crore company with more than 300 operational locations in 2014.
Amit Burman, Chairman, Lite Bite Foods, says, "The DNA
of our franchisees is very important for us."
Any talk of franchisees at once raises the spectre of compromised quality, but Lite Bite Foods Chairman Amit Burman, who's better known for turning the fruit juice brand Real into a 'real' success story, set at rest any doubts by stating: "The DNA of our franchisees is very important for us. And here's how we'll operate. Each outlet will be franchisee owned but operated by Lite Bite Foods. We will have a system of operation manuals, surprise visits and mystery shoppers in place to ensure consistency of quality."
This assurance comes at a time when Lite Bite Foods, an umbrella spanning 12 brands (four in casual dining and six quick service restaurants, one catering unit, and a growing chain of food courts) with a yearly footfall count of 2.5 million, is in the thick of expansion. Punjab Grill has spread its wings of Bangkok and Abu Dhabi; the upcoming Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Terminal 2 (439,000 sq. ft. when complete) in Mumbai will have 32 Lite Bite outlets; and the company is looking very seriously at international  expansion across Hong Kong, Dubai, London and the United States. Lite Bite Foods recently acquired Scalini, a fine-dining Italian restaurant in London, which the company now plans to take to more locations abroad.
Rohit Aggarwal (white shirt and hands in pockets), Director,
Lite Bite Foods, at the company's 7,000-square-foot
commissary in Udyog Vihar, Gurgaon
To give muscle to the company's drive for consistency across outlets, Lite Bite Foods opened a 7,000-sq-ft central commissary at its headquarters two years ago in Gurgaon with an investment of Rs 3.5 crore.
As Rohit Aggarwal, Director, Lite Bite Foods, gave me a guided tour of the gleaming facility, where 300 kilos of sauces for pastas and pizzas are produced daily (among many other products), he said the commissary serves three purposes: maintain the consistency and quality of food products at Lite Bite Foods outlets; reduce the time taken to develop new products from 45-60 days to two weeks; and reduce kitchen space across outlets, which is very important in this day and age of expensive real estate.
The commissary's product line extends from 60-70 kilos of batter for the idli, dosa and appam served at Lite Bite's airport outlets and 50 kilos of hummus to more than 7,000 pieces of bakery and confectionery items prepared daily, and right above it is the quality assurance and hygiene laboratory that keeps a hawk's eye on Lite Bite outlets. It consumes six tonnes of maida and two tonnes of atta per month. It supplies marinated meats and seafood to Foodhall outlets in Delhi and Mumbai. It has helped Lite Bite Foods achieve 15-20 per cent capital expenditure saving and brought its food cost down by 4 per cent. And it is the watch tower from where Burman and Aggarwal plan to ensure consistency across a network of franchisee outlets that will power their expansion plans.

DINING OUT: Go Dhan-Dhan-Dhansak with the Dikras at Soda Bottle Openerwala

WHERE: Ground Floor (it's closes to the main entrance), DLF Cyber Hub, Next to Building No. 8, Cyber City, Phase-II, Gurgaon
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.
DIAL: (0124) 6518801; (+91) 8527636633
AVE MEAL FOR TWO: Rs 1,200+++. The restaurant doesn't have an alcohol licence yet.

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
IT'S HARD to come up with one big idea in a lifetime, but AD Singh is like an ideas factory. The hugely successful restaurateur with an evolved sense of style has spawned three uniquely different restaurant concepts this year (and there's one more in the pipeline).
Soda Bottle Openerwala combines authentic good
food with the eccentricity of the decor of an Irani
cafe, a priceless yet dying institution of Mumbai

The year started with Le Bistro du Parc at Defence Colony, below the Moolchand Flyover, which introduced the city to the idea of bistronomy (a limited menu changing daily, depending on the best produce available in the market). Guppy by Ai followed at the Lodi Colony Market, where family-style Japanese dining has found an address and a loyal clientele who've ensured that it is impossible to find a seat at lunch or dinner if you go without reservation. And now comes Soda Bottle Openerwala, at the busy-as-a-beehive-on-steroids DLF Cyber Hub in Gurgaon, which I rate as the most daring and therefore doubly successful new restaurant to open in Delhi-NCR in many years.
Soda Bottle Openerwala is an Irani cafe, an institution that is gasping for breath in Mumbai, barring the two notable doughty exceptions -- Kyani Bakery and Britannia. The expression 'Irani cafe' at once brings back memories of bun-maska, dhansak, berry pulao, Duke's raspberry drink, nan-khatai and paani kam chai, and of course, Nissim Ezekiel's hilarious poem inspired by the notice at his favourite haunt, the late Bastani and Company at Dhobi Talao, Mumbai:
No talking to cashier / No smoking / No fighting / No credit / No outside food / No sitting long / No talking loud / No spitting / No bargaining / No water to outsiders / No change / No telephone / No match sticks / No discussing gambling / No newspaper / No combing / No beef / No leg on chair / No hard liquor allowed / No address inquiry — By Order." (I owe this gem to Jayshree Bajoria's story carried by the BBC News website,
To bring this institution back to life in a city that has been hardly exposed to it, AD Singh worked hard with his trusted lieutenants Mohit Balachandran (whom many of you may know as Chowder Singh of blogosphere) and Chef Sabyasachi 'Saby' Gorai (who has since left to launch his own consultancy), and a brilliant new hand, Anahita Dhondy, who worked at the Taj and JW Marriott after graduating from the prestigious Institute of Hotel Management in Aurangabad, and then went to Le Cordon Bleu in London to complete her culinary studies.
Dhondy, who's as pretty as she's accomplished at a very young age (she reminded me of the equally talented Naina De Bois-Juzan of Le Bistro du Parc), says she owes her knowledge of Parsi/Irani food entirely to her mother, Niloufer, who's a much sought-after caterer, and her grandmother's dhansak and sambhaar masalas -- the latter being a combination of 15 ingredients, including Kashmiri red chillies, garlic and heeng. She finishes, for instance, her hard-to-stop-drooling-over Salina Marghi (a light but tangy chicken curry with fried potato shavings on top) with gur and traditional Parsi vinegar, which is now produced by just one man in Navsari, Gujarat. That's a family secret, she says.
Soda Bottle Openerwala marries authentic good food, funky interiors that bring alive the eccentricities of Irani cafe decor, and lively music from the 1980s. But the killer app, without doubt, is the food -- ask for the mutton berry pulao (sprinkled with cranberries in the absence of zereshk, or barberries, that the Iranians love), salina marghi, bheeda par eeda (fried eggs, sunny side up, baked with okra), and wash the soul-satisfying meal down with old-fashioned cold coffee made with Nescafe or the Irani chai (where the Brooke Bond Red Label decoction is added to reduced milk), and yes, don't forget the Toblerone mousse (it's a most desirable sin to have been created by a woman!).
It's not for nothing that there's a stream of people walking into the restaurant at all times, and some are groaning about the long waiting period during lunch. AD & Co have given the Irani cafe a new lease of life at a place where you'd least expect it to be successful. It is a tribute both to Delhi/NCR's evolved palate and to AD's entrepreneurial instinct.
Just 22 of the 42 restaurants scheduled to open at DLF Cyber Hub are up and running, yet it already gets more than 10,000 footfalls a day. With restaurants such as Soda Bottle Openerwala, and Made In Punjab (Zorawar Kalra's ever-popular venture) or The Wine Company started by the Yo China-Dimsumbros trio (you'll read about it soon), I can see the number heading in just one direction -- north.