By Sourish Bhattacharyya
CHEF-RESTAURATEUR Nira Singh of Chez Nini fame is all set to be the first Indian to prepare a James Beard House dinner. The brownstone townhouse in the heart of Greenwich Village, New York City, where the man who transformed the American table lived and cooked for the TV shows that established his reputation as a tireless educator, typically hosts 200 dinners in a year by accomplished chefs from around the world.
|Nira Singh with her favourite wines at Chez Nini,|
Mehar Chand Market, Lodi Colony.
Picture by Subhash Arora
The dinners are priced at $130 per head for James Beard Foundation members and $170 for others, and to understand their far-reaching impact, you have only to order a tuna pizza at Korean-American chef Akira Back's signature restaurant at the JW Marriott, New Delhi Aerocity. Back owes his fame, as a brilliant purveyor of Japanese food with a Korean touch, to the big-eye tuna pizza that he had served at the James Beard House in 2008. He has since done dinners in 2010, 2011 and 2012, and is scheduled to lay out another on 8 February 2014, where the tuna pizza will make yet another appearance topped up with micro-shiso and truffles.
Getting to do a meal at James Beard House is not easy. A chef has to clear six tests before making the cut, which is to be expected when the calendar is studded with super chefs such as David Bouley and Marcus Samuelsson (in January) and in February, it has the likes of New York's white-hot new star, Bryce Shuman, and Peter Chang, the elusive genius who became famous after The New Yorker's Calvin Trillin discovered him. A computer engineer born and raised in Montreal, who survived a debilitating accident and relocated to Delhi to become the extraordinary chef whom everyone has an opinion on (increasingly positive!), Nira oozes perfection and passion; even her description of how she makes her Pork Belly Cubes taste like heaven has a sensual tingle to it. And now, she is in exalted company.
Nira was to do her James Beard House gig in February, but she has postponed it to May because of her India Art Fair catering commitments. At a dinner with a group of friends (food critic par excellence Marryam Reshii, one of Delhi Gourmet Club's most aware members, Lavina Kharkwal, and Indian Food Freak's Pawan Soni), brought together by the encyclopaedic Subhash Arora, President, Delhi Wine Club, I ask Nira what she intended to do at James Beard House, she said she was planning to showcase her Indian adventure on the tables of her hallowed venue.
A firm believer in Indian ingredients (the only exception she makes is for chocolate), Nira surprised me by serving my double espresso (I needed it after that gastronomical tour de force) in a cutting chai glass! I am sure she'll have New York City eating out of her hand. Backing her is Susan Ungaro, the James Beard Foundation president who rescued the organisation from doom after her predecessor was indicted by the US Attorney General's office for fraud. "She has not only been encouraging, but also infused me with the courage to get adventurous," Nira said. Will Nira be able to cook up a storm in the core of the Big Apple? I am confident she will.