By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHERE else can the humble karela be turned into a gourmet statement than at a Zorawar Kalra restaurant? And what can be a better forum to showcase the talented young chef Himanshu Saini's 'bitter gourd tempura' with sweet and sour raw mango chutney than the launch of the Gourmet Passport 2014-15? The smartly designed book of 402 'buy one main course, get one free' discount coupons from 134 restaurants in Delhi and Mumbai was presented by the Delhi Gourmet Club in partnership with Citibank at a free-flowing launch party on May 1 attended by all the supporters of the project.
The venue was Made in Punjab at Gurgaon's Cyber Hub; the finger-licking good food was from the menu of the upcoming Farzi Cafe next door ("it's not even 10 per cent of what we have in mind," Zorawar assured us, making us wonder, "what next?"); and the guests seen enjoying Himanshu's goodies included industry leaders Sandeep Tandon (Old World Hospitality), AD Singh (Olive Bar & Kitchen) and Pankaj Mathur (The Suryaa); restaurant powerhouses Janti Duggal (Mamagoto), Atul Kapur (QBA and The China House), Rajeev Aneja (Rara Avis) and Prashant Narula (Kwality Group); some of Delhi/NCR's most talented chefs -- Soumya Goswami, Ravitej Nath, Vikas Vibhuti and Sandeep Kalra (The Oberoi), Rajiv Malhotra and Pradeep Khullar (Old World Hospitality), Arun Kumar TR (Zambar/Lite Bite Foods), Vikram Khatri, Sujan Sarkar and Vaibhav Bhargava (Olive Bar & Kitchen and Guppy by Ai); F&B hotshots Ravindra Kumar (The Lalit's most durable pillar of excellence), Rajesh Namby (The Leela Palace New Delhi), Mohit Balachandran (Sodabottleopenerwala), Suveer Sodhi (The Lodhi), Sid Mathur (Impresario/Smoke House Deli), Yogendra Negi (DLF Restaurants/Set'z) and Sohan Bohra (Kylin Premier); and my partners in journalistic crimes -- Neeta Raheja (Very Truly Yours), Mukta Kapoor (Old World Hospitality), Deepica Sarma and Mallika Gowda (The Oberoi), Pallavi Singh (Crowne Plaza Okhla), Nidhi Verma (The Leela Ambience Gurgaon), Madhur Madaan (Kempinski Ambience), Nidhi Budhia (Crowne Plaza Rohini) and Manita Asija Tuteja (Kylin Premier/Sartoria).
But the star of the evening was the spread planned by Zorawar and his multi-talented deputy Varun Duggal with Himanshu. Just back from America, where he had presented a talk on the trends defining contemporary Indian cuisine in the august company of Grand Master Chef Hemant Oberoi of The Taj Hotels, Zorawar said the Farzi Cafe, which is coming up right next door to Made in Punjab at the ground level of the Cyber Hub, would take 'Modernist' Indian cuisine to a level that is a notch higher than his other baby, Masala Library at the Bandra Kurla Complex. Now, that's a very serious challenge to set for oneself -- Masala Library, after all, has won nine prestigious awards in the seven months that it has been around! I am sure he must have picked up ideas from his recent visit to Alinea in Chicago, where the American guru of molecular gastronomy, Grant Achatz, gave him a guided tour of the kitchen (a rare honour).
AD Singh, who's unfailing in his praise for restaurants (even if they have the potential of becoming his competition), couldn't stop praising the papad-crusted dal chawal arancini with achari crème cheese and onion chutney. It was a brilliant reconstruction of the Sicilian classic with an Indian twist. My personal favourites were the tandoori portobello mushrooms with truffle walnut herb crust, bhoot jolokia lamb chops with tempered coriander seeds, and the chilli duck samosa served with roasted plum chutney. Each dish came with a twist and the presentations showed the Zorawar Kalra eye for detailing. As one of the guests said, "The food tasted as good as the discount coupons inside the book." Well, you have a year to check out each one of the 134 restaurants that have participated in the book that has stirred the pot of Delhi's imagination.