Thursday, 31 July 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: How the 'Food Safety' Circus is Denying Us Our Daily Pleasures

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

IT'S BEEN less than a month since the government made the ill-advised move to ban foie gras (goose liver) imports on the ground that the delicacy is injurious to the birds because of the way they are force-fed to fatten their liver.
Well, foie gras may not be the only sign of refined taste that may disappear from our plates because all hell has been let loose by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Like the misdirected logic of the foie gras ban (name one animal product, starting with milk, that doesn't involve some form of cruelty or the other!), the rules being pushed by the FSSAI seem to have been conceived at Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
Thanks to new food safety standards that
are completely out of sync with the evolving
taste buds of post-liberalisation India, we
have a situation where Parmegiano Reggiano
(the original parmesan), above, is now
considered unsafe for the nation's health
and therefore unfit for import.
The Food Safety and Standards Act, without doubt, was legislated in 2006 with the good intention of bringing the provisions of seven-odd central acts, beginning with the antiquated Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act of 1955, under one comprehensive, contemporary legal umbrella. A brainchild of the previous government, it was welcomed by all as a salutary initiative, but the mood changed once the rules framed under the Act came into effect in 2011. It sent food importers running for protective cover, but none was forthcoming.
For starters, the new rules are based on the list of 355 edible food products recognised by the PFA Act of 1955, which is surprising because the Codex Alimentarius, the Bible of food standards prepared jointly, and updated continually, by the World Health Organisation and the Food & Agriculture Organisation, lists more than 3,500 categories (not items!) of edible food products. In what could be a scene straight out of Catch 22, or Comedy Nights with Kapil, the new rules, for instance, allow green olives to be imported, but bar the ones that are black, because it regards black olives as green olives gone bad.
The new rules don't recognise the existence of mayonnaise, or of sausages, unless they carry a 'cooked meat' label. They are OK with cheese made with pasteurised milk, but they don't allow Parmegiano Reggiano (the original parmesan) access to the Indian market because it is made with milk that is not pasteurised. Nor do they accept that there's something called 'canola oil', leading to a piquant situation where the FSSAI wants canola oil shipments to carry labels describing the product as 'rapeseed oil', which their Canadian importers are refusing to do.
Labelling, of course, is another parallel circus act. Not only is the FSSAI making absurd demands (like insisting that all wine labels must mention expiry dates!), it is asking for all food labels to be translated into English. Try as hard as you may, you cannot get a Japanese sushi rice producer, or a Thai manufacturer of condiments, to invest in a machine dedicated to printing labels in English for the Indian market. The world uses their products without blinking an eye, so why should they make an investment for a market that, anyway, is quite small! I believe the Japanese had an apoplectic fit when they were asked by FSSAI to produce a health certificate and a certificate of provenance (both in impeccable English!) for each container of fish that arrived from their country.
I foresee two serious consequences of this legal mayhem. One, the unmet demand for imports will increasingly be met by airline and shipping crew 'hand-carrying' food items at exorbitant prices. This would hurt the government because of the loss of revenue involved. A food importer was saying to me that in the days, pre-liberalisation, when the hand-carrying trade was all that was happening, imported salmon cost Rs 4,000 a kilo in the grey market and the government got nothing out of the business. The price has dropped today to Rs 1,100 a kilo and the government is getting its share because salmon is being imported via legitimate channels.
The FSSAI, however, has been able throw a monkey wrench into this business as well. It insists now on checking each consignment of imported fish. The process takes five days, on average, and frozen fish have a maximum shelf life of seven days. There's therefore a scramble to sell fish, hurting legitimate importers by squeezing their margins, whenever stocks are freed by the FSSAI.
There could be another, more serious, consequence of this moronic reading of the laws. What if the rest of the world starts viewing the FSSAI's actions as non-tariff barriers and starts retaliating? Indian agricultural exports then will suffer more than the imports that are getting blocked because of the food safety circus.


Rivoli Sinha, who has tied up with
Australia's Boost chain of fresh
fruit juice stores, ensured that
her company broke even within
a year of launching operations. 
PEOPLE in the food business love to joke that no one ever pays to go out and have a healthy meal. An alumna of Switzerland's prestigious Les Roches Hotel Management School, Rivoli Sinha set out to prove this long-held theory wrong, although she had the more comfortable option of taking up a position in the Rs 2,500-crore security services company founded and owned by her father, R.K. Sinha, the BJP's newly elected Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar.
Rivoli, who's barely 30 and was given her unusual name by the godman Mrityunjay Maharaj (it is the Spanish word for 'revolution'), came across Boost, an Australian chain of fresh fruit juice stores, on a visit Down Under coinciding with the takeover of a local company by her father. She brought the brand home, but realised soon that she would have to find a new name because Boost was already a popular milk supplement brand. She zeroed in on Joost, opened her first outlet at a South Delhi fitness centre, and broke even within seven months.
"Profitability is the only reason why I got into this business," Rivoli said over a sampler from her juice menu at Joost's Cyber Hub outlet, one of her eight stores. She made it clear she was looking for PE funding to finance her expansion plans.
Rivoli has tapped a market waiting for an alternative to canned juices made from concentrates and fresh juices produced at roadside stalls in the most unhygienic conditions. And she has managed to raise the bar by literally travelling the extra mile. She visits Maharashtra's Ratnagiri district every February for the annual auction of hapoos (Alphonso) mangoes -- this year, she picked up five quintals. She insists on only late-harvest Sweet Charlie strawberries from Mahabaleshwar because their natural sugar content rules out the need for additional sugar. She sources her blueberries and raspberries from New Zealand, but she has found a supplier for blueberries in Himachal Pradesh. And she gets her wheatgrass from a grower in Sonepat who uses the hydroponic growing system to stop bugs from thriving on the grass. This attention to detail is getting her the footfalls -- Joost's 8ftx7ft outlet at the Medanta Medicity serves 400-500 people a day. That must be keeping the cash registers ringing.


Pizza Express, which has had a fairly
successful run in Mumbai, is famous
for its dough balls and garlic butter dip.
AMBIENCE MALL in Vasant Kunj, long dismissed as the poor cousin of its upscale neighbours (DLF Emporio and Promenade), is fast becoming a gourmet magnet. Its transformation started with the arrival of Yauatcha, the dim sum restaurant from London that opened here after a successful launch in Mumbai, then Starbucks, and finally, Indigo Deli, Rahul Akerkar's restaurant franchise designed for the malls. Yauatcha has had mixed luck, Starbucks has returned to normal life after those early headline-grabbing queues, and Indigo Deli, having seen a great opening, ran into a kerfuffle over table reservations, but none seems to be struggling to survive.
Come August 25, and they'll be joined by Pizza Express, the international chain of Italian restaurants born in the UK, famous for its invention, dough balls served with garlic butter dip, reaching Delhi via Mumbai. A floor above, Mistral, the restaurant run by  PVR Cinemas, has turned around its menu under the supervision of Mayank Tiwari, who has worked with both the Olive and the Smoke House franchises. There's also talk of Jamie's Kitchen opening -- it'll be the country's first Jamie Oliver restaurant -- some time later this year on the other side of Indigo Deli and Pizza Express. The mall, it seems, has finally come of age.


WHEATGRASS juice is the new must-have for the city's fadwallahs, who are forever looking for a manna from heaven that would make them immune to all forms of illness and aging. Grown from cotyledons of regular wheat plants in trays filled with water, and harvested every seven days, chlorophyll-rich wheatgrass had its share of glory when, thanks to the publicity attracted by Anne Wigmore of the Hippocrates Health Institute, it was touted as the remedy to cancer. The American Cancer Society dismissed these claims after a host of scientific studies rejected the theory that wheatgrass juice, which is bitter and needs some getting used to, reverses the progress of cancer. All it does is pump you up with dietary fibre, which is good to have in plenty.

This column first appeared in Mail Today on July 31, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers

Sunday, 27 July 2014

TOP CHEF AWARDS 2014: Delhi Gourmet Club to Honour Bukhara's Executive Chef J.P. Singh with Lifetime Achievement Award

Out of the 17 awards to be given
away today at the Top Chef
Awards 2014, the only one
disclosed so far is the Lifetime
Achievement Award to be
conferred upon Executive Chef
J.P. Singh of the Bukhara.
By Sourish Bhattacharyya

THE DELHI Gourmet Club's Top Chef Awards 2014 kicks off in less than ten hours today (July 22) with just one award, out of the 17 being given away, being disclosed by the founder-members of the Facebook group (in the interests of transparency, I must say I am proud to be one of them). It is the Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be given away by the chief guest, Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Tourism, Government of India, to J.P. Singh, the man at the helm of ITC Maurya's (and indeed, India's) top-grossing Bukhara restaurant.
This is one of the three awards that were decided by the jury, headed by Manjit Gill, Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels, and Founder-President of the Indian Federation of Culinary Associations. The idea to honour Singh and Bukhara, which is celebrating its 35th birthday in the first week of August, came from Varun Tuli, owner of the much-awarded Yum Yum Tree restaurant and now also a very successful A-List caterer. Being an observer at the jury meeting, I was surprised by how the decision was wholeheartedly accepted by all the other members, including Manish Malhotra, who has pioneered a style of cooking that is taking Indian cuisine in a direction that is completely different from that of Bukhara.
The other members of the jury were Chef Bill Marchetti, eminent food critic Marryam Reshii, Chef Girish Krishnan (JW Marriott, New Delhi Aerocity), Chef Mickey Bhoite (Le Cirque, The Leela Palace New Delhi), Neeraj Tyagi (The Claridges) and Magandeep Singh (India's first French-certified wine sommelier). Top Chef Awards Delh-NCR 2014 is being co-presented by Pullman Gurgaon Central Park, powered by Le Cordon Bleu-G.D. Goenka University, and supported by Elle & Vire, Delverde, Torani, Granini and Nestle Professional.
Some months back, the Delhi Gourmet Club,
represented (above, third and extreme right) by
Rocky Mohan and yours truly, honoured Bukhara
for serving the best seekh kebabs in Delhi-NCR.
Bukhara's No. 2 Purshottam Singh and ITC
Maurya's Senior Executive Chef,
Manisha Bhasin, received the award.
A graduate of the famous Dadar Catering College (Institute of Hotel Management, Dadar), J.P. Singh has spent all his life in the hotel chain that was created by ITC's first Indian chairman, Ajit Narain Haksar, primarily as a vehicle to earn hard-to-get foreign exchange during the high noon of the licence-permit raj era. A passionate foodie, Haksar was also responsible for creating Bukhara in the then-uncelebrated Maurya Sheraton in 1978. It was he who poached Madan Lal Jaiswal (J.P. Singh still can't get over his colourful language!) from a now-defunct hotel named President on Asaf Ali Road, at the intersection where New Delhi meets Purani Dilli, which was famous for its tandoori preparations.
Jaiswal was given the task of running Bukhara, which he did with great flourish (he even opened the New York Bukhara), till he died in a car crash. It was under Jaiswal that Chef JP, which is how everybody knows Singh, joined Bukhara in 1991, and like everyone and everything associated with the restaurant, continues to be a part of it -- like the 17 chefs working with him, including Purshottam Singh and Balkishen, who has travelled the world, from New York to Ajman to Hong Kong, with the Bukhara brand. Prem Rajput, the maitre d' who would charm his guests into coming back — again and again, and Jaiswal formed quite a formidable team. Together, they scripted the early success story of the Bukhara.
Interestingly, Jaiswal's 'gurubhai' Todar Mal was the leading light of The Oberoi's Mughal Room, which Haksar almost disabled by poaching a dozen chefs from what was then Delhi's premier Mughlai-Punjabi restaurant in a five-star hotel. Haksar wanted to move the centre of gravity from the contemporary market leader (and not the caricature of the original that it has become today), the colourful Kundal Lal Gujral's Moti Mahal, to Bukhara.
In Bite the Bullet, his autobiography, Haksar devotes some pages to the Bukhara, where he says he got the idea of people eating with their hands and wearing aprons, instead of spreading a serviette on the lap, after seeing a BBC TV drama based on the life of Tudor King Henry VIII. If English royalty could eat with their hands, why couldn't we, he reasoned with himself, and the practice has been in vogue since the day the Bukhara opened its doors. The practice has even survived one of the early (and rare at the Maurya) European manager's attempts to do away with it! Apparently, his argument that international visitors were being put off by the practice found no takers in the higher echelons of the ITC.
According to Haksar, the seating (which I find highly uncomfortable -- conspiracy theorists insist the design is driven by the idea of making people leave as soon as they finish eating!) and decor were inspired by a World War II film set partly in the North-West Frontier. There was a scene in it, Haksar writes, where British officers were seen dining at a rugged local eatery. The image stayed in Haksar's mind when he was planning Bukhara with Rajinder Kumar, the architect who became famous after the Maurya came up. Haksar borrowed the idea of the glass-fronted kitchen (which was a novelty in its time), or so ITC insiders whisper, from Rama International, a hotel that ITC managed for Iqbal Ghei and Pishori Lal Lamba in Aurangabad.
Bukhara started as a 60-seater and its entry, oddly, was through Amrapali, the 'coffee shop' that was subsequently renamed Pavilion. The strange layout had an adverse effect on the image of Amrapali, for there would always be a little crowd of Bukhara diners awaiting their turn hanging about in the 'coffee shop' or ordering starters from their favourite restaurant. Thanks to the 1982 Asian Games, when the hotel underwent a major refurbishment, this layout was changed in favour of what we see now.
Chef JP, who was toying with idea of becoming a doctor before listening to his heart and training to be a chef, joined ITC Welcomgroup in 1981 from the lowest end of the pecking order -- as management trainee at Mumbai's Ambassador Hotel and then, Demi Chef De Partie at the Sea Rock Sheraton, which was bombed in a terrorist attack in 1993. He was a Chef de Partie (CDP) at the Patna Maurya before he joined Bukhara, where he's now the hands-on executive chef -- even as he and his team feed more than 400 people a day, and make more money than any other restaurant in the country (Rs 8 crore a month, one hears from the competition!), his constant exposure to the tandoor has no effect on his even temper.
Like his temper, Bukhara thrives on consistency. The restaurant's mutton supplier has been at it for more than 25 years and so have the vendors respectively supplying the tomato puree for its celebrated Dal Bukhara and the brass vessel in which it is cooked on charcoal fire; its sole fillets unvarying weigh 300gms and its jumbo prawns, sourced from one of the ITC subsidiaries in Visakhapatnam for as long as anyone can remember, uniformly weigh between 80-120gms. Similar weight specifications are followed for capsicums and potatoes, and a mutton leg piece meant for a raan is never used for a burra! The butter and cream content of the Dal Bukhara, moreover, has never been allowed to exceed 6 per cent of the total portion size. Consistency of quality and an even-tempered chef -- you can't get a more winning combination.

Friday, 25 July 2014

DINING OUT: Biryani With Quinoa? Manish Mehrotra Gives Taste Twist to Health Food at Stylish Zehen

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHAT: Zehen @ The Manor
WHERE: 77, Friends Colony (West), a little ahead of Friends Club
WHEN: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
DIAL: +91-11-43235151 / 43235100
HOW MUCH: You have to be a Zehen member or a resident guest to be able to dine at the wellness centre. Members get 50 per cent discount on listed prices.

At Zehen, the state-of-the-art gym, with a
distinctive New York-style industrial look, is
complemented by a menu offering created
especially by Manish Mehrotra following
the nutritional principles of ayurveda
Zehen's Food for Thought vegetarian thali,
which changes daily, combines taste with
a concern for nutritional well-being
I FIRST wrote about Manish Mehrotra's khao suey when he was an unheralded chef at the India Habitat Centre's Oriental Octopus restaurant in 2002. He had magic in his hands, I wrote, which packed taste even into an everyday dish. Those were the days when the ladies who lunch (and the former prime minister wife, Gursharan Kaur) had fallen in love with khao suey. Every kitty party hostess had to pip her predecessor by serving a better khao suey and every nubile girl had to master the art of making khao suey before taking her pheras. Lo and behold, as khao suey kitty parties became the rage, the chef we now celebrate as the Master of Inventive Indian Cuisine, suddenly found himself in demand for his ability to dish up a humble Burmese meal-in- a-bowl like no one else.
Fortunately for us, Manish re-invented himself to marry the ingredients and influences he had been exposed to and create his own kitchen genre at Indian Accent, where wild mushroom naan drizzled with truffle oil competes for your attention with duck khurchan cornetto topped up with a sliver of foie gras, or Chilean spare ribs sexed up with sweet mango pickle, or poached lobster served on a bitter gourd (karela) accompaniment that presents the much-maligned vegetable in a completely new light. But I had never imagined that he could re-define thair sadam (curd rice) by adding pieces of masala chicken, giving texture and tonality to the mush.
Manish has invested a lot of time, and has spent some days at The Farm in the Philippines to understand that wellness hotspot's 'raw' menu, to develop a different kind of 'healthy' menu for Zehen, the wellness centre that has just opened on the precincts of The Manor, where Indian Accent has been having a dream run since 2008. A new food movement, in fact, has taken birth at Zehen. Unsurprisingly, the nutritionist balks when asked about the calorie count of the vegetarian thali, which changes daily.
"That's so yesterday," she says, repeating that the diet fads Delhi swears by have all gone out of the window in the countries where they originated. "It is more important to live life by ayurvedic principles and get balanced nutrition than to go on impossible diets to lose calories." The buzz phrase at Zehen is "sustainable lifestyle". If you eat unpolished rice, you'll feel full long after your meal, and you'll eat less. Jaggery will take care of your sweet cravings without exposing you to the ill-effects of refined sugar. Don't starve yourself. Instead, eat right. They call it 'Food for Thought' at Zehen.
"Once you eat for health, you don't need fad diets," says Manish, handing me a bowl full of makhana poppers, full of nutrition and low on calories. My lunch in the Zehen dining room, where there's only one communal table, started with a sweet potato salad and cucumber rings with a brown rice and cashew filling (light and refreshing), moving on to the curd rice, followed by tasting portions of lamb and quinoa biryani (cooked in lamb stock), pumpkin and brown rice risotto, chicken balls served in a delectable Kerala-style stew, patrani machchi, gluten-free uttapam 'pizza' and zucchini spaghetti.
I thought I was full, so I resolved not to have very little of the jaggery-only shrikhand and brown rice kheer. Yet, before I knew it, I was licking the sides of the bowls in which they came. Each preparation oozes what we like to describe as swaad -- the Japanese call it umami. It's the sense of taste and the feeling of fulfilment. And each dish -- such is the simplicity of the recipes (and Manish has a repertoire of 300!) -- can easily be replicated at home. Because, when you're at Zehen, you are encouraged to eat healthy when you're at home -- because wellness doesn't stop at the wellness centre.

This review first appeared in Mail Today on July 25, 2014. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Manjit Gill Flags Off Top Chef Awards Voting; Nominees List Out; Good News From Elle & Vire

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

MANJIT GILL, Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels, and President, Federation of Indian Culinary Associations, green-flagged the online voting for the Delhi Gourmet Club's Top Chef Awards 2014 on July 18 with the stirring declarations that chefs are "the custodians of the nation's nutrition".
Chef Manjit Gill (with red turban), flanked by
David Hopcroft, General Manager, Pullman
Gurgaon Central Park (to Gill's right) and yours
truly, with Delhi Gourmet Club founder-members
Rocky Mohan (far left of the picture) and Atul
Sikand at the hospitality trade media briefing
on the Top Chef Awards Delhi-NCR 2014. 
Gill had chaired the nine-member jury that shortlisted the names of the 48 nominees in 14 categories who will vie for the vote of the Delhi Gourmet Club's 5,500-strong Facebook community of food aficionados. "Chefs are no longer responsible for your indigestion," Gill said on a lighter note at the briefing and then added: "They not only safeguard your digestion, but also ensure the absorption of the nutrients in the food they cook. Awards such as these will only make them more committed to their profession and encourage them to deliver their best."
Puneet Sharma, Dean, School of Hospitality,
G.D. Goenka University, which has partnered
Le Cordon Bleu to provide hospitality
education in India, also spoke at the
hospitality trade media briefing on July 18.
DGC's founder-members -- Rocky Mohan, Atul Sikand and yours truly -- released the list of nominees to the hospitality industry media at a briefing held at La Riviera, the much-awarded European restaurant of the Pullman Gurgaon Central Park. Members of the Club will cast their online votes till July 22, 12 midnight, by logging on to
The invitees and the speakers gather around the
Moltini, the Rolls Royce of show kitchens,
at La Riviera, the award-winning European
restaurant at Pullman Gurgaon Central
Park, which was the venue of the
hospitality trade media briefing,
The results of the vote will be declared at a gala event, expected to be attended by Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Tourism, Government of India, and the leading luminaries of the hospitality industry, at the Pullman Gurgaon Central Park on July 27. DGC will also honour the chefs who have been nominated by the jury (these awards are not up for voting) for the Best Young Chef, Chef Leader of the Year and Lifetime Achievement awards.
On the eve of the announcement, there was good news for the winners of the awards for the Pastry/Bakery Chef of the Year (Five-Star and Independent) from Elle & Vire, the brand of butter and cream preferred by professional chefs across the world. A co-sponsor of the event, Elle & Vire has said it will gift to each of the two winners an all-expenses-paid trip to Bangkok to attend a three-day bakery programme led by the world-renowned Eric Perez at the Macaron Pastry Training Centre on September 18-20.
An illustrious chef from Toulouse, France, Perez has represented the U.S. and won medals at the Pastry World Cup in Lyon, work with the Ritz-Carlton and the upper-crust pastry shop, La Maison, in Shanghai, launched his own chain under the brand name Visage, where he lifted pastry art to a level not seen before, and then opened the Macaron Pastry Training Centre ( on Soi Sukhumvit 63, Bangkok, to share his vast knowledge with "young and old, professional and enthusiast".
The media briefing was also addressed by David Hopcroft, General Manager, Pullman Gurgaon Central Park, who lauded DGC for "doing the right things" and pledged his hotel's wholehearted support for the first-of-its-kind initiative. Pullman Gurgaon Central Park is the co-presenter of the event. Puneet Sharma, Dean of the School of Hospitality, G.D. Goenka University, which has joined hands with Le Cordon Bleu's famed hospitality management and culinary arts programmes, also spoke at the media briefing. He said the Top Chef Awards Delhi-NCR 2014 was the first industry-focused activity of Le Cordon Bleu-G.D. Goenka University and he expressed the hope that this would be the beginning of many more such collaborations.

Top Chef Awards Delhi-NCR 2014: An Overview
For the first time in the country, the Delhi Gourmet Club is organising an awards evening dedicated exclusively to chefs who have quietly contributed to the success of Delhi-NCR's celebrated restaurants. At the Top Chef Awards Delhi-NCR 2014 on July 27, the Delhi Gourmet Club, in association with the Pullman Gurgaon Central Park, is giving these chefs the limelight they deserve at a gala event where the chief guest will be the Secretary, Tourism, Government of India, Shri Parvez Dewan, and leaders of the hospitality industry will be in attendance.
Giving DGC support for this first-of-its-kind consumer initiative to honour Delhi-NCR's top chefs are some of world's finest brands. The event is being powered by hospitality education leader Le Cordon Bleu and its Indian partner, G.D. Goenka University. Its lead co-sponsors are leading food and beverage brands Elle & Vire (French; dairy products), Delverde (Italian; pasta), Torani (American; juices, mixers and smoothies) and Granini (German; fruit juices). The other co-sponsor is Nestle Professional, a global network of 10,000-plus professionals providing top-drawer culinary and beverage solutions to businesses around the world.
Massive Restaurants Pvt. Ltd., the banner behind the ground-breaking Masala Library, Made in Punjab and Farzi Cafe restaurants; FnS, the brand behind a new generation of cutlery; and Foodhall, the Future Group's premium multi-city food destination, are the award sponsors. Beam Global is the beverage partner, offering Teacher's Single Malt, Teacher's Original, Jim Beam bourbon and Sauza tequila.

And the nominees are...

Award for Excellence in North Indian Cuisine (Five Star)
*Gaurav Tandon, Masala Art (Taj Palace)
*Ghulam Qureishi, Dum Pukht (ITC Maurya)
*Karan Singh, Dhaba (The Claridges)
*Shams Parvez, Made In India (Radisson MBD, Noida)

Award for Excellence in North Indian Cuisine (Standalone)
*Bernard Mondal, Kwality
*Chiquita Gulati, Gulati's Spice Market
*Gurpreet Singh Gehdu, Punjab Grill
*Pradeep Khullar, Chor Bizarre

Award for Excellence in South Indian/Coastal Cuisine (Five Star)
*Ravi Vatsyayan, Amaranta (The Oberoi Gurgaon)
*Velu Murugan, Dakshin (Sheraton New Delhi)

Award for Excellence in South Indian/Coastal Cuisine (Standalone)
*Arun Kumar TR, Zambar
*Pawan Jumbagi, Carnatic Cafe

Jiggs Kalra Award for Excellence in Modern Indian Cuisine
*Anshuman Adhikari, Diya (The Leela Gurgaon)
*Harangad Singh, Varq (The Taj Mahal Hotel)
*Shantanu Mehrotra, Indian Accent

Award for Excellence in Best Regional Cuisine (Standalone)
*Cris Fernandez, Bernardo's
*Bhaskar Dasgupta, Oh Calcutta
*Shekhar Bhujel, Yeti: The Himalayan Kitchen

Award for Excellence in Asian Cuisine (Five Star)
*Nilesh Dey, Wasabi (The Taj Mahal Hotel)
*Yutaka Saito, Megu (The Leela Palace New Delhi)
*Zhang Hongsheng, China Kitchen (Hyatt Regency New Delhi)

Award for Excellence in Asian Cuisine (Standalone)
* Khoo Thiam Huat, Royal China
*Kim Suk Hee, Gung The Palace
*Lok Prasad Subba, Yum Yum Tree

Award for Excellence in European Cuisine (Five Star)
*D.N. Sharma, Orient Express (Taj Palace)
*Federico Pucci, Le Cirque (The Leela Palace New Delhi)
*Rajeev Sinha, Sevilla (The Claridges)

Award for Excellence in European Cuisine (Standalone)
*Jerome Cousins, Rara Avis
*Nira Kehar, Chez Nini
*Shamsul Wahid, Smoke House Deli
*Sujan Sarkar, Olive Bar & Kitchen
*Suman Sharma, Tonino

Pastry/Bakery Chef of the Year (Five Star)
*Devendra Bungla, Hyatt Regency
*Vikas Vibhuti, The Oberoi New Delhi
*Anil Kumar, Pullman Gurgaon Central Park

Pastry/Bakery Chef of the Year (Independent)
*Avanti Mathur
*Jaya Kochhar
*Kishi Arora

Best New Entrant of the Year
*Anahita Dhondy, Soda Bottle Opener Wala
*John Oh and Kurt Michael, Akira Back
*Rahul Dua, Cafe Lota
*Vikram Khatri, Guppy by Ai
*Yenjai Suthiwaja, Neung Roi

Best Restaurant Manager of the Year
*Sarabjeet Singh Bhalla, K3 (JW Marriott, New Delhi Aerocity)
*Deepak Rawat, Megu (The Leela Palace New Delhi)
*Shipra Pradhan, Le Cirque (The Leela Palace New Delhi)
*Malvika Sahay, Wasabi (The Taj Mahal Hotel)
*Deepak Shettigar, threesixtydegrees (The Oberoi New Delhi)

DINING OUT: Diya Turns Five with the Menu of a Masterchef

WHAT: Five Years of Diya with Kunal Kapur
WHERE: The Leela Ambience Hotel, NH-8, Gurgaon
WHEN: Till July 27. Open only for dinner (6:30 to 11:30 p.m.).
DIAL: (0124) 4771255
PER PERSON: Four-course meal (vegetarian) Rs 3,350++; (non-vegetarian) Rs 3,850++

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

Masterchef India co-host
Kunal Kapur earned his spurs
as chef de cuisine at Diya, the
under-rated Indian restaurant at
The Leela Ambience Gurgaon,
where he's now the executive
sous chef.
FIVE YEARS AGO, after dining at Diya at The Leela Ambience Gurgaon, I'd hailed the restaurant as the next big thing in Indian fine dining, without knowing that the chef who had sweated it out to inspire me to write that glowing review was the now-famous Kunal Kapur, the endearing (and enduring) face of Masterchef India.
Kunal was then an uncelebrated chef de cuisine, but he brought with him the experience of working at some of the finest Indian restaurants of the Taj Group hotels -- the old Handi and Haveli in Delhi; Southern Spice at Taj Coromandel, Chennai; Karavalli at The Gateway Hotel on Residency Road, Bangalore; and at the Holiday Village, Goa, under the greatest exponent of the state's cuisine, the inimitable Urbano Rego. Yet, Diya hardly ever figures in drawing room conversations, or in animated Facebook food group discussions. Neither does Made in India at the Radisson Blu, Noida, where Kunal worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the under-rated master chef, Arun Tyagi.
In the last five years that Diya, and the hotel, has been around, Kunal has become a celebrity TV show host and best-selling cookbook writer (he has moved up the corporate ladder as well), and the restaurant is now headed by Angshuman Adhikari, a former acolyte of the Michelin-starred, UK-based chef-restaurateur, Atul Kochhar. You can imagine my joy therefore when the hotel invited me for a meal cooked by Kunal, who has returned to his old kitchen to showcase the cooking skills that got him the ticket to fame. Giving me company were the hotel's friendly (and hands-on) General Manager, Michel Koopman, and the charming Nidhi Verma, the marcomm manager, who's a fund of stories.
I have had a lunch orchestrated and served by Masterchef Australia co-host Gary Mehigan at the Grand Hyatt, Mumbai, where I shared my table with a media baron who had just made a lot of money selling his popular afternoon newspaper, but who insisted on describing himself as a farmer from Alibaug (of course, he knew more about farming than all of Delhi's farmhouse owners put together, so he could qualify to be a farmer!). Mehigan wasn't cooking; his executive chef was. On July 15, however, it was Kunal who prepared dinner for me and at the end of it, I was happy to see my long-held view -- that TV chefs can't cook, so they are on TV -- lying in ruins around me.
The mutton shank guddu kurma
is one of Kapur's stand-out
dishes, which showcases his
ability to meld the influences
and flavours of India's many
kitchens into an unforgettable
taste experience
Kunal surprises you not in the Gaggan Anand or the Manish Mehrotra way, with modernist drama and molecular gastronomy, but in his orchestration of flavours and influences he has imbibed from across the country. His style of cooking is classical with a contemporary twist, a touch I find missing in my favourite Indian fine-dining restaurant, Dum Pukht at ITC Maurya. The most eloquent representative of his style is the multi-textural haleem kebab, where the solidity of the mutton boti is balanced by the slight mushiness of dal, daliya and jowar -- biting into one is like having a generous helping of the Hyderabadi dish (a Ramzan must-have), whose taste is reinforced by the quenelle of haleem that is served along with the kebab.
The Hyderabadi influence kept showing up, first in the grilled scallops served with the saalan of a baghare baigan, and then in the guddu kurma, where mutton shanks were cooked in a rich bone marrow gravy. If the surprise of the evening was the 'Punjabi bruschetta' -- liver, kidney and diced mutton cooked in the tak-a-tak style, topped up with a kachumbar salad, and served on toasted French bread -- the murgh malai shorba with a vol-au-vent island stuffed with murgh khichda was a treat for the senses: an explosion of flavours that did a tango with the taste buds. But the desserts blew my mind: cinnamon-flavoured shrikhand with juliennes of a Granny Smith apple (its tartness the perfect counterfoil to the shrikhand's sweetness) and the Bailey's chhena payesh must at once be declared the national dish of Greater Bengal! Kunal is not just the co-host of Masterchef India; he's the master of his craft.

This review first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated July 18, 2014. Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

FORTUNE COOKIE: A Bold New Avatar of Indian Cuisine 2,0

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

When it opens on July 20, Farzi Cafe at Cyber
Hub, Gurgaon, promises to give Modern
Indian Cuisine a bold creative thrust with its
new-generation menu and presentation styles
WHEN the Taj veteran, Arvind Saraswat, wrote The Gourmet Indian Cookbook in 2004, I could not stop admiring the beauty of each dish whose recipe was presented in the slim, glossy, hardcover volume.
Saraswat would say that he had been inspired to devote many years working on the recipes because of a barb from the father of French nouvelle cuisine, Paul Bocuse. On a visit to India as a guest of the Taj, Bocuse had said to Saraswat that Indian food tasted great, but it didn't excite the eye and make one want to eat it. Saraswat rose up to the challenge, but his cookbook sank without a trace, just like Michelin-starred Vineet Bhatia's Mushk restaurant, which opened in 2002, where he courted Delhi's palate with novelties such as truffle oil-flavoured naan or his favourite squid ink-infused black chicken tikka.
Both efforts were way ahead of their time. It was five years later that Varq at the Taj Mahal Hotel and the now-famous Indian Accent opened to a tepid response, and another five years had to lapse before Gaggan Anand, Saraswat's former acolyte, dazzled the world from his Bangkok restaurant, ranked 17th in the world, with his brand of Progressive Indian Cuisine.
Himanshu Saini, who's all of 26, has worked hard
to translate Zorawar Kalra's vision on the menu
These thoughts raced through my head as I stepped into Farzi Cafe at Gurgaon's Cyber Hub for a sneak preview a couple of days ago. A project of Zorawar Kalra, who has seen complimentary reviews (the latest in The New York Times) pour on his Masala Library in Mumbai, Farzi Cafe promises to give Delhi-NCR's dining culture a new direction. The young man behind the show is 26-year-old Himanshu Saini, who had his first date with fame when he won Chicago/New York restaurateur Rohini Dey's much-publicised 'chef hunt' last summer by dishing up a sarson da saag quesadilla with butter milk foam.
To a traditionalist, Saini's creations, and the artefacts they arrive in, may seem straight out of Mad Hatter's tea party, but their beauty lies in the way they tantalise the imagination using the tools of molecular gastronomy (notably liquid nitrogen) without deviating from the real flavours of Indian cuisine. That is exactly what Modern Indian Cuisine is all about. Its practitioners don't use, for instance, squid ink because it has no Indian connect.
When at Farzi Cafe you are served a mini raj kachori stuffed with kurkure bhindi surrounded by islands of chutney foam, each element tastes just how it is supposed to. As does the idiappam sushi with prawn pepper fry, or the sarson da saag gilawat kebabs, corn tostadas, chhaas spheres and masala popcorn, which may sound like a gimmicky reinvention of the Punjabi winter staple, sarson da saag-makke di roti, but actually tastes right while looking oomphy. This combination of the right marriage of flavours and the elements of surprise is the leitmotif of the Farzi Cafe menu.
The bhoot jholokia spare ribs not only melt in your mouth, but also make you feel braver after having the world's hottest chilli; the chilli duck samosa with hoisin chutney and the galouti burger with mutton boti will leave you admiring the sheer ingenuity of the medleys of flavours and textures; the pumpkin khao suey, yet another flash of inspiration, will awaken you to the limitless possibilities of the humble kaddu; and you'll smile when the chicken tikka masala with Cornish cruncher cheddar cheese naan arrives in a replica of a public telephone booth you'll see all over London.
The same streak of innovation runs through the desserts (Parle-G cheesecake on a pool of rabri studded with Gems chocolate spheres) and the molecular cocktails (mixologist Aman Dua left me groping for words of praise with his mango spaghetti in gin with a grape infused in a red wine reduction), but the cherry on the icing is the paan gujiya, which is a dehydrated paan inside a candyfloss casing. That, in a sense, defines the Modern Indian experience: quirky but not contradictory.


Renaud Palliere of PVR Cinemas is anything
but your stereotypical finance man
A MEAL with Reynaud Palliere, CEO (International Development), PVR Cinemas, is a lot of fun, for he may be crunching numbers for a living, but he brings a Frenchman's passion for food to the table when he's not running marathons (he has done New York, London, Tokyo and Sydney; Mumbai and Capetown are his next stops).
As Executive Chef, Mayank Tiwari has given
Mistral's menu a new direction -- I recommend
his gazpacho soup and pumpkin risotto
When we met earlier in the week, at Mistral adjoining PVR Director's Cut at the Ambience Mall, Vasant Kunj, our conversation started with the amazing weekend Palliere had just spent at Tikli Bottom, the Chhattarpur hideaway run by a British couple, Martin and Annie Howard, at the far end of a village named Tikli (it's a pilgrimage for every expat who lives in Delhi). I then got fixated on the fried duck's eggs, which are a part of  the restaurant's all-day breakfast menu, served with a summery salad, hollandaise, toasted bread with parsley butter, and an orange-pineapple relish.
As I looked at the fried eggs, their perfectly semi-circular yolks appearing like twin images of the setting sun, memories of the summer vacations I had spent in Kolkata as a child flashed in my mind's eye. Duck's eggs are a delicacy among Bengalis -- you get them fresh every morning in Kolkata, brought to the city by women from neighbouring villages who pick up what they find by the side of ponds where ducks, a strain of the Muscovy variety known as Chinae Hans (the name indicates the ancestors of these birds came from China), live in good numbers across rural West Bengal.
Mistral gets its duck's eggs from the French Farm in Manesar, which is run by a temperamental yet much sought-after Frenchman named Roger Langbour (and his Muscovy ducks have nobler strains). The restaurant's executive chef, Mayank Tiwari, a graduate of what I call the AD Singh school of hospitality, took nine minutes to get the perfect fried eggs, their uniformly proportioned whites balancing the bright orbs at the centre. There's more to recommend the restaurant for -- the gazpacho, pumpkin risotto and the Persian koobideh (seekh) kebabs are my personal favourites -- but I can keep going back only for the duck's eggs.


DUCK EGGS seem to be in vogue, especially because they have thicker shells, which means they stay fresher longer; more albumen, which makes them best for cakes and pastries; and more Omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the brain and the skin. There's one catch, though. They have double the amount cholesterol in chicken eggs, which is bad news for the heart. They also have very little moisture, which can be a problem if you are trying to whisk a duck's egg, and fried eggs can become rubbery if you aren't a skilled handler of duck's eggs. I just love the way they are cooked in West Bengal -- as a curry (dimer dalna). Duck's eggs, funnily, entered old-fashioned Bengali kitchens much before chicken eggs were allowed!


Manjit Gill, Corporate Chef of ITC Hotels and
President, Federation of Indian Culinary
Associations, was inspired by the International
Congress of Culinary Traditions held at
Bucharest, Romania, earlier in the year
WE LIVE in a cornucopia of cuisines, yet the world knows so little about our country's culinary heritage. To bridge this knowledge gap, the Ministry of Tourism has teamed up with the national body of chefs, Federation of Indian Culinary Associations (FICA), to launch a multi-disciplinary effort to create a central databank of recipes (at least ten of them) from each of the country's 640 districts. We owe this idea to FICA President and Corporate Chef, ITC Hotels, Manjit Gill, who was inspired by his visit to Bucharest, Romania, for the International Congress of Culinary Traditions earlier this year. And he found an eager listener, and doer, in Parvez Dewan, Secretary, Tourism.
Gill says his team will have 600 recipes, a tenth of what is intended to be collected, ready for the Modi government's 100 days in power. Imagine the world this exercise will open up. Where else are you going to find the kind of variety we are able to savour even among jalebis! A Gohana jalebi weighing 250 gms apiece (almost like the ones dished up by Chandni Chowk's Old & Famous Jalebiwala) is a story by itself, as is the dark brown Burhanpuri mawa jalebi, which is a Ramzan must-have at J.J. Sweets in Mumbai's Bohri Mohalla. The national databank will make us understand this diversity and treasure it.

This column first appeared in the Mail Today edition dated July 17, 2014.
Copyright: Mail Today Newspapers.

Friday, 11 July 2014

DINING OUT: Startup Dreams Meet Fun Food At The Village

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

WHERE: Hauz Khas Social, Hauz Khas Village (entrance next to Delhi Art Gallery)
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 1 a.m.
DIAL: (+91) 7838652814
HOW MUCH (MINUS ALCOHOL): Rs 800 for two, minus taxes and 10 per cent service charge
STAR RATING: 3-1/2*/5

HAUZ KHAS SOCIAL in not just another new dining space in a city teeming with options; it's a new experience altogether. It's the first hangout of the young -- in the capital of Delhi's Youngistan, Hauz Khas Village -- where bootstrapping start-up entrepreneurs can work through the day, satisfy their hunger pangs as they go about their day's business, and unwind at the end of it by stepping into the bar and ordering an unbelievably priced quarter to be shared with friends and co-workers.
The vibe at Hauz Khas Social is
such that you'd want to unwind
with an Aacharoska (above) or
a Screw Social Driver (below)
after a day spent with your
laptop and your colleagues,
your lunch being the humble
Social Staff Meal Du Jour
It's like working in your office cafeteria after some invisible magic wand has transmogrified it into 8,500 sq. ft. of social space, cheek by jowl with Firuz Shah Tughlaq's medieval madarsa, yet loaded with contemporary amenities such as WiFi and an app that lets you order food or select your music playlist, with the kind of edgy personality you'd associate with New York's Meat Packing District. Unfinished bare walls, naked bulbs, recycled furniture, skeletal clamp lights, plush leather sofas and signs in classical fonts hand-painted by street art guru Hanif Kureshi fall in place seamlessly to turn conventional restaurant design wisdom on its head. Anti-design is the Social's design statement.
The menu mirrors this sense of newness, yet it elevates conventional coffee shop and bar offerings into conversation pieces. Serious thought has been invested into it by Mumbai-based restaurant entrepreneur Riyaz Amlani, who's also famous for his Salt Water Cafe, Smoke House Deli and Mocha brands, his food and beverage honcho, Sid Mathur, and the Social's head chef, Gaurav Gidwani. Together, they have walked the fine line dividing fun food and kitchen gimmickry, without falling into the welcoming iron clasp of the latter.
For the Aacharoska, the classical cocktail with an Indian twist (and my personal favourite), for instance, they tried out 28 different lime pickles with mixologist Shishir Rane before settling for the Maharashtrian variant. The cocktail, served in a martaban (as you'd expect pickles to be), as a result, doesn't have the cloying sweetness that ruins such concoctions -- and that is especially true of the Deconstructed Moscow Mule, which comes (as it did at its birthplace, the Cock 'N' Bull restaurant on the Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles) in a copper mug with a pipette of ginger juice to balance the ginger ale's sugar punch. The Screw Social Driver, meanwhile, arrives in a beaker (specially ordered from Dava Bazaar, an area in South Mumbai famous for medical and scientific instruments as well as lab chemicals) with a real screwdriver in tow to remind you of the drink's origins -- it was apparently invented by American engineers in the Middle East in the 1940s, as they secretly mixed vodka into cans of orange juice with a screwdriver, the only equivalent of a cocktail shaker they had at an arm's length.
The food menu, similarly, is studded with surprises. You can order the Pakistani street food staple, anda shammi burger (with the buns being replaced by pao and the shammi being plumper than the usual), or make your heart work a little extra after you've had the fried bacon-wrapped peanut butter-jam sandwich squares served with vanilla ice-cream, or have a regular daal-chawal lunch for Rs 150 by ordering the Social Staff Meal Du Jour (notice the inverted snobbery!), or a Paneer Makhni/Butter Chicken/Andhra Mutton Biryani.
Each page of the food menu is studded with nibbles that will bring back cherished memories, like the cutting chai with khari biscuits, which are essentially puff pastries served in Mumbai's Irani cafes; or Bombay Bachelors, the typically Mumbai sandwich with sliced veggies and masala aloo bhaji topped with mint chutney and sev; or The Ramesh & Suresh -- deep-fried Five Star bars served with hot chocolate fudge and vanilla ice-cream -- named after the two characters who appears in the commercial for the well-known chocolate brand. But in all this unusualness, there's a unifying strand -- good taste. It never goes out of fashion.