Sunday, 14 September 2014

I Have Moved from Blogger to My Own Dotcom

I cannot ever thank you enough for the overwhelming response that you, my readers, have given me and the faith you have placed in me. I have now moved from my present perch to my own new address, namely,, and I welcome you to click on it to keep finding out what's happening in the world of hotels and restaurants. I add something new almost every day. You'll also find all my old articles in the archives of my website, which will now be like the book of life. Keep support me with your page views. I love it!!!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Gaggan Shows India's Centurion Club How To Do 'All Things Unimaginable to Indian Cuisine'

By Sourish Bhattacharyya
YOU KNOW a great chef when you see him at work. He makes even the most complicated operation seem like Cooking 101.
Most chefs of the stature of Gaggan Anand -- one-time acolyte of the Spanish maestro Ferran Adria and the lead chef/co-owner of the world's highest-rated Indian restaurant, Gaggan of Bangkok (Asia's No. 3 and the world No. 17) -- do not venture into an unfamiliar kitchen to feed 30 world-travelled, potentially hyper-critical diners, all carrying the most precious, and prestigious, strip of anodised titanium -- the American Express Centurion Card.
Not many hours after the dinner, Gaggan Anand
put up a cookery demonstration for journos. You
can see him assembling his Matcha Ice-Cream
Sandwich with his 23-year-old associate, Sergi
Palacin Martinez from the Basque country.
On Thursday, September 4, Gaggan turned ITC Maurya New Delhi's Executive Club dining room, which is essentially used for breakfasts and cocktail hours, into a show kitchen that provided these 30 diners a ringside view of the effort and imagination he invests in his art. From hand-crafted, 180-euro tableware custom-made for him in Spain to wooden sake cups from Japan with his name carved on them, to sleek liquid nitrogen dispensers and mini portable frozen teppanyaki counters, Gaggan and his team -- one Indian, two Spaniards, one Frenchman and two Thai nationals -- have come armed for eight consecutive meals to show India's high and mighty what the genius from New Alipore with the flying ponytail and shaggy beard means when he says it is his dream to do "everything unimaginable with Indian food". All team members were required to pack their clothes and personal toiletries into their carry-on bags, all within the seven-kilo allowance, because there were 260 kilos of ingredients to be lugged.
The highlights of Gaggan's evening of dreams were the 'Indian foie gras' with bheja (goat's brain) mousse, the faux steak tartare for vegetarians with liquid nitrogen-chilled baigan bharta, 'false egg yolk' and vacuum fried onions, the sponge-like deconstructed dhokla served with coriander chutney foam and coconut ice-cream, which made hotelier Ranjan Bhattacharya (Country Inn & Suites) comment in jest that Gaggan would put Haldiram's out of business, and the 4G version of the Kheema Pav with minced lamb curry mousse at the centre of two dehydrated buns.
Even the 'Bird's Nest' is a work of inventive art made with what Bengalis call jhoori bhaja (fried potato shavings), chutney and 'egg' created out of a potato mousse sphere. And the idea of eating with one's nose blew my mind. Gaggan's Poor Man's Porridge (jasmine rice ice-cream and pistachio gel served with almond and rose 'glass') actually tastes different when you eat it with your nostrils blocked. Reason? You don't get to breathe the rose-flavoured room freshener that is sprayed when the ice-cream is sprayed. What you breathe does make a difference to what you taste.
In Gaggan's repertoire, technique is not allowed to transform taste -- jhoori bhaja tastes just like it should, as does the aloo chokha that fills in for the 'Indian foie gras' for vegetarians. Form, likewise, doesn't intervene in the interplay of flavours, so the gunpowder (or milagai podi in Tamil) expresses itself with all its fierceness, and the curry leaf powder adds its zest, when put in the company of poached fish (basa, unfortunately!), Basmati rice porridge (actually, a curd rice, or thair sadam, mousse) and tamarind sugar.
The same authenticity of flavours is evident in Gaggan's Down to Earth 'soup' -- asparagus, morels, mushrooms and artichokes with 62 degrees C egg yolk (if it's 63 degrees, it gets runny -- that's molecular gastronomy for you) and truffle chilli air. And in his Khichdi, or risotto made with nine-year-old rice, forest mushrooms, morels and fresh truffles with a hint of chilli (Gaggan's only concession to carb cravings), the distinctive presence of each ingredient plays on your senses and gets your neurons on overdrive.
The lamb chops were the only disappointment -- they seem to have come straight out of Bukhara and Gaggan, with an honesty and a complete absence of arrogance that we have come to associate with star chefs, promised to take up the matter with the hotel and not repeat the error again. We were too overwhelmed by the evening to really care about the lamb. Gaggan is a magician. He has you in his spell -- each course came with a story, which he narrated with a dose of his impish humour before the dish was served, and was an experience in itself. And he wowed the guests by personally serving each one of them. He's not only the master of the back of the house, but also an efficient manager of the front end.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Gaggan Anand Sets Out to Reinvent the Cuba Libre at his 11-Course Theatre of Molecular Gastronomy for Centurion Card Holders

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

A CULINARY team representing four nationalities -- Indian, Thai, Spanish and French -- is working overtime at the ITC Maurya even as I write this post to put together the first-ever Progressive Indian feast being curated by the inimitable Gaggan Anand in his mother country.
Gaggan Anand is all set to unveil
India's gastronomic event of the
year on September 4 in New Delhi.
The 11-course meal, priced at Rs 15,000 per person for owners of the American Express Centurion card, will feature items that are not on the menu of Gaggan's eponymous Bangkok restaurant ranked No. 3 in Asia and No. 17 in the world. These are being created especially for the two-city (Dellhi and Mumbai), eight-dinner event, facilitated by Mangal Desai and Nachiket Shetye's Cellar Door Kitchen. Among them will be a drink that Gaggan proudly calls the Indi Libre. An exciting take-off from the Cuba Libre, the concoction consists of the famous rum that Gaggan appropriately describes as "Rocky Mohan's Old Monk", ginger, kala namak and Thums Up (a far better choice, I believe, than the standard, sweeter Coke).
I met Gaggan at the hotel's 28th Floor Executive Lounge, where he'll present the four back to back dinners starting from Thursday, September 4. A bundle of positive energy sporting his trademark unkempt ponytail, Gaggan talked excitedly about the 250 kilos of ingredients that he and his team had carried with them from Bangkok to New Delhi. These include fresh yuzu and wasabi and one of Japan's best sake from Tokyo, fresh coconut milk extracted out of burnt Thai coconut from Bangkok, and white asparagus from Chiang Mai. For his genre-defining white chocolate paani poori, he contacted Cocoberry's Asian region head and got her to source for him the world's best white chocolate shells. And he has also brought along his dehydrator, his liquid nitrogen mixing bowls and a host of other gizmos from his kitchen, apart from customised Gaggan-endorsed sake cups made in Japan.
Foie gras was the only favourite ingredient of his that Gaggan could not get. "But why has the government issued a blanket ban on foie gras?" he asked -- and added: "Not all foie gras is extracted out of force-fed geese. I get my supplies from the Spanish ethical farmer, Eduardo Sousa, who produces the world's best foie gras without force-feeding his birds." At Gaggan's restaurant, no farmed fish is allowed and 70 per cent of the fresh ingredients used are organically grown.
Gaggan's 11-course meal will be more or less carb-free, so there'll be no "naan breads", he warned, though a truffle oil risotto will take care of carb cravings of the guests. Among Gaggan's exclusive creations for this series of meals is a drink he has named Yos (Japanese for 'drunk') Samurai -- it comprises an exclusive sake, umezu (pickled plum 'vinegar') and fresh juice of a yuzu, the tart citrus fruit that physically looks like a small grapefruit. Coconut lassi is the other one, but the matcha (green tea) ice-cream sandwiches with a topping of freshly grated wasabi are designed to take the privileged diners by surprise.
For Dalal, who first met Gaggan two years ago when both were in Copehagen for an internship at Rene Redzepi's Noma restaurant, and Shetye, it's the first big step towards "taking Indian cuisine to the world". Of course, they had their moments of fun (and creative tension) -- "our WhatsApp exchanges, if not R-rated, are certainly Not Safe For Work!" Dalal said with a chuckle -- but they were surprised by the spontaneous interest in the event. "We didn't have to scream and shout that Gaggan is coming," Shetye said about the response to the sold-out event. "I am surprised by the buying power of Delhi," Gaggan added.
Unsurprisingly, Dalal and Shetye are planning four pop-up events next year. Gaggan has already mentally mapped out his next outing in India -- a picnic brunch at a Himalayan resort with freshly sourced local ingredients (you can't get any cooler than that!). With such electric excitement in the air, it was hard to let Gaggan get back to work. He returned to the kitchen with one worry hanging over his head. Would all his guests arrive sharp at 8? Forewarned about Delhi's habit of being always fashionably late, he said with a degree of finality: "Those who come late will have to start at the course that is being served." Consider yourself cautioned.

Monday, 1 September 2014

An Indian Revolutionary's Curry That Our Vegetarian PM Couldn't Savour in Japan

By Sourish Bhattacharyya

BEING VEGETARIAN, Prime Minister Narendra Modi won't get to savour one popular Japanese dish that continues to be celebrated as the everlasting legacy of an Indian revolutionary who prepared the ground for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army. Indo Karii, or chicken curry served with rice and pickled vegetables, is the name of the dish and it is still the best-seller at Shinjoku Nakamuraya, the Tokyo restaurant where the riveting story that started with a bomb attack on a British
A studio picture shot in Tokyo of
Rash Behari Bose and his Japanese
wife, Soma Toshiko, whose parents
owned Nakamuraya, a famous
bakery in Shinjoku, where the
fugitive revolutionary introduced
the Japanese to 'real' Indian
chicken curry
viceroy ended in its invention.
Rash Behari Bose (1886-1945), whose memory survives in the name of an important arterial road in Kolkata, was the head clerk at the Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun when he came in contact with leaders of revolutionary groups active in Bengal and Punjab. Inspired by them, he participated in the conspiracy that resulted in a bomb being hurled at Lord Hardinge of Penshurst, the British viceroy responsible for the shifting of the capital from Calcutta to New Delhi, on December 23, 1912.
The viceroy escaped with minor bruises and Bose's role in the conspiracy was never established by the British Raj police (Bose, to cover his tracks, is said to have even organised a public meeting in Dehra Dun condemning the attack!), although three revolutionaries named in the bombing -- Basant Kumar Biswas, Master Amir Chand and Avadh Behari -- were hanged to death. Bose's involvement with revolutionary groups eventually came to the knowledge British intelligence agencies, leaving him with no option but to flee the country.
Bose landed in Japan in 1916. It wasn't the best thing to do, for World War I was on and Japan had allied itself with Britain, but he found a powerful supporter in the ultra-nationalist politician, Toyama Mitsuru, who belonged to the secretive Genyosha society. The Bangladeshi Tagore scholar, Probir Bikash Sarkar, who first brought to light the connection between Bose and Indo Karii, shared the story in an interview with The Sunday Guardian newspaper last year. (
The Japanese police were on Bose's trail, but they were wary of raiding the house of a politician as influential as Toyama, though they were certain that he had provided shelter to the fugitive revolutionary in his home. Toyama eventually asked his good friend, Soma Aizo, and his wife Kokkou, who owned a popular bakery named Nakamuraya in the Shinjoku entertainment district, to hide Bose in an attic in their home above the store. It was Toyama again who prevailed over the couple to get their daughter, Soma Toshiko, to marry Bose.
Toshiko succumbed to tuberculosis in 1925, leaving behind a son, who later died fighting the Americans in Okinawa, and a daughter, who inherited the store but stayed away from the limelight. The Indian son-in-law did not wish to be a freeloader, so, even as he continued with his espousal of the cause of his home country's independence, he suggested to his in-laws that he would start selling chicken curry, cooked with authentic Indian spices and not English curry powder, with rice.
Before Bose came on the scene, the Japanese, as the Indian-Canadian cookbook writer and blogger (Curry Twist), Smita Chandra, cooked curry the British way: "meat and onions were fried in butter, curry powder and stock added, and the mixture simmered slowly". ( Bose did it the way he had had it at home and he would make it a point to taste the curry before it went to his patrons. His creation was an instant hit and Bose even partnered with Japanese farmers to grow long-grained rice and chickens needed for it.
Japanese newspapers of his time were full of stories about 'Bose of Nakamuraya' and his curry, which they christened "the taste of love and revolution". Bose established the Indian Independence League, convinced the Japanese to allow Indian POWs to form the Indian National Army and paved the way for Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose taking charge of the rebel force. His comrade was the engineer Aiyappan Pillai Madhavan Nair (1905-1990), fondly remembered as Nair-san in Japan, who served as Netaji's valet. After World War II, Nair went on to establish Japan's first Indian restaurant at Ginza in Tokyo.
The restaurant, which opened its door in 1949, continues to be famous (as we learn from the Tokyo edition of Time Out magazine) for "its 'Murugi Lunch', a hearty meal that includes mashed potato, boiled cabbage and a curry that's been simmered down along with a leg of chicken (which contains meat so soft that it practically falls off the bone the moment you pick it up) for an incredible seven hours". The magazine goes on to say: "You'll probably want to tuck in as soon as arrives at your table, however, the recommended way to enjoy this fantastic meal is to grab a spoon and mix everything -- which includes a portion of turmeric-flavoured rice made with Iwate prefecture rice -- together." (
Bose, ironically, was sidelined by the Japanese war-time leadership in favour of Netaji and he died, like his wife, from tuberculosis in 1945. Two days later, his home was reduced to rubble in bombing by the Allied forces. He may have been forgotten in his home country, but his chicken curry remains alive in the popular imagination of his adopted home. It is served at Shinjoku Nakamuraya -- and it is present on every supermarket shelf in the form of packed ready-to-eat meals.