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.