THE new sunday express MAGAZINE Voices Pushpesh Pant Ravi Shankar S Vaidhyasubramaniam Anu Aggarwal Sathya Saran Swami Sukhabodhananda Buffet People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment december 3 2023 SUNDAY PAGES 12 The Foreign Hand As Indians travel around the world for work and leisure, often in search of culinary treasures and authentic gastronomic experiences, foreign chefs are arriving in India to set up shop and attend to the gourmet craving of desis << La Vida Loca Chef Manuel Olveira Seller La Loca Maria, Mumbai Signature Dish: Paella Guilty pleasure: Chindian cuisine S (Above) Lobster paella; Calamari skewer French Connection Chef Nisa Yimthong Shangri-La Eros, New Delhi Culinary inspiration: Her grandmother Mojo: Local and seasonal produce “The versatility of coconut oil in Indian cooking adds a delightful richness to the dishes, enhancing their depth and aroma.” Chef Amiel Guerin << Amiel Gourmet, Bengaluru Food nostalgia: Grandmother’s clam cassoulet Comfort food: Rice, dal and a desi potato stir-fry Thai High << J By Raul Dias ust how Tuscan is the allegedly ‘Central Italian Cuisine’ served to us at the hot new trattoria downtown, everyone is flocking to? Is the real Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) made with shredded cabbage or noodles? Such questions raised by sceptical diners are aplenty Many times, the answers elude them with epicures pondering over the . originality and authenticity of a particular international dish or cuisine, which is thrust down their gullible throats by parvenu maestros. In the epoch-making era of the ever-evolving F&B space, there is one pronounced truism, which has never been more apparent, and widely-accepted: “culinary veracity”. Often on the menu cards of restaurants that claim to be the real deal, are iterations, which one is expected to chow down on, without a whimper of protest. But times, they are a-changing. While Australian MasterChef Gary Mehigan is whipping up crispy dosas and fluffy medu vadas in Down Under, and food diva Nigella Lawson is cooking fish with panch phoron in the English weather, chefs from across the globe have zeroed in on India, and are crafting subtle flavours for tastebuds staunchly reared on ghee and masalas. Recognising this trend is a whole bunch of standalone restaurants and hotels across the country that are increasingly employing expat chefs from the country of origin of the food they serve, not just to improve their positioning, but also to ensure quality and “culinary veracity”, if you please. All in a bid to bestow on their food a distinct gravitas and authority they purport to have. What does it take to ride the crest of this culinary wave and bring a portmanteau of international dining experience and authentic cultural nuance to Indian diners? We take a look. panish chef Manuel Olveira Seller’s classic food word is “integrity”. The 37-year-old chef and founder of Mumbai’s top Spanish restaurant, La Loca Maria, believes it is a two-way street. “I feel that Indians are now appreciating the integrity of a dish or cuisine,” says Seller. After five years of running his restaurant, he believes that patrons in his adopted country “are not as keen on asking for extra chilli or major tweaks. It’s like they’ve developed a deeper respect for the chef ’s original vision, which I truly appreciate”. He attributes this trend to a growing interest among foodies here to explore varied cuisines, and an increasing appreciation for fine dining. “The ingenious use Born in the UNESCO heritage of spices, the artful town of Toledo in Spain, Seller’s balance of flavours, gastronomical exploits have taken him from Spain to Dubai. and the emphasis on He got his first glimpse of the fresh, seasonal intricate science of cooking in ingredients, have all his mother’s restaurant, where he was already helping out in left a mark on my the kitchen when he was 14 cooking philosophy . years old. He has come a long way in his It’s a constant source appreciation for Indian food. He of inspiration.” recalls his experiments with making a dosa for the first time, which looked more like “modern art”. Indian food has had a profound impact on his culinary sensibility “The ingenious . use of spices, the artful balance of flavours and the emphasis on fresh, seasonal ingredients, have all left a mark on my cooking philosophy It’s a constant source of inspiration,” . says Seller, who sometimes loves to indulge in a perfectly spiced butter chicken. “Paella is my ultimate comfort food. The aroma of simmering rice in an aromatic saffron broth, with family gathered around a big pan of the beautifully cooked dish are moments I live for—a feeling of comfort and a celebration of togetherness,” he says, his voice belying his obvious nostalgia. W hat has left the most profound impression on me is the incredible warmth and hospitality of the Indian people,” says Amiel Guerin, the founder and executive chef of Amiel Gourmet, a modern French restaurant in Bengaluru. The 35-year-old Frenchman has been based in India for 13 years now, the last eight of which he has been running his eponymous restaurant. He attributes the success to the heightened awareness of his loyal patrons, who now have a deeper appreciation for his culinary offerings. “Indeed, our Lamb bourguignon “I don’t intend to challenge Indian chefs in their domain. Our goal is to infuse elements of local flavours into contemporary French dishes.” patrons have become increasingly conscious of our approach. We prepare French cuisine using locally sourced ingredients,” says Guerin, whose recipes often incorporate Indian vegetables and spices. “Being here, I also rely on predominantly India-made equipment. I don’t intend to challenge Indian chefs in their domain. Instead, our goal is to infuse elements of local flavours and influences into contemporary French dishes.” Born and raised in Brittany France, Guerin began , his culinary journey when he was only 12 years old. While his fondest food memories hark back to his mother’s tomato tart and his dad’s osso buco(Lombard cuisine of cross-cut goat shanks braised with vegetables, white wine and broth), he admires the incredibly diverse, rich, flavourful and vibrant Indian cuisine. “India is a culinary continent. I have a special fondness for South Indian breakfast, Kerala’s delectable fish curries and parottas, Sikkim’s thukpa and momos, Naga smoked pork, and the rich curries and naan with kebabs from North India,” says Guerin, who firmly believes that the essence of a cuisine is not confined to a specific country or location; instead, it is a reflection of the chef and the team, which bring it to life. T he humble coconut was Chef Nisa Yimthong’s great source of comfort during her initial years working and living in India. The ever-smiling Thai chef at Shangri-La Eros in Delhi has a great love for the coconut; a mainstay of not just in Indian cooking, but also in her home country Thailand. , She has been working in India since 2011. “The versatility of coconut oil in Indian cooking adds a delightful richness to the dishes, enhancing their depth and aroma,” says Yimthong, adding, “I also find the aromatic essence of cumin seeds and the comforting warmth of coriander powder captivating.” Her heart, however, still beats for her home country Thailand. “My , culinary inspiration has been my grandmother. Her passion for cooking, and her deep understanding of the importance of fresh ingredients, left an indelible mark on my culinary appreciation,” Yimthong reminisces, admitting that Indian cuisine, too, has profoundly shaped her cooking style, especially the meticulous use of spices as well as the artistic presentation of food. “Incorporating elements from Indian cuisine has given my cooking depth,” she admits. In the last decade that the 40-year old Yimthong has been living in India, she believes that there has been an evolutionof-sorts in the tastebuds of her patrons—particularly in their openness to experimenting with new flavours. “Just like how I have opened up to tastes that I did not grow up with,” she explains. A case in point is her love and appreciation for the North Indian favourite—chole bhature. “It’s a culinary masterpiece, which perfectly encapsulates the essence of Indian gastronomy she says. ,” Yellow Thai curry with prawns Turn to page 2
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