Indian food’s new avatar
Norwegian Salmon for a Fish Tikka, Cous Cous in a Pani Puri or a Lobster Moilee, these are the new age example of Indian cuisine which all the rage these days. Restaurants are opening up across the country, which are making this new age contemporary version of Indian food their forte. The novelty and success of these restaurants remain quite another matter of course.
Thankfully, we have outgrown the rage of fusion cuisine, which more often than not was a directionless mish mash of elements, just because it looked intriguing on the menu. Today there is more awareness and understanding amongst us consumers as well as chefs. We have increased our need to learn more about food in general; this in turn has driven chefs to be motivated to not just up the game for them selves but also their knowledge.
Conscious efforts are being made to take a more modern approach in preparing and presenting a completely renewed Indian cuisine experience to diners across the world. We came across words like elegance and evolution when we asked ‘what does contemporary Indian cuisine mean?’ Manish Mehrotra, the man behind acclaimed Delhi restaurant Indian Accent puts it best, “It is Indian food for the twenty first century with a unique marriage of global ingredients and techniques with the flavors and traditions of India.” India’s diversity and hence its cuisines’ diversity opens doors for chefs to run amok with their creativity; successful ones come up with stellar creations like Foie Gras Stuffed Galawat or Mishti Doi Lollipops. A lot of emphasis is being given to innovation while retaining the essence of the cuisine intact. In some manner, the cuisine is undergoing a revolution of sorts with the use of international ingredients, cooking styles and presentation.
With Chefs like Vineet Bhatia, Atul Kochhar and Gaggan Anand making a name for themselves as well as this modern avatar of Indian food, acceptance has grown. It is no longer avant garde but part of a well established trend. Back home, Hemant Oberoi and Varq, Mehrotra have been at the forefront of this style. Bhatia also collaborated with The Oberoi hotel in Mumbai to open Ziya. The trend has moved away from exorbitant fine-dining restaurants to more casual restaurants like Mumbai’s Copa and The Spare Kitchen which offer similar experiences at lesser cost.
Authenticity still is the game changer. Indians are a difficult bunch to please; while we will globetrot in search of new experiences and tastes we will never take it lightly if our basic staple food is messed around with. We still like our Dal, Chawal and Roti at the end of the day and we should be able to recognize and connect with the flavors of each of these dishes. It is essential to stick to the basics, never change the recipe of a classic dish. You can play with the ingredients, yet retaining the basic element of the dish intact. It is a tough predicament for a chef, but as long as the ingredients marry each other and provide authenticity, these chefs are sure they will win us over.
At times it just seems that the way a dish is presented makes all the difference, so is it just a gimmick and is a fancy presentation all there is to a truly modern Indian dish? Common consensus says otherwise – appearance and plating is certainly an important aspect it is the history, heritage and the flavors that Indian Cuisine has to offer, is unmatched. It is about combining ingredients, techniques and taking care of all different components of a successful dish i.e. taste, texture and color. Zorawar Kalra, MD, Massive Restaurants which is behind the recently introduced brand Masala Library by Jiggs Kalra is a proponent of what he describes as Indian Cuisine – Version 2.0; a holistic dining experience is a combination of great food (flavor, presentation, plating, participation, aroma, etc), perfect hospitality (warm and attentive staff with great service) and a little bit of joie de vivre.
This being said, Indian food is perhaps the most challenging to plate and present. Black dal in a deep bowl with a swirl of cream is a classic example, how else can you serve the rich creamy bowl of lentils. Gautam Chaudhary, Executive Chef, Hyatt Bangalore explains, “There are 4 components in a plate, when you are plating. They are protein, vegetables, starch and sauce. Think of the vegetable and starch that go along well with the said protein and keep the color combination in mind.” Sauces remain a tricky problem to add on the plate itself, often you’ll find them thickened or being served on the side.
Globally, Indian food or at least its concepts are well established, and not just as Chicken Tikka Masala. Amuse Bouche and pre-plated courses, alien to our communal style of eating, makes Indian food more acceptable to a prevalent global norm. Chefs like Oberoi, Kochhar, Bhatia and Anand have provided fuel to fire with their kitchen escapades, we just have to wait and watch for the fire to start roaring. You will easily find expatriates and travelers extolling their views as to whether the Hyderabadi or Awadhi Biryani is better. While Indian food as we have known for so long will have its own following and as Mehrotra says, “However, we need to bring these forward, take them to the global platform. Inventive Indian or the modern style of cooking definitely helps reaching out to the western tastes.”
Featured Image: Galangal infused Patrani Mekong Basa with Tomato Shorba Essence at Indian Accent, Delhi