Chefs are coming together to change the way we eat. So get ready for tandoori chicken served on a bed of saffron rice khichdi.
There is a conspiracy underway, or so they say on the skid-free floors of kitchens. Chefs are coming together to change the way Indians eat. It is no secret that we are opinionated about our food. There are regional divisions, dietary ones, home food, sasural food, wedding food, food to fit all occasions. In an interesting turn—a few years ago, five stars buckled and introduced ghar ka khaana and phulkas. Restaurants built custom-made roti trolleys that were pushed by the men in white. The endearingly familiar hot rotis of home kitchens were highlighted as ‘Live phulkas’, and predictably, mild heckling ensued. Chefs bit back and rolled along. The diet of the decade determined that the well-heeled were not keen on refined flour. For chefs who had mastered bread preparations, this was an affront. The Crepes Suzette trolley had been replaced by the phulka one! Chefs and gourmands confabulated. “If you want ghar ka khaana, then eat at home”, and other such mutterings filtered out of the labyrinth of air shafts that resuscitate hot kitchens. A strike back was anticipated. It took time but it’s finally here. No one gets away with telling a chef what to put in his dough!
Let’s call it ‘Palate on a Plate’ and it’s tipped to be next year’s hottest food trend. For a while now, modern Indian cuisine has trifled with tested French concepts like the amuse bouche or the more ambitious degustation style of dining. Both reserved attempts, in my opinion, keeping in view the Indian diner’s familiarity with quick eats and thaali dining. But the recent developments are more daring. Sample this, a murgh makhani redesigned—the marinated tandoori chicken breast served on a bed of saffron cardamom khichdi, with the curry presented like a sauce. A whole meal on a plate, presented with a western sensibility and Indian flavour.
It has found its beginnings, and the culinary ethos, albeit simple, defies the all encompassing label of fusion cuisine. While some may lose themselves in the attractive presentations, it must be remembered that pre-plated food is carefully composed. It borrows from the western understanding of a balanced meal, where starch on a plate is defined by the humble potato. In one instant the mashed potato is replaced by starch in the form of khichdi—a mash of rice and vegetables. The evocative consistency and the presentation delude; however, the flavours remain Indian. The consistency of the meal and the flavours are in careful balance. The chef takes a risk, it is in a lot of ways his ultimate test, this interpretation of Indian food done the Western way. And yes, it is a subtle attempt at dictating what the diner eats.
Remember the striking back? Should you hope to wish away the broccoli on your plate, good luck, nothing short of a life-threatening allergy (insider tip) will convince the chef! Hotel lore suggests that one such restaurant is dotted with cameras that the chef can log on to. So should you feel an impertinent gastronomical impulse, remember Big Chef is watching! But rest easy, I have it on credible account that the cameras are only in the kitchen. As for family-style dining, the whole ghar ka khaana experience, as one wise chef repeats, “Eat at home!” When the curry is served as a sauce and an extra serving is brought in a sauce boat, you know the experience insists on being defined differently.