Gaggan – Touching the culinary sky!

Quick question. Which is Asia’s no. 1 restaurant?

The answer is Gaggan in Bangkok. A ‘progressive Indian cuisine’ restaurant, by an Indian – Gaggan Anand. It topped the new list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants, sponsored by S Pellegrino and Acqua Panna. The awards ceremony was at Capella, Singapore.

Incidentally Anand is the first Indian chef to undergo an internship at the famed El Bulli, the influences really shows up in his cooking style.

Along with this influence, Chef Gaggan also draws on his memories of the street food of India and the diversity of its cuisine, marries it with science and technology to create modern reinterpretations of traditional recipes and viola! Asia’s number 1 restaurant is born!

I was in Bangkok last month with my team, and needless to say, ek meal Gaggan mein toh banta hi tha. So off we went, with great expectations and here’s an account of our time there.

The first impression of Gaggan is etched with the décor. Set in a beautiful, white colonial style wooden house, it exudes warmth and we find plenty of it inside too. Gaggan Anand is at the entrance to welcome us.

We chose to sit on the upper level, the crowd was a motley mix of Indians and westerners. I was touched and amused to hear Gaggan Anand talk about how he has followed my journey since he was a child, he actually quoted stories which I had shared on my Khana Khazana shows, way back!

And now for the meal. We opted for the Best of Gaggan menu. A staggering 21 dishes in all.

On the menu wherever there was a non-vegetarian dish, the vegetarians were adequately compensated with an equally good vegetarian dish. Here’s what impressed me the most.

What came first was the Amuse Bouche (Complimentary, bite-sized food portions, served before a meal or in between courses). It was burnt aam panna sorbet with cucumber caviar. Served in a branded wooden box with a wooden spatula on which the caviar rested. Food first impression…rocking!

This was followed by assortment of molecular chaat- Yogurt explosion, edible plastic spiced nuts, white chocolate pani puri, jhal muri cake…In between each course Anand would walk in and explain how and what made him come up with such creations. That’s when we got to know of his connection with Kolkata, the influence of Bengali cuisine is evident in the menu.

What came next like a piece of rock, it was a casing for a soup! The Down to Earth soup as it was called. A simple, yet delicious veg soup with an egg yolk floating in it, it was runny as they claimed it was cooked at 62 degrees. It exploded in our mouth in runny awesomeness!

The next dish on the menu called Charcoal was phenomenal. When it came to our table we couldn’t really see it because it was covered with a cloche which had trapped in all the smoke. The hostess didn’t reveal any details and left it to us to guess what it was, of course she assured us of an explanation later. When I cut into the charcoal it was soft, ate it, it was smoky and it was delicious fish which had all the wonderful flavours of Bengal. We also had a deconstructed samosa, called the Potato 2-some-crispy and liquid, it doesn’t look like a samosa, doesn’t taste like a samosa but has all the elements of one, the chutney, the potatoes and everything else. Delicious!

We decided to take a break, to ease our full bellies, to go have a look at the kitchen. Meanwhile I presented my book The Yellow Chilli to Chef Anand, after a photograph and autograph session we started our tour. Impressed once again! The molecular section was phenomenal. Everything modern and latest. I observed the precision with which each food plating was done, it was identical, hats off to the team, it takes a lot to be that accurate! I saw a drilling machine, it was to make holes in the golgappa. That kind of perfectionism floored me! Applause worthy indeed!

His refrigerator did not have much storage space, which means he gets his produce fresh, everyday. Another plus.

We got back to our food, and it was Land of Lungis for us now, it was one of the dishes mentioned on the menu and had caught my attention right at the beginning. I was looking forward to the drama on the plate. Land of Lungis was a gorgeous lobster claw cooked in Malabari curry and was served with rice. Vegetarian version was called Comfort Food, where instead of lobster, Chana Masala was served with rice. The chana masala was not the best you could get, but then one doesn’t go to a place like Gaggan and expect familiar stuff.

The desserts were grand. Made in Japan was a hit, because it had matcha, a green tea powder as the main ingredient and I like matcha. So it was matcha ice cream and matcha tea cake with mascarpone cream, vanilla salt and fresh wasabi. Unusual yet palate tickling!

Gaggan cuisine is high on impact, yet doesn’t compromise on taste. If you go there looking for the usual butter chicken and choley, you will be disappointed. But if you go looking for a new experience, for the food top restaurants are doing today or for modernity and variety, you are at the right place.

Nutralite –flavour and health at your table!

In a bid to find a balance between great taste, health and fitness, Zydus wellness offers you Nutralite with omega 3 as a healthy alternative to butter. A premium table spread which is free of cholesterol and hydrogenated fats, Nutralite also has PUFA (poly unsaturated fatty acids) and MUFA (mono unsaturated fatty acids) which are known cholesterol fighters. Using even a spoonful of Nutralite table spread is good enough to add a tinge of oomph to the recipes.
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Nutralite with omega 3 has a fabulous taste just by itself, but we are always pushing the envelope a little further to deliver the best to you. This is why I am sharing with you a little tip or let’s say a trade secret which has helped me turn even the simplest of meals into a masterpiece.
What if I told you a way to add to the already fabulous taste of Nutralite? Yes you can customize your box of Nutralite table spread by adding your favourite flavour. I can tell you all by my personal experiences, flavoured table spread is a secret weapon to turn a rather usual dish into an elegant one. Be it shooting a recipe on TV or dishing up a meal for guests or cooking for my family, I have used flavoured Nutralite everywhere and trust me, the results are absolutely gorgeous!

Whether you make a simple bake or a roast, steam or toss up some veggies with some meat or make some easy pasta, adding flavoured Nutralite to your preparations will definitely add some glamour and create great exciting flavours on the palate. This way the whole meal turns out to be really special, rather intriguing for the one who will eat it. To top it all, it is incredibly easy to make flavoured Nutralite– all you need is a box of Nutralite with Omega 3 and the type of flavouring that you want to add to it. Turn to your refrigerator or kitchen shelves for inspiration, stir up the ideas and blend it in with softened Nutralite table spread. Voila! You have created a table spread with your choice of flavouring that would go with any dish you would want to pair it up with. You can even prepare your flavoured Nutralite table spread loaded with the benefits of Omega 3, pretty much in advance.
All you need to do is take a portion of Nutralite table spread and let it soften at room temperature. Then add your choice of flavouring and mix it up really well – finely minced garlic, parsley and chilli flakes are my basic favourites. Wrap this in cling film and freeze, so that the next time guests arrive without notice, you already have something fancy done and ready to be used!
A way to glam up something as a simple as breakfast of bread toast, keeping it super healthy!

There is a list of ingredients that you can choose from to make your very own flavoured Nutralite table spread. I am sharing some options with you all, but you don’t have to stick to these! Go ahead! Experiment and when you do, make sure you share it with us!

Go herby with thyme, rosemary, dill, chives, basil, oregano, sage, etc.
Unusual ones like capers, olives, sun dried tomatoes, radish, lavender and others.
Those with a sweet tooth can go for pineapple, mango, honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, figs, prunes, dates, raisins, apricots, etc. or even add a mix of finely chopped up pieces of fruit jelly!
Get nutty with walnuts, almonds, cashewnuts, pistachios, pinenuts, chia seeds, hazelnuts or any nut of your choice for a delicious crunch. You can experiment with bits of hardened caramel of butterscotch too!
Spices like nutmeg, cinnamon, five-spice, all-spice and the very Indian garam masala powder makes it great too!

Also sharing some basic recipes for flavoured Nutralite table spread with you. Try them!
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To make parsley Nutralite table spread, combine ½ cup chopped fresh parsley and 500 grams softened Nutralite in a bowl and mix well.
To make chilli Nutralite table spread, combine 2 tablespoons red chilli flakes and 500 grams softened Nutralite in a bowl and mix well.
To make garlic Nutralite table spread, combine 2 tablespoons chopped garlic and 500 grams softened Nutralite in a bowl and mix well.
Cover each in cling films and freeze till used.

So what are you doing on 31st?

This is the most asked question this time of the year. It is de rigueur to be doing something on 31st December, read partying. Over the years on the 31st, I’ve been away from home on business trips, been abroad with family, partied with friends, but never at home not ‘doing’ anything on 31st. This year, call it getting wiser or what you may, I want to be home on 31st. I don’t want to be bringing in the new year screaming my new year wishes to people that matter, over the party din, I want to bring in the new year on a meaningful note. I want to convey what I want for my loved ones in the new year in a way they can hear, clear and in the tone it’s meant to be heard in. I believe that at the end of the day the true meaning of the word enjoying is doing something that brings you joy, it’s not about letting the world know that you were at XYZ’s party or aboard a yacht or at this hip club. Do what brings you joy. Do what makes you happy. Do what will go into your life’s scrapbook in that mellow shade of gold, after all every new year deserves a fresh start.

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So what are you doing on 31st?

What next?

Like the rest of the world I too watched the news about the killing of innocent children in Pakistan, in shock, rage and grief. I can’t even begin to fathom what the parents of the slain children are going through, what kind of pain and trauma the survivors are going through, what the helpless dead children went through when death came in the form of uninformed, ignorant, evil fiends. Militants who are a blot on humanity.

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What kind of a world do we inhabit? What kind of a world are we leaving to our children, our future? We are leaving behind hate, hurt, anger…We’ve always been taught that good triumphs over evil, truth finds its way and shines brightly through the darkest lies…when will it all happen? After half the human race is wiped out?

The need of the hour is for the world to shun borders, differences and political agendas and come together to fight evil. Millions of dollars are poured into advancing technology, improving gadgets, conquering space, but if you ask me, I would say that all that money should be spent on eradicating evil from the face of earth. The world can do without another hi-tech cellphone, but it cannot do without its children!

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What we need is world peace, at any cost!

Why brown is Best

Why does brown rice get such a rap? Ever thought about it? Most people share a common myth that brown rice is insipid and takes a very long time to cook. The vagaries of the mind and associated myths that I must clear as a chef are never ending, this being one of the most common. So what is brown rice? – A question that pervades many young adult minds.

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Brown rice is one of the best and healthiest things to partake.  In addition, to being healthy rich in fiber, cholesterol-lowering fats and nutritious minerals and antioxidants – brown rice has a deep, nutty flavor and texture that’s tasty and definitely not boring. In fact, it is loaded with nutrients as well as taste.

After the husk or the outermost protective, but non-nutritive layer is removed from a grain of rice you get brown rice. Brown rice retains the nutrient rich bran layer that gives you a higher nutritive value in terms of protein, iron, vitamins and essential minerals. It is this fibrous bran coating that gives brown rice its light tan color, nutlike flavor and chewy texture.

Brown rice isn’t a recent health fad; it has been on the Indian plate ever since we discovered rice! What’s more it comes in both short and long grain varieties. With time, more and more people are picking brown rice over white rice, especially in urban India, due to easy availability and the growing understanding that white rice is stripped off the nutritious bran layer which is present in brown rice. In fact let me tell you my secret; I introduced Brown rice to my family by introducing it during dinner amongst friends. The benefits and different taste got such rave reviews that we switched to using Brown rice regularly without batting an eye.

I have also found a friend in Daawat quick cooking brown rice because unlike other kinds of Brown rice it cooks in just 15 minutes. Daawat brown rice is available in the longer, fluffier more fragrant Basmati variety in most stores. Buy these in 1 kg or 5 kg packets, depending on your usage and consume within 6 months of purchase, like you should do with any kind of rice.

Actually, if the basmati is brown, then it’s a case of sone pe suhaga, as the phrase in Hindi goes.

Here’s a list my seven reasons why I advocate Brown rice and particularly Daawat Basmati Rice to enjoy meal times with family:

  1. Brown basmati rice is rich in fiber: 1 cup of brown rice provides 3.5 grams of dietary fiber. It is extremely important as it is said that fiber in your food clings to the chemicals that can cause cancer and it takes it away from colon and breast cells and eliminates them by way of waste. Thus, helps prevent cancer of the colon and breast. Fiber is also good for the smooth functioning of your heart. To support heart health, the American Heart Association recommends eating 25-30 grams of fiber daily. It is recommended to take them from good sources like fruits, vegetables, beans or whole grain brown rice.
  2. Rich source of vitamins and anti-oxidants: whole grains like brown rice are good sources of many vitamins and minerals. The bioactive components of whole grains appear to work synergistically and are rich sources of anti-oxidants. Brown rice is also gluten-free and contains no trans-fat or cholesterol and only a trace amount of fat and sodium. It is said though not confirmed that a cup of brown basmati rice contains 88% of the recommended daily dose of manganese and selenium. Manganese prevents damage from the free radicals created during the production of energy; it also is a key player in the fatty acids’ synthesis. Selenium is said to destroy cancer cells and regulate the thyroid hormone metabolism. Brown basmati rice is rich in magnesium, a vital compound in promoting bone strength.
  3. Helps fight diabetes better: research says that having two servings of brown basmati rice or just brown rice, per week lowers the risk of contracting diabetes.
  4. Keeps you fit: weight watchers are going to love this! Brown rice and whole grains in particular aid in weight management by adding bulk and making a person feel fuller so they are less likely to overeat. This is also confirmed by many renowned dieticians/researchers’, one of them being International dietician Keli Hawthorne, a registered dietitian at BCM. (Baylor College of Medicine, Texas, Houston). Weight loss happens due to many reasons, for example, exercising, eating right things, etc. But by eating brown rice, one consumes fiber, which results in better bowel movements, which in turn leads to a healthier lifestyle.
  5. Cooks faster: conventionally brown rice takes about 45-50 minutes to cook, but Daawat brown basmati is in fact India’s only quick cooking brown rice as it is processed with Hydration Enhancement Technology (HET). HET helps water penetrate the grain faster while cooking, so you can serve wholesome brown rice goodness in just 12-15 minutes.
  6. Daawat brown basmati rice makes a delicious and wholesome addition to your table, besides being healthy. In fact, you can easily swap white rice with brown rice for most Indian/Pan Asian or Middle Eastern recipes. Since it is fragrant you can serve it up just like that with curd or curries or add tons of veggies to make a smart and satisfying meal. This rice works especially well when flavored with a small amount of saffron and cardamom to use in pulaos and biryanis or even jeera rice. You can cook up a variety of dishes from breakfast to dessert like Brown rice aromatic Biryani or pulao, 15 minutes Brown Fried Rice, Brown Rice Bake, Brown rice, Risotto Brown Rice Pops, Brown rice Cake and Brown Rice Kheer etc.
  7. Well Daawat brown basmati rice will make you feel rich and royal, but at the same time reduces fuel cost because it cooks faster than most other kinds of rice. In the long run, you’ll see how beneficial this turns out for your palate and your pocket!

With so many fabulous benefits, there is no reason for you to not switch to brown rice today!

Disclaimer – The generic benefits explained here are sourced from multiple references. The company or the client does not claim all the benefits except those pertaining to the technology

Of fun, food and friendliness

This isn’t my first trip to the African continent but, it sure is one of the most memorable. We were there to attend the Good Food and Wine Show 2014, in Durban, South Africa. My colleague Chef Anupa Das and I headed straight from the airport to the beautiful Hotel Elangeni which by the way in Swahili and Zulu languages means ‘where the sun shines through’ and what better place could actually do justice to the word.

View from the top The hotel is located at perhaps the most beautiful spots in Durban, where your room faces the beach, and the beautiful promenade at the beach beckoned me to walk! Also, it was extremely windy all the time and later we got to know from the locals that we were quite lucky to get such a pleasant weather in Durban, otherwise it’s quite hot this time of the year! Fortunate enough is all I can say!
I started off saying this trip to Durban was one of my most favourite, the reason being Diwali. I definitely missed home, but the people and the celebrations in Durban during Diwali made sure I wasn’t very home sick. While we were at an interactive and fun conference cum cocktail party, we IMG_9101got invited to celebrate Diwali with this warm and welcoming Indian family.
They showed us the true essence of Diwali in Durban. This family has lived there for generations, their ancestors moved to South Africa decades ago, so the culture and traditions of the Indian community in Durban is a beautiful mix of Indian and South African culture. Spectacular lighting and pretty fireworks were on display. There was almost actually a pool table full of fireworks which went on through the entire course of the evening. Dinner was a very typical Durban style biryani made with the much used ‘sugar bean’ served with dal, unlike an accompaniment that would be served with a biryani in India. Strange combination, but an absolute palate tickling preparation!

At the Good Food and Wine Show - Durban South Africa (1)

At The Good Food & Wine Show

The next two days were all about the main event at the Good Food & Wine Show where I had some food demonstrations to be done.

At the Good Food and Wine Show - Durban South Africa (2)First, I dished up Pav Bhaji Martini, Motichoor Golgappa and Steamed Basmati Chicken Kababs and followed by Shrikhand with Stewed Berries, Matka Biryani and Prawn Curry in Green Masala, with crowd interactions simultaneously!

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It’s always exciting to see how people from different strata and regions of the world come on the same page when it comes to good food!
with Chef Maura Castano and Chef Reza Mahammad

The green room was actually a lot of fun with Chef Maura Castano of Cake boss fame and Chef Reza Mahammad chatting up about food, fun and philosophy. Did also, managed to squeeze in a couple of media interactions, like an interview with the channel SABC3. All this was followed by a grand Indian dinner at The Oyster Box.

During the 3 days I did my best, hopping to places to try the local food and to shop. Quite interestingly, the local food has much of an Indian influence with curries being a popular item. Crumb Fried Prawns with Chips

Even vegetarianism is widely followed here. Whether it’s the Mauritian dishes like Octopus Curry, Mauritian Prawn Curry and the likes at Restaurant Ile Maurice digging into the Banichka (a Durban curry served with bread) and Seafood Platters at the cafes on the beach promenade– the food in Durban is quite fascinating and are reason enough to keep visiting Durban.

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We visited this little shack called the appy chappy, which is very popular with the locals and in their accent sounds really different– hence it took us a while finding the place. The Mutton bunny chow and the chicken curry and roti we ate here were completely worth the search, probably more!Bunny Chow
The soul of Durban not just lies in its picturesque land, but the people and food as well! From kids to oldies, what is common is the fabulous spirit of the people!
All in all, I would end by saying that it was one amazing trip! South Africa is very welcoming and I definitely look forward to visit another parts of this beautiful land in times to come. Maybe I should start planning my next restaurant venture there or… you never know! Keep guessing!

Innovate with Super foods!

Innovation station has become a tradition for us at office! For those of you who don’t know about it, it is a cooking face-off between the extremely talented chefs at office held every year for the past 6 years. This year we went two steps ahead and included all the staff to be a part of it, everybody from accounts to production to editorial, put on their thinking caps and cooking aprons to come up with some fabulous dishes using super foods as main ingredients!

Each team was provided with one super food each, which was expected to be the star of their recipe. At the same time they were allocated a limited budget, time slot and had to face the pressure to plate up a never seen before dish in competition with colleagues. With 5 chefs heading the five teams, there were some extraordinary recipes that we had the pleasure to taste and a very difficult time judging. After much deliberation all of us picked a winning recipe and a winning team.

The Winning team! – Their recipe was called Beet it! This team led by chef Siddharth made a the most delicious lava cake with beetroot and white chocolate enclosed in a lovely spun sugar nest, it came with a creamy beetroot ice cream.  What enhanced this was flambéed rum poured over the sugar nest which caused it to melt and reveal the lovely lava cake and infuse it with more flavour. This dish was a perfect mix of the right textures, flavours, temperatures and felt like a party in your mouth. All in all a brilliant food eating experience!
Beetroot Lava Cake (white chocolate and beetroot lava cake, sugar nest, beetroot ice cream and beetroot chips)

Beet It
Runners Ups – Chef Shalaka put in all her years of experience in the hotel industry to create a platter so beautiful, that we admired it for a full 5 minutes before actually digging into it. With the main ingredient as Kiwi, they made a chicken roulade filled with a delicious tangy kiwi salsa served with a number of other components like a kiwi and feta leather pouches, beetroot caviar, delicious mushroom foam, and some pretty looking edible flowers and micro greens all washed down with a kiwi caprioska. With so many interesting components and flavour profiles this dish was great to taste besides, being a beauty to look at!  The dish scored full marks for presentation and spelt innovation in the true sense.

Kiwi salsa with chicken (Mushroom Foam, Feta Kiwi Leather and Kiwi Caprioska) –

Kiwi Salsa With Chicken

The enthusiasm and the spirit in which the entire competition happened, makes me feel proud to have such a talented and enthusiastic team of people to work with! They say when competition is healthy and it is fun, there is no losing involved; everyone is a winner so here are the other recipes that were part of Innovation station 2014 at Office.

Misthi Doi Pannacotta

Mishti Doi Panacotta (served with a yogurt brittle, yogurt mawa waffles, yogurt truffles and a khuskhus rabri)

Sweet Potato Mille Feuille with Cheese Sauce
Sweet Potato Millie Feuille with cheese sauce ( along with a sweet potato rosti, sweet potato falafel, and a sweet potato filling)

Tricolour Quinoa Timbale with Tomato Sauce
Tricolour Quinoa Timbale with Tomato Sauce ( grilled zucchini strips, pesto quinoa, tomato quinoa, mushroom quinoa and a cheese quenelle)
These recipes are great to taste and with a little practice, you should be able to make these in your home kitchen and if you do, let us know how it turns out! Also here’s wishing everyone a very happy and prosperous Diwali!