One confidently attributes haute cuisine on this planet to the Spanish genius chef Ferran Adria and what cannot be denied is that his approach to cooking and his culinary algorithms has liberated the minds of chefs around the world, encouraged to break standards and an entire generation to break free and explore infinite horizons.
Indian chefs have been trying to apply the same evolutionary rules to Indian food for a while now. A towering task for anyone who wants to mess around with flavors and tastes that we are so deeply ingrained in our conscience and palate. Vineet Bhatia was one of the first to try this with Indian food at his former London restaurant, which indeed earned him a Michelin star, and to this day he tries in his various restaurants around the world and in Ziya in The Oberoi, Mumbai, still trying to convince us that Indian food can break the shackles of hundreds of years of tradition and still be Indian food. Around the same time, Chef Manish Mehrotra was busy creating India’s most revered restaurant – the Indian Accent.
At Ziya, Vineet, Indian food has been deconstructed, reinventing it with a fresh attitude, complete with palate cleansers and paired wines. His past menus surprised us with dishes like Prawn Chaat Toffee, Sesame Honeyed Cod with Mango chop-chop Kachumber, Mustard Chicken Tikka with Smoked Eggplant Raita and Spinach Thins. Hazelnut Butter Lobster with Edamame Coconut Khichdi, Turmeric Moilee. The menu is constantly changing with his imagination and today Honey has Tamarind-Salmon Tikka, Wasabi Hummus, Edamame-Radish Sundal, Ghee Mutton Roast, Spinach Upma, Soya Jaggery Tofu and Avocado Pomegranate Chaat.
But convincing the stern and rigid Indian palate that there is life beyond Butter Chicken is indeed a mammoth task, although it’s a little easier to do that abroad like the UK. In London, the subcontinent’s cuisine exploded into its most legitimate and most bona fide form about 10-15 years ago, albeit with fruitful and vibrant liberties. Take a small Lankan restaurant called “Hoppers” in London’s Soho, run by Chef Karam Sethi and team from Gymkhana London. Try their Bone Marrow Varuval with Roti (two thick blocks of sawn bone in a spicy oily coconut sauce), the deep black Pork Kari or their Devilled Prawns. Taste of the earth Lankan food, spiced without apology and true to taste. Likewise, regional Indian food explodes at Manoj Vasaikar’s India Zing in Hammersmith. Scallops in Hirwa Masala. This Indo-Pacific mollusk tossed in traditional Maharashtrian green masala is the taste of home in a faraway land, as are the Shrimp and Aubergine Kharphatle (jumbo shrimp and aubergine finished in pickle masala, with caramelized onions and tomato). Of course, the lively restaurants Dishoom and Roti-Chai are also popular with the locals, and stalwarts like Amaya and Veeraswamy will stand the test of time.
Then Bombay Canteen came along. The late Floyd Cardoz’s collaboration with young Bombay boys Sameer Seth and Yash Bhanage has not only opened doors, but even windows for a new order of Indian food. Lesser known regional Indian food with new techniques like this generation. Pork Theplas, Pulled Pork Vindaloo Tacos and Pumpkin Spinach Valley, Black Pepper Head-On Prawns, Arbi Tuk, Banana Leaf Wrapped Roasted Fish, Tandoori Pork Square Ribs and Tamil Kothu Roti went on to make history. The menu continues to evolve and this season it includes slow cooked pork belly Thukpa, Paya Soup Momos, Toor Raj Kachori with Ragda, Amchoor Chutney and pickled Dahi, charred winter carrots with goat cheese, pickled onions and pistachios, and much more.
But this weekend I ended up at Joshi House in Mumbai, where there were two great chefs. Chef Suvir Saran, who earned a Michelin star while demystifying Indian cuisine in America at a restaurant called American Masala, and his chef Vardaan Marwah. Together they popped up at this fantastic Bandra restaurant with a menu that indeed proved that you can creatively generate Indian haute cuisine without sacrificing the bare bones. A seven-course menu, starting with the well-known Paani Puri deconstructed with strawberries, chutneys, green apples. Kheema Aloo, spicy minced mutton with a velvety smooth puree, topped with fine crispy sali. Prawns done Alleppey style served with Bengali Jhaal Muri. Ghee roast, lamb chops, duck seekh kebab and the meal culminating in a medley of mango desserts.
It was a meal that in my mind finally put Indian food on the road to evolution.
Kunal Vijayakar is a food writer from Mumbai. He tweets @kunalvijayakar and can be followed on Instagram @kunalvijayakar. His YouTube channel is called Khaane Mein Kya Hai. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of this publication.
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