Published: Verve Magazine, Social Chronicle, December 2011
(Illustration by Farzana Cooper)
If you are the latest in the line if PYTs to send your hubby a tiffin that contains pan-seared foi gras with a champagne berry jus, then you know you’ve arrived onto a culinary scene that’s flush with promise and ready to launch. Sitanshi Talati-Parikh describes the necessity of taking a kitchen rendezvous to the next step
‘Do you cook?’ She whispered. ‘Of course not!’ I retorted scornfully. Great parties are never about knowing what to cook; they are all about finding the right caterer. Gloved hands, butler coats, flitting in and out: the spanking German-designed modular kitchen is meant to be seen, not used. Must you fret whether pesto has pine nuts or pistachios? I’m quite certain it’s the latter, logically, isn’t pesto the green one?
Lately though, newbie home-makers carry recipes in their Ferragamo totes, and while sneezing up a bomb at the local Nature’s Basket, can easily tell one nut from another. Blame it on the latest reality TV craze: MasterChef Australia – far superior to its Indian franchise. As the country watches with bated breath which one of the accented Australians go down under and which ones make it to the top, the ladies are picking up a few tricks along the way, and the men are finding a new itch to scratch: the kind which involves a cutting board and a chef’s hat. After all, those men in chef whites skim over the fine line to count as men in uniform – and the way into a woman’s boudoir may well be through her stomach. Many a young man has now leaned over the bar and whispered suggestively into his lady love’s ear, ‘Your kitchen or mine?’
Now, you can’t visit a friendly home without getting a sprig of parsley in your Brie, or a dose of balsamic vinaigrette in your chilled watermelon balls. Recipes are snitched from one of the mushrooming gourmet restaurants in the city – the toasted pine nut, goat cheese and watermelon salad is The Tasting Room, I believe – and every meal is judged on the outlandishly clever gourmet competency of the home-maker-turned-chef. Does your beetroot come laced with chevre? Has it been garnished just so? If not, it’s not good enough to be plated up?
Play dates (for the uninitiated: the time like-minded infants spend getting to know each other) are also a fine chance to show off those pa(i)ring skills: preparing the finest meal for your child’s little friend – what could be a better sign of love? Ten-month-olds are developing a spectacular taste for the healthy good life – in the form of broccoli-and-spinach risotto garnished with fresh basil, a traditional (low-spice of course) massuman curry and zucchini-and-parmesan ravioli, washed down with a tall bottle of elaichi-flavoured formula milk.
And it’s not just the chic young men and women flaunting their culinary skills, it’s about ensuring that you have a system in place to replicate this sensational food – anytime and with the least bother. And to that end, my Bihari cook is now struggling with understanding my desire to replace a Bombay grilled chutney sandwich on Britannia bread with a Mediterranean sandwich on multigrain herb focaccia. And not even adding his own home-made paneer? Instead, layering the green meat of a tasteless fruit that he imagines to be Bengali baingan together with hefty hunks of feta, grilled zucchini and eggplant licked with a killer harrissa paste! He grudgingly grasps that the need of the hour – and the possibility of survival – means his knowing his parmigiana from his au gratin.
Chefs are now finding themselves akin to moviestars: in a recent MasterChef India (Season 2) show, one of the contestants cried because she got to meet her idol Michelin-starred, New York-based, Indian chef Vikas Khanna, whom she then proceeded to serenade. With Indians and Sri Lankans making their token presence felt on international cooking shows stirring up a curry-and-flatbread once in a way, and with Michelin-starred chef Vineet Bhatia attempting to challenge the desi taste buds, it appears innovation is the call of the day. You can’t serve up chana-bhatura any more, but what you can do is throw in chickpea couscous, broccoli khichdi and bhatura-flavoured sorbet. Now that would be a meal worth writing home about.
No longer is it about spices – it is about tempering taste buds with the appropriate levels of flavour so that they (your taste buds) can regain their virginity – and discard the massacre of years of generous masalas and chilli powder. And it isn’t really about eating – or stomaching to satisfy – as it is about teasing and cajoling the culinary senses into a pleased stupor. Hunger is for the middle-class. Palate-teasers are what fine dining is all about. It is no wonder that young chefs returning from Manhattan, dipping their fingers into genteel party catering, serve up hors d’oeuvres the size of peanuts. So smoked mozzarella flatbreads are actually coin pizzas, the size of, well, the shiny new 10-rupee coin. Tapas are in, or haven’t you heard? A meal in one of Mumbai’s trendy restaurants can consist of merely ordering 17 tapas and needing a hefty bottle of wine to wash all that tiny, tasty food down to feel deliciously full.
Wine pairing can’t be missed of course. No self-respecting 30-something will serve anything less than the perfect limited-edition international sipper that goes best with the course being served. All along, the conversation tinkles with very profound discussions on Chinese politics, Rushdie’s literary smackdowns, and whether the Riesling would work better with the coconut soufflé or the champagne tart. My ultimate brain wave is to serve up a passion-fruit-and-lemongrass Sangria. It’s the easy way out of pretentious course-drinking – and is somehow that crass, bohemian sort of thing one can do, to remain cool after all that soul-searching food.
Talking about soul-searching food, the gourmands believe in cooking from your heart, and with a dollop of love. How much can you cook from your heart, when your stomach is empty and how much love can emanate from that drop of extra virgin olive oil that you mayn’t get from your grandmother’s hand-churned ghee?
The thrill lies in the pleasure-seeker and the social climber. After all, can you really be eating khana-khazana-type makhani food in your Jimmy Choos and Herve Leger? It is worth sharing Gouda and Roma tomato notes, if merely to prove that the world is your personal oyster and you have an international, exclusive and very uber chic stew cooking in your state-of-the-art kitchen. And after that dinner party full of whispered conversation, clinking flutes and a sense of social accomplishment, where the senses have been thrilled with that one lactose-free beetroot foam tortellini, you are more than likely to find yourself kicking back furtively with a hearty macaroni baked dish, folded with about 250 grams of Amul cheese, and a little kiss of ketchup.