Monday, 31 March 2014

“Fish??? Please no Fish for me”. Thanks to the Chefs at The Leela Palace, Chennai and the Master Chefs from Japan, this statement will no longer have any validity in my food blogging sphere. 

Being a foodie can be quite a task especially if you are into not just eating but also reviewing. The most significant is the ability to be willing to taste all type of foods. This is a department where I’ve always not been able to keep up as there two things that I have to avoid while considering food elements, Pork and Fish. The first due to religious beliefs while the second mainly because of personal choice. I love seafood though and can eat non fish ingredients such as prawns, lobster, crabs, and scallops. Very rarely do I consume fish and it is predominantly in the Asian form of cuisine as it masks out the complete whiff of the fish. Otherwise, it is a complete no-no and has often made me miss out dishes which I know would have tasted fantastic.

I’m sure you must be wondering, why I am talking so much about fish here. Well, beat the irony, a person who absolutely avoids cooked fish gets invited for an International Sushi Training Workshop. Yes, to be honest I was freaking out by the mere thought of Sushi. But being an invitation from one of the most prestigious hotels in the city, I made up my mind to honour the invitation and challenged myself to take it in my stride and try out the Sushi. But yet once again, the mere thought of a raw fish going down my throat was giving me the shudders.

The fear turned to excitement and anticipation when I attended the press meet for the workshop. The moment the Master Chefs were introduced, I was determined that if I was to ever taste Sushi then it better be from the professionals. Chef Masayoshi Kazato & Chef Hirotoshi Ogawa are from the “All Japan Sushi Association-World Sushi Skills Institute” and were here to train professional chefs on the art of crafting Sushi. Yes you heard it right the first time, to teach professional chefs. This new found interest was furthered during my post-meet conversation with Chef Dharmen Makawana, Executive Chef & Chef Avinash Mohan, Executive Sous Chef at “The Leela Palace, Chennai”. Chef Dharmen revealed what I felt was the most practical approach for those who are trying Sushi for the first time. It is always better to start with cooked Sushi before moving to cured Sushi and then taking the plunge into Sashimi. 
(Chef Masayoshi Kazato)
(Chef Hirotoshi Ogawa)
(Chef Dharmen Makawana)
(Chef Avinash Mohan)
The litmus test was during the luncheon hosted for us on the next day. After having been well informed by the Chef’s the previous day, I was looking forward to my first Sushi. The first thing I noticed on entering “Spectra”, Leela’s all day dining restaurant was their Sushi Bar which was right at the entrance and the two Master Chef’s handling the counters. Although the smell of fish was all around but it was not of the way that would put one off. Moving to the Sushi counter, I was shocked to see Chef Kazato using the arm of one of his assistants as a chopping board. This he says is a sign of confidence and control any Sushi Chef must possess. The way he chopped the vegetables on the arm, the vegies came out cleanly chopped with even a slight impression on the arm. It was nerve wrecking to see that as the knives used are razor sharp. 
(Nervous looking Human Chopping Board)
(Relieved looking Human Chopping Board)
(Assorted Plate)
(Beautiful Fish Cuts)
Chef Dharmen was very courteous enough and helped me plate my dish with a range of Sushi & Sashimi as I couldn’t wait getting into the action. I had an assortment of Salmon, Scallop, Squid & Tuna Sashimi along with some cooked Prawn Sushi and a single serving of a vegetarian Sushi just for the heck of trying it. For the first time in my life, a fish seemed tempting to me. The moment I picked up some Soy sauce along with Wasabi, I was all set to take the first Sushi bite. Everything around me became still for a second when the first Salmon Sashimi entered my mouth. I was shocked and surprised at how delicate and flavoured it was. My immediate reaction was, “How could I have committed such a grave mistake being a foodie?” Why did it take me so long to realize how amazing they tasted?
(My Plate)
One by one the other Sushi’s & Sashimi’s were being emptied of my plate with each providing a very unique flavour profile. My favourites of the afternoon were the Salmon Sashimi, Scallops Sashimi & the Cooked Prawn Sushi. Once I had the vegetarian sushi, I realized how there can never be a vegetarian sushi as it doesn’t do any justice to the authentic Sushi. One way I feel it was a blessing in disguise that I waited so long to venture into this unknown territory as now I’ve got the feel of what real and authentic Sushi is straight from the hands of world renowned Sushi Master Chefs. 
(Baked Yogurt)
As I wanted to relish the flavours of the Sushi, I just had a few dishes from their regular lunch buffet spread promising myself to return again soon to do full justice to their exhaustive lunch buffet. From the dishes I tried that afternoon, I loved their Hummus, Baba Ghanoush and the Pita. Their hummus is probably the only truly replicated hummus available in Chennai. How can a meal be complete without a dessert and to do justice I had a portion of the Baked Yoghurt with cracked French Macaroons on it. On our way back after the meal I bumped into Chef Dharmen & Chef Avinash who were very courteous in listening to my experience of Sushi and were glad to find out it was a memorable one. We ended up chatting for quite some time on various topics pertaining to food and the general restaurant scenario in Chennai. The Chefs were very down to earth and were open to giving culinary tips without any hesitation. The conversations really enlightened me on different aspects of food preparation, storage and cooking.

This amazing experience and training workshop was organized by The Indian Federation of Culinary Associations & JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) along with The Leela Palace Hotel, Chennai.
(The Team behind organizing the Workshop)
Whenever you feel the need for Sushi, hold no bar, head straight up to Spectra, the all-day dining restaurant at The Leela Palace Hotel, Chennai for a mind blowing experience.

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Thursday, 27 March 2014

More than often we predetermine what kind of eggs we would like to have for Breakfast or snack time. This often depends on our mood and the accompaniments that we want along with the egg. But did you ever experience a situation where you knew you are going to eat some eggs but highly confused by looking at the egg menu. This is what Chef Sridhar from Paprika in Courtyard by Marriott Chennai has exactly in mind. Take this simple ingredient and make a menu completely surrounding it.

Yes, they are running an Eggs special menu festival called “Eggs & Kegs”. With 10 different preparations to choose from one can only sit and wonder how such a simple ingredient can be cooked in so many different ways, each having its own unique flavour and taste. To accompany the egg preparation, you get a mug of Beer and for those who do not consume alcohol, it will be replaced by a Mocktail of your choice.

Having never consumed more than two eggs at a time, I was a bit wary about how the entire evening was going to be gastronomically for me. Just as the conversation was ending with a friend who had accompanied, we get four different preparations of the eggs from the menu sent to our table. The ones we had were
(Assorted Platter)

  • Egg – Salt N Pepper
  • Egg Pakoda
  • Burmese Egg
  • Muttai Kal Varuval

I take a bite of the ‘Egg Pakoda’ and my first impression was on how delicately the eggs were boiled. They were one of the finest boiled eggs I’ve seen and tasted. The yolk were perfected such that a fork pierced came out clean while the whites still had that tad bit of sweat on them. It took the entire experience to the next level. The batter for the pakodas was very light and fluffy that it felt awesome having the pakodas. Very different from the one’s we make at home. The secret to the perfectly boiled eggs was the time which the Chef revealed to be * minutes. Did you really think, I would be entailed to such a privilege? Yes the Chef did give me that privilege but I believe it’s his secret and should remain so.
The ‘Burmese’ Egg was a twist on the famous Burmese dish ‘Khow Suey’, as the boiled eggs were topped with fried onions. The ‘Kal Varuval’ was the Chef’s take on the classic ‘Meen Kal Varuval’. This imparted the flavours of south and Chettinad into the eggs which gave it a different dimension over the others that we had so far tried out. The ‘Salt n Pepper’ was again slightly similar to the pakodas but the batter here was very thin almost just like a small wrap over the eggs with flavourings of salt, pepper and chilli incorporated along with the batter.

The portion sizes are between two and three eggs depending upon the preparation and the eggs used are Free-range gggs.With this adventure, we were willing to call it quits as we couldn’t take any further intake of eggs. That’s when we realized that how can we miss the King of all Egg preparations, the mighty ‘Bread Chutney Omelette’.

(Bread Chutney Omelette)
The instance the ‘Bread Chutney Omelette’ was placed on the table, the aroma begin to play with us with an intense desire. As were honestly full, we just ordered one serving and decided to split it between us. The omelette was wrapped around the two humongous slices of bread that were smothered with butter and a very different chutney than the ones we regular get on such omelettes. It wasn’t spicy yet carried the hotness, wasn’t fluorescent green but on the contrary was a darker dull green with strong influences of mint. The incorporation of the cheese within the omelette gave it a good fluffiness and texture.

The ‘Eggs & Kegs’ is available all day at Paprika, located on the Ground Floor of Courtyard by Marriott on Mount Road until the 31st of March.

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Monday, 10 March 2014

When it comes to movie stars, I'm sure most of us believe that they have a very strict diet regime. But have you ever wondered as to what they would indulge in on those days that they set aside to binge without any restrictions? What could be the dishes your favourite movie stars like? If you have such questions, then you should head straight to California Pizza Kitchen. The pioneers in California-styled pizzas have introduced a limited time special menu that encompasses some of Hollywood's favourite dishes. The last time I was at California Pizza Kitchen, they wooed me their amazing pizzas & pastas. You can read the review here. So when I was invited to try their Hollywood menu, the expectation were quite high.

The special menu comprised of 2 Mocktails, 5 Pizza's, 2 Pasta's, 2 Speciality dishes and 1 Dessert. Once we were showed our way to the tables, we were briefly told about the why this special menu. Apparently CPK wanted to give their Indian diners a little peep into the life of Hollywood & what their celebs eat at CPK. It was all about showing the home of Bolly/Kollywood the food of Hollywood. 
(Hawaian Chicken & Grilled Pineapple Pizza)
(Jamaican Jerk & Chicken Pizza)
(Rustica Pizza)
(Spicy Sonora Pizza)
The first dish on the table was the 'Hawaiian Chicken & Grilled Pineapple' pizza. This is one pizza that had already made it's way into Chennai since the first pizza chain opened up, probably because it is a classic recipe. The next up was 'Jamaican Jerk & Chicken' pizza. This was more of a healthier pizza option as there were ample amount of spices, a unique pizza sauce, roasted peppers and the famous Jamaican Jerk Chicken. This was followed by the only vegetarian pizza in the special menu, the 'Rustica Pizza'. This ain't the same old Italian rustica but was more of a take by CPK made up of grilled zucchini, white mushrooms and olives over a very very thin crust. The penultimate pizza which was the ultimate pizza for me was the 'Spicy Sonora Pizza'. This was probably also the most favoured pizza amongst all of us. The sauce is a lime cream sauce with roasted corn & black bean salsa and some spicy smoked chicken along with cilantro. The last pizza to be served was 'Deli Style Bistro Pizza' which I had to skip as it contained bacon.
(California Peri Peri Chicken)
(Spinach & Paneer Malfati With Milan Sauce)
Once the pizza shower was over, we felt a quench and decided to try out their mocktails. Against the choices of 'Mango Mint Ecstasy' & 'Pineappe Twister', I went for the Ecstasy. Although the flavour of mango was somewhat present, the mint had a very overpowering effect thereby making it a minty drink. The next mains to be served were from the specials section. The 'California Peri Peri Chicken' was again a crowd favourite. The boneless chicken was grilled in their secret California peri peri marinade and then baked in a creamy sauce. We loved the dish so much that we went to extent of asking for one more serving of the same. This was followed up by the vegetarian special which was the 'Spinach & Paneer Malfati with Milan Sauce'. This was a Paneer-Spinach Gnocchi cooked in a creamy caramelized onion sauce served with roasted corn kernels and flavoured with Garlic and Feta Cheese. 
(Spaghetti Carretierra)
(Mediterranean Roasted Mushroom Spaghettini)
(California Delight)
The first pasta of the evening was the 'Spaghetti Carretierra' which was yet another CPK's twist of the Italian classic. Although it doesn't have any chunks of meat, this is a non vegetarian pasta as the creamy sauce is made use chicken broth. It also comes with bocconcini which are small ball shaped mozzarella cheese. The alternate vegetarian pasta on the menu is the 'Mediterranean Roasted Mushroom Spaghettini' made of roasted mushrooms, garlic, chillies, Mediterranean herbs and tossed in olive oil. It tasted similar to the pasta Aglio e Olio. To finish the evening, Hollywood's special dessert was served. Aptly named 'California Delight', it was a trio of white chocolate, strawberry & dark chocolate mousse with cranberries along with some almond praline to give some crunch.

A meal for two should cost about ₹ 1500 and the Hollywood Special Menu is up until the 16th of March, 2014.

California Pizza Kitchen in located on the ground floor of the swanky Phoenix Market City in Velachery.

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