Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Over the years Chennai has been seeing a host of Food Festivals being organized by the numerous Food & Beverages outlets located here. Some of these festivals have been very unique while the remaining were often the regular Biryani, Kebabs or Regional cuisines. However, there is one chain of luxury hotels that does things differently, way different than all others. Yes, Park Hyatt part of the Hyatt group of hotels conducts a culinary festival across all their locations globally. Chefs across different Hyatt hotels will take their expertise and culinary wisdom to showcase it other Park Hyatt locations. This culinary festival is aptly titled “Masters of Food and Wine” and is a perfect showcase of brilliance in culinary and beverage experiences.
The Grand Opening of the 2015 edition of the “Masters of Food and Wine” at Park Hyatt Chennai was on the 21st of February with the theme for the current edition being ‘Korean Cuisine’. The participating hotel for the current edition is the Grand Hyatt Incheon in South Korea with Chefs Eunseok Yang and Kyuchon Lee leading the way. Throughout the week they will be serving amazing Korean specialities at the Park Hyatt Chennai’s signature restaurant, “The Flying Elephant”. In addition to the culinary experience, one can also participate on a hands on Masterclass with the Master Chefs themselves.
(Chef Introductions)
The Grand Opening started off with the introduction of the all Chefs who were to take us on this culinary adventure. With the bonhomies done, we were now being geared to face the barrage of exquisite foods that was to be presented. Being the grand opening, the menu for the evening comprised completely of live counters. As there was so much to explore, I kept on hopping from one station to the other wondering where to start and where to end.
(Cured Fish along with some Antipasti)
As I made my way across the room, the first thing that struck me was the enormous variety of food being showcased. I started the evening with some Antipasti comprising of Tomato, Mozzarella along with Basil Pesto. This was followed by ‘Cured Fish’ comprising of a cured Indian Basa wrapped over some orange flesh with acidic green apple and topped with micro greens. The basa was cured to perfection and the marriage of orange made it a lovely pair. Being an ardent fan of cheese, I moved on to make a small cheese platter for myself with some Parmesan, Goat Cheese (Similar to Feta but difference being the composition of goat milk being higher in goat cheese) and some Emmental. Apricots, Figs and some nuts made the perfect accompaniments.
(Kimchi Salad)
(Kimchi Pancake)
(Cinnamon Punch and Bibim Bab)
With the Cold counter done, I next moved on to the Korean speciality counter where a ‘Sweet Pumpkin Porridge’ awaited. I would rate it to be one of the finest porridges to be tasted in a restaurant. This was followed by a ‘Korean Pancake’ made using Kimchi. The next up I was told was a staple road side dish in Korea called the Bibim Bab. A fellow foodie who accompanied me was raving about the same and decided to have a go. The rice along with the veggies and the Chilli sauce made it amazing such that I had a second serving of the same. To soothen our throats, the Korean section had an uber cool drink called the ‘Cinnamon Punch’. It seemed to be a combination of Cinnamon, Sugar and water but the drink was too good that within a span of few minutes I had myself take down a couple of glasses of the same.
(Mexican Counter)
(Taco and Corn Tamales)
(Spiced Plantain and Green Onion Enchiladas)
After trying out the Korean specialities, I ventured into the land of Latin America. We were greeted with some fresh crispy taco filled with the traditional guacamole, red salsa, cheese and sour cream. Also part of the Mexican fare was the ‘Corn Meal and Cheese Tamales’ served with a choice of refried beans or chicken stew. As always the last dish was the best for we got to savour some ravishing ‘Spiced Plantain and Green Onion Enchiladas’.
(Indian Counter)
From Latin America my gaze took me to our very own subcontinent, yes I moved on to check the menu at the Indian counter. From first looks, I could make out an array of different Biryani pots accompanied with equivalent number of clay pots filled with aromatic gravies. The different biryani’s presented were ‘Banajar Biryani’, a take on Hyderabadi biryani made using lamb followed by ‘Kattal Biryani’, comprising of Baby Jackfruit and culminating with ‘Malabar Prawn Biryani’ made using prawns cooked in coconut milk to infuse the Malabar flavours. The starters counter had a very unique tikka being dished out. The ‘Bhatak aur Anjeer ki Tikki’ was a succulent cutlet made using Turkey and dry figs that was served on top of a huge saffron bread topped with some Brown Onion and Tomato curry. 
(Baked Brie)
(Baked Brie)
(Beef Bourguignon)
With the tummy already going on a gastronomical world tour, it was decided to try the French counter before calling it a night. The French counter was manned or rather wo-manned by Chef Megha, the frivolous and outspoken Chef de Cuisine of The Flying Elephant. On platter for us here was the ‘Baked Brie’ which is an all-time personal favourite and a ‘Nicoise salad’ platted with some seared tuna, quail eggs and an anchovy dressing. However, the hero of the evening was this next dish, as it was the softest piece of beef I’ve ever savoured. This was so soft that I definitely didn’t need a fork leave alone a knife. The ‘Beef Bourguignon’ was truly outstanding. It had a piece of beef accompanied with some Jerusalem artichoke foam along with Mandarin zest and confit pearl onions. 
(Park Hyatt Signature Chocolate Cake)
(French Macaroon)
(Chocolate Decadence)
(Bounty Cake)
(Mango Cremeux Coconut Parfait)
(Coffee Pavlova with Seasonal Fruits)
(Mandarin Tart)
With all the savouries sampled, it was time to hit the dessert counter. Having desserts spread across an entire room can make any dessert lover a kid. I was just too excited to try them all and had planned for this right from the beginning of my food adventure that evening. The first up on the platter was the ‘Chocolate Decadence’ followed by a cake which Chef Dinesh and Chef Prabhu revealed was a version of the famous chocolate ‘Bounty’. In between I sneaked a few French Macaroons while heading to the counter stacked with some ‘Mandarin Tart’. This was followed by the ‘Mango Cremeux Coconut Parfait’ which stood out as the best dessert of the evening and a close second by the ‘Coffee Pavlova’ adorned with seasonal fruits.

With the desserts coming to a close, we called end to the sumptuous conclusion of the Grand Opening of the “Masters of Food and Wine” at the Park Hyatt Chennai. For those who are intrigued by this magnanimous experience and are awaiting to taste some fine Korean specialities, head straight to ‘The Flying Elephant’ to have an experience of a lifetime.

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Thursday, 12 February 2015

Chennai being a city encompassing people from all across India, there is no void of any particular cuisine in the city. This provides visitors and Chennaities with a vast array of restaurants to choose from when it comes to dining. Although Chennai is home to numerous Kerala cuisine restaurants, it’s a rarity that I visit them as most of the Kerala delicacies are readily available at home for me, thanks to the influence of my extended family members.

One prominent restaurant that has established itself a name for the Kerala cuisine in Chennai has to be ‘Ente Keralam’, which is part of the Oriental Cuisines chain of restaurants. Oriental Cuisines has played an integral part in shaping up the restaurant scene in Chennai by bringing a host of varying cuisines and being consistent in their offerings. So when a fellow foodie asked me if I would be willing to try out the “Kuttanadan Food Festival”, I jumped in as I knew it would definitely be different to the regular fare.
(Tender Coconut Water)
(Kappa Cutlet)
Upon being seated, the very enthusiastic Chef Jayaprakash gave us a brief overview of the Kuttanadan specialities. He revealed that Tharavu aka Duck is the main protein next to fish in this region as it is surrounded on three sides by water bodies. With the pleasantries exchanged, we were served with the signature ‘Tender Coconut’ drink. This was followed by the ‘Kappa Cutlet’, which was the regular cutlet made entirely using Kappa aka Tapioca. I’ve had kappa in many forms including the famous ‘Kappa and Fish curry’ but this was completely different. I liked the way the cutlet had a very crispy coating while the tapioca inside retained its flavour. 

(Karimeen Polichathu)
(Konju Ularthiyathu)
The next up was the ‘Karimeen Polichathu’ which is a signature Kerala dish. The dish being cooked in a clay pot had all its flavour incorporated into the fish and the masala that accompanied it made it a stand out. The last of the starters was the ‘Konju Ularthiyathu’ which was basically jumbo prawns grilled in a stone pot that provides it with earthen flavours. Although mine was a little dry the flavours sure made up for it.

(Kuttanadan Tharavu Mappas)
(Kozhi Curry Kuttanandan Style)
(Pineapple Puttu & Parotta)

With the starters all done, we ordered for two curries, the ‘Kozhi Curry Kuttanandan Style’ and ‘Kuttanadan Tharavu Mappas’. To go with the curries, the accompaniments were a ‘Pineapple Puttu’, ‘Malabar Parotta’ and ‘Appam’. The chicken curry was rightly spiced and also had the essence of the clay pot incorporated into the gravy and proved the perfect accompaniment for the Parotta while the Duck gravy was perfect for the Pineapple puttu. Puttu being a regular fare at home, the pineapple puttu was different in a way that the flavour of pineapple was completely infused into the puttu. The chef did reveal the secret but unfortunately it shall remain a secret as a mark of recognition to the hard work put in by the Chef and his team. The evening was brought to an end with two type of Payasam. These were from their regular menu as the Kuttanad cuisine provides more importance to the mains rather than desserts.

The Kuttanadan Food Festival is on at all Ente Keralam outlets across Chennai until the 15th of Feb. A meal for two should set you by ₹ 1200.

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Friday, 6 February 2015

Nature and dining go hand in hand when one thinks of a perfect ambiance for a meal. Beach side or a rooftop restaurant can always elevate one’s dining experience to a completely new level. Being in Chennai, we are lucky to have the second longest beach in the world thereby creating multiple opportunities for beach side restaurants. The only hiccup is most of them are located outside the city barring a handful. But when it comes to rooftop dining, a couple of great options do exist. Albeit the summer weather can make it a warm experience, the months from September till about March are the best time to enjoy a scenic view of the bustling city from a height.

The first restaurant in Chennai that comes to mind whenever I hear the word rooftop, is ‘Kefi’ located at the Hotel Taj Club House, Mount Road. Ever since they had opened, this became the de facto destination for all memorable occasions in the family resulting in every visit bringing back fond memories.  With such great experiences at Kefi and the restaurant always delivering above expectations, I was in for a shock when I got a call inviting me for a preview of the to-be-launched ‘Rooftop Alfresco’ at the Taj Club House. I was wondering on the lines of a change in Kefi hence was quite eager to know more.

The first thing I noticed on reaching the rooftop was that Kefi still was there. This gave me a smile on my face. But then there were some differences in the seating arrangement. That’s when I was informed that Kefi will remain as Kefi while the Alfresco dining experience is a new concept the hotel is trying. With the recent ruling against the ban of hookah, the rooftop provided the perfect setting. The Alfresco dining experience comprises of the area around the pool with a relaxed seating arrangement and a hookah bar. The concept in the food revolved around quick eats and single course meals.
(Mezze Platter)
(Flamed Prawns)
The evening started off with a mocktail for the teetotallers and a glass of wine for the others. The first dish to make it to the table was the ‘Mezze Platter’ comprising of a Spanakopita, Lebanese styled Hummus, Tabouleh and a falafel accompanied by some yummy soft Pita breads. Must say the falafel along with some hummus and Tabouleh wrapped in the pita made for an amazing short wrap. Was thoroughly delighted with the mezze. This was followed by probably the funniest sounding dish I’ve ever heard, the ‘Ricotta gnudis’. Feeling funny at how to pronounce it correctly, we checked on with the creator of the dishes Chef Siddiq who revealed that the ‘g’ needs to be silent. At the end of the day it still sounded funny. So coming to the dish itself, it was an innovation on fried cheese sticks. The Ricotta were shaped into small fingers and fried with a crispy crust. It was served with a mushroom sauce that complemented the cheese sticks perfectly. As this was the vegetarian setting, the non-vegetarians got the ‘Flamed prawns’. From the name of the dish, we were expecting to see a flaming Sambuca styled prawns to make its way to the table however that was not to be the case. The dish was more of a flame grilled prawns tossed with garlic, parsley and chardonnay.
(Maize Wrap)
(Maize Wrap)
(Ras al hanout Pizza)
With a subtle break in service perfect enough for us to enjoy the wonderful ambiance, the next dish was brought up to the table. The ‘Maize wrap’, was a generously stuffed wrap with buffalo mozzarella, pesto and plum tomatoes accompanied by a small portion of fries and a lettuce salad. This was followed by the ‘Ras al hanout pizza’. The pizza slice was topped with mushrooms, peppers and loads of cheese. The next up was the final course for the evening, a splendid ‘Key Lime Pie’, which was of the perfect flavouring and had the right amount of crustiness.
(Key Lime Pie)
What was interesting with this concept of dining was that the dishes on the menu were all equally exciting and intriguing. Most of the dishes gave that feeling that it needs to be tried. I’m sure that this would definitely be possible as the Alfresco setting provides a perfect situation for those days when we are early from work to relax or on those really stressful days when you just want to have some light eat and distress yourself.

The Alfresco experience is available at the rooftop poolside at Hotel Taj Club House, Anna Salai opposite to Spencers Plaza. A meal for two should set you by ₹ 1500 without alcoholic beverages.

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