COOK­ING CUL­TURES

India Today - - SPICE - EX­PLAINS CHEF CONNY AN­DER­S­SON

CARIBBEAN FOOD IS A HEARTY BLEND OF PAS­SION, JOY, RO­BUST IN­GRE­DI­ENTS

AND AN EN­DEAR­ING CUL­TURE,

THE CUL­TURE OF FOOD IS NOW A GLOBAL CON­CEPT. I JUST HOPE WE DON’T LOSE TRACK OF OUR OWN DIS­TINCT CUL­TURES AND TRA­DI­TIONS AS BORDERS DIS­AP­PEAR AND WE BE­COME PART OF A GLOBAL COM­MU­NITY WHERE FOOD BE­COMES A SHARED EX­PE­RI­ENCE.

Food is a re­flec­tion of cul­ture--much more so in the Caribbean than in most other regions of the world. When slaves were shipped from Africa to Amer­ica and the Caribbean plan­ta­tions, they brought with them their African culi­nary styles. Af­ter slav­ery was abol­ished through­out the Caribbean, the plan­ta­tions sought out cheap labour. Those new work­ers came pri­mar­ily from China and In­dia. And so the is­land cui­sine came to be a fan­tas­tic fu­sion of East In­dian, Chi­nese and African styles that en­dure even to­day.

The pro­por­tion of in­gre­di­ents–and thus the flavour and tex­ture of the dishes--varies from is­land to is­land. As a whole, the Caribbean way of pre­par­ing flavour­ful, nat­u­ral in­gre­di­ents and the re­sult­ing ro­bust cui­sine, is unique. Hardy, healthy and spicy, it is the way of the is­lands and re­flects who they are.

With its hy­brid style, this is a far from fancy style of food and din­ing. It’s all about the pas­sion. Just think­ing back to Trinidad and the street food makes me hun­gry; and I just had din­ner! Cur­ried goat in a dhal poori, fried bread and cur­ried chick peas, bake and shark, conch ce­viché, Ba­hamian fried conch, stew mut­ton, salt fish frit­ters, ta­nia frit­ters, bread­fruit of the sort brought from Africa, jerk chicken from Ja­maica, cur­ried beef pat­ties, fried plan­tain, rum cake from Barbados… I could go on and on but in def­er­ence to your palate I shall re­frain.

I’ve been re­ally for­tu­nate that all the places I’ve worked and lived in have been able to of­fer me in­cred­i­ble culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ences. But if I had to choose one as be­ing the most en­light­en­ing, it would be Goa. While trav­el­ling around In­dia af­ter my stints in the Caribbean I came to bet­ter re­alise how cer­tain cuisines could tran­sit the globe and con­nect the peo­ples and cul­tures of dis­tant lands; Goan food has the abil­ity to do ex­actly that.

The cul­ture of food is now a global con­cept. I just hope we don’t lose track of our own dis­tinct cul­tures and tra­di­tions as borders dis­ap­pear and we be­come part of a global com­mu­nity.

In some re­spects we are less­en­ing the in­tegrity of tra­di­tional dishes when we try to make them too fancy and com­plex. We need to re­mem­ber that things were done in a cer­tain way for cen­turies for a rea­son: be­cause it worked and that very way of prepa­ra­tion was a com­po­nent of its cul­ture. To be true to the dish is to stay true to the cul­ture, to recre­ate some­thing au­then­tic.

Bas­tar­dis­ing tra­di­tional foods and ne­glect­ing the his­tory and the tra­di­tion of long-es­tab­lished and long-ven­er­ated recipes is in­creas­ingly com­mon. That said, I see noth­ing wrong with im­prov­ing dishes with

the use of su­pe­rior in­gre­di­ents and mod­ern cook­ing tech­niques. The goal is to do so while main­tain­ing what may be called the in­te­gral lin­eage of the dish.

My own food her­itage re­calls a recipe my grand­fa­ther pre­pared for fam­ily din­ners back when I was a small child-a beer-braised sailor’s beef stew. An­other, a dish from my grand­mother’s reper­toire, was a sort of Swedish rice por­ridge. What I see now is that food has gone full cir­cle. Old be­comes new and less is more. Pre­ci­sion cook­ing and em­pha­sis on the qual­ity of raw prod­uct is more im­por­tant than ever be­fore and keep­ing things clean is key. By clean I mean a sort of con­cep­tual el­e­gance; a func­tional and at­trac­tive sim­plic­ity in the com­po­si­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of a dish.

I love all good foods and all good wine. And I’m al­ways in search of the best of a par­tic­u­lar style and a par­tic­u­lar cui­sine. In­vari­ably, the most ex­cit­ing and en­joy­able new dishes I come across are pre­pared by a not-so-fa­mous chef in a no-name res­tau­rant–or in a night mar­ket in South­east Asia, a street in In­dia, a food stall in the Caribbean, even a hot dog stand in New York. You never know where you’ll find your next in­cred­i­ble meal or your next mind-blow­ing glass of wine. All you can do is keep trav­el­ling, eat­ing, drink­ing and ex­per­i­ment­ing.

Over the years, the sin­gle great­est dis­cov­ery came to me in the re­al­i­sa­tion of how im­por­tant it is to break bread to­gether. En­joy­ing good food and good wine binds peo­ple to­gether and main­tains har­mony in friend­ships and fam­ily. In­stead of fine din­ing it is now fun din­ing; shar­ing is caring, white ta­ble cloths are gone and a good wine se­lec­tion is es­sen­tial. Cock­tails are back in style and a good bar­tender is, in­deed, a true mixol­o­gist.

And, when it comes to Caribbean food which is so close to my heart, I re­alise that I feel strongly about it be­cause it re­flects the true grit of the is­lan­ders. You can re­ally get a feel of what went on in the past, just by con­sid­er­ing the food and drink they present. If you are lucky to spend some time here, eat­ing, drink­ing and im­bib­ing their way of life, you will come away a hap­pier in­di­vid­ual, as its warmth and cul­ture per­vades your life. Chef An­der­s­son is ex­ec­u­tive chef at The Datai, Langkawi, a fives­tar re­sort lo­cated in Malaysia.

CONNY AN­DER­S­SON

AU­THEN­TIC CARIBBEAN MEAT CURRY WHICH BLENDS IN­DIAN, AFRICAN AND CHI­NESE TASTES.

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