A LEAP OF FLAVOURS

AMARANTA AT THE OBEROI, GUR­GAON, OF­FERS A FRESHLY EN­GI­NEERED MENU, DEEPLY IN­SPIRED BY THE ICONIC, MICHE­LIN-STARRED NOMA IN COPEN­HAGEN, DEN­MARK

India Today - - COVER STORY - As told to Mo­hini Mehro­tra

Chef Te­jas Sovani, ex­ec­u­tive sous chef at Amaranta, The Oberoi Gur­gaon has been Noma-fied—that’s how we de­scribe him af­ter his three-month stint at Chef René Redzepi’s two-Miche­lin-star restau­rant Noma in Copen­hagen, Den­mark. The young chef is back in his kitchen cook­ing up an ex­cit­ing storm of In­dian flavours with a de­li­cious con­tem­po­rary twist. So while at his restau­rant, don’t be sur­prised when you hear fancy culi­nary terms such as sous-vide, flash-grilled and de­hy­drated. Ex­pect min­i­mal­ist plating and max­i­mal­ist flavours.

MY FOOD STORY

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in ho­tel man­age­ment from the Oberoi Cen­tre for Learn­ing and Devel­op­ment (OCLD), I was in­spired to give cook­ing my all; it be­came a pas­sion, an ob­ses­sion. I wanted to show­case the best of In­dian flavours to an ever-evolv­ing au­di­ence in a way that would wow them. All the ex­ec­u­tive chefs that I have worked with dur­ing my ca­reer have been my men­tors. I feel there’s some­thing I have learnt from each one of them—unique and in­spir­ing— that has made me who I am today, a bold, play­ful and confident chef.

IN­DIAN WITH A TE­JAS TWIST

At Amaranta, we be­lieve in per­son­al­is­ing each in­ter­ac­tion with our guests. We spend time ex­plain­ing the menu and the finer nu­ances of the dishes such as the in­gre­di­ents, method of prepa­ra­tion and the cui­sine phi­los­o­phy to them so that they feel for the food like we do. My per­sonal style is what I call a

‘play-ted menu’, blend­ing authen­tic regional recipes and un­usual flavour pair­ings to cu­rate a truly mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence. A meal here is like a culi­nary jour­ney in it­self, where sto­ries are told via food that is rooted in the fa­mil­iar but plated to play with your senses. The menu is brim­ming with mod­ern tech­niques and ideas such as de­hy­dra­tion, sous­vide, fer­men­ta­tion and de­hy­dra­tion (things that I picked up dur­ing my train­ing years) but we make sure that the flavours are eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able and not lost in tran­si­tion.

DI­VER­SITY IS THE NAME OF THE GAME

The in­spi­ra­tion for the menu we have care­fully crafted is di­verse–-from havelis in Lucknow and tra­di­tional “gams” in Saurash­tra to the rar­i­fied clas­sics of the Jain Paryushan to the ‘de­ras’ of Pun­jab. So on the new menu you can find dishes such as Kolkata Street Bento Box, Lal Maas Ka­chodi with Aloo Subzi, a Farsan med­ley with Da­beli Bao, Khakra Crisps, Dhokla Pako­das and Chilli yogurt dip.

THE NOMA EX­PE­RI­ENCE

To say that I en­joyed work­ing with Chef René Redzepi at Noma would be an un­der­state­ment of the cen­tury. Rene is a vi­sion­ary and al­ways breaks down a dish from its grass-root level to dig deeper into the his­tory of the flora and fauna of that par­tic­u­lar re­gion, and we present our menus at Amaranta in much the same way. In­spired by him, at Amaranta I have a team of six regional cui­sine spe­cial­ists from Goa, Ker­ala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Ben­gal and Ra­jasthan who have been hand­picked from small-town eater­ies, to pro­tect the au­then­tic­ity and sim­plic­ity of their cui­sine. Their reper­toire spans cen­tury-old recipes to re­cently evolved run­away suc­cesses.

At­ten­tion to de­tail is ev­ery­thing. For­ag­ing at Noma, for ex­am­ple, meant start­ing very early in the morning to source a list of in­gre­di­ents for the menu. We used to head out in our jump­suits and gum boots ac­com­pa­nied by a few chefs who have a de­gree in Botany, for our daily vis­its, so that they could help us pro­cure the best pos­si­ble herbs and in­gre­di­ents. Our dis­cov­er­ies in­cluded wild berries, ex­otic va­ri­etals of plums, wild mush­rooms, gar­lic flavoured Chantrelles and net­tles that are grown in the wild. It was quite an ex­pe­ri­ence and made me re­alise how im­por­tant fresh in­gre­di­ents are for a chef.

CHANG­ING TIMES

Today, the world has a whole new un­der­stand­ing of In­dian food, where in­di­vid­ual re­gions are claim­ing the spotlight. I keep ex­plor­ing small town mar­kets in search of key sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents and authen­tic regional recipes that are cou­pled with con­stant ex­per­i­men­ta­tion for our menu. Chefs today have re­fined recipes, cre­ate new dishes, pay more at­ten­tion to the quality of in­gre­di­ents and so­phis­ti­cated

pre­sen­ta­tion. One must know that no mat­ter how suc­cess­ful you are in adapt­ing your cui­sine to suit for­eign palates, all rev­o­lu­tions have to be indige­nous. In­dian chefs are in­spired to cu­rate menus pri­mar­ily keep­ing In­dian guests in mind and are look­ing beyond the usual dishes to cre­ate a revo­lu­tion.

BITE-SIZE EX­PLO­SIONS

There’s a cer­tain rhythm that un­der­lines in­ter­est­ing sto­ry­telling with each dish in a tast­ing menu. Right from the fusil­lade of starters, one can en­joy bite-sized por­tions high on flavour, tex­ture with el­e­ments of sur­prise, each de­signed to give the guest a glimpse of what’s to come. At Amaranta, our culi­nary phi­los­o­phy is ev­er­last­ing fresh­ness, with an abil­ity to put a twist on recog­nis­able In­dian flavours, and we want that to be the high­light in a guest’s din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

GO­ING AHEAD

Ev­ery­day cuisines are be­ing dis­cov­ered and re-dis­cov­ered. For ex­am­ple, the curry has adapted to which­ever en­vi­ron­ment it has been exposed to. And in a way, it has man­aged to grow beyond In­dia. Mar­ry­ing in­gre­di­ents and cre­at­ing some­thing new will al­ways be the motto. And like all ex­per­i­ments, there has to be a right mix of in­stinct and in­tel­li­gence. In the last 100 years, there have been mul­ti­ple life­style changes, in the way the cli­mate has changed, agri­cul­ture, farm­ing and so on. It is im­por­tant that we care for our in­gre­di­ents. It’s cru­cial to pay at­ten­tion to the fresh­ness and au­then­tic­ity of the pro­duce you work with.

FAVOURITE DIN­ING EX­PE­RI­ENCE

I have im­mense ad­mi­ra­tion for Chef Rene Redzepi of Noma for his food, for he has a pas­sion for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and a love for lo­cal sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents like no other chef in the world. His play­ful de­con­struc­tion of dishes and the clas­si­cal fine din­ing ap­proach to fresh in­gre­di­ents is awe-in­spir­ing. My all­time favourite restau­rant in the world is the renowned restau­rant Mu­garitz, tucked away in a quiet cor­ner of Spain. The din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence there is un­like any other —sim­ple, thought­ful use of in­gre­di­ents and gor­geous pre­sen­ta­tion. That is my food phi­los­o­phy too.

TE­JAS SOVANI Ex­ec­u­tive Sous Chef, Amaranta, The Oberoi, Gur­gaon

Ghiza­ayat—meat pate cro­quettes, lamb in pick­linG spices, spiced lamb brain GouGers wilder­ness, a con­fit of kinG mush­room, Green and black Gram and cur­ried co­conut sauce

the KolKata street box with jhal muri, aloo Kab­uli, phuchKa, radha ballavi and ghugni

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