Starry Fare

Taj Ho­tels’ Miche­lin­star chefs, Sri­ram Ay­lur and Sri­jith Gopinathan come to­gether to cu­rate magic with an in­spired tast­ing menu

India Today - - FACE OFF - By SU­JATA DUGAR

DOES A BOWL LAYERED with curd rice, tem­pered with curry leaf gra­nola, cit­rus oil and topped with cauliflow­ers and pick­ling spices sound ex­otic? How about a spice pot with pota­toes, English peas, mint and tamarind? While the for­mer is a fresh take on tra­di­tional curd rice, the lat­ter, of In­dian chaat.

Lend­ing a twist to these In­dian dishes are Miche­lin-star chefs Sri­ram Ay­lur (53) of Taj 51 Buck­ing­ham Gate Suites and Res­i­dences Lon­don, and Sri­jith Gopinathan (39) of Taj Campton Place restau­rant at the epony­mous ho­tel in San Fran­cisco. In a rare col­lab­o­ra­tion, the duo cre­ate a de­gus­ta­tion menu that is pro­gres­sive, lo­cal, yet In­dian at heart. While Ay­lur blends his ex­per­tise in south In­dian coastal food, Gopinathan adds his ver­sion of Cal­i­for­nia-in­spired In­dian cui­sine. The twin pop-ups were held at The Cham­bers, The Taj Ma­hal Palace, Mum­bai and at Varq, Taj Ma­hal Ho­tel, New Delhi re­cently. In con­ver­sa­tion with Spice, the duo dis­cussed their in­no­va­tive menu, the fu­ture of In­dian cui­sine and, of course, life af­ter the Miche­lin star.

Both of you have a dif­fer­ent take on In­dian cui­sine served at your restau­rants; South-west coastal In­dian cui­sine and Cal­i­for­nia-in­spired In­dian cui­sine. How dif­fer­ent are these from each other?

Sri­ram Ay­lur (SA) The dishes served at Quilon are in­spired by the coastal cui­sine of Ker­ala, Goa and Kar­nataka. They re­flect pro­gres­sive food by way of ex­per­i­ment­ing with dif­fer­ent in­gre­di­ents but stay con­nected to their In­dian roots. At Lon­don, we get the fresh­est in­gre­di­ents from around the world and so get a chance to ex­per­i­ment. Our menu of­fers a mix of tra­di­tional and fa­mil­iar dishes like the Man­ga­lorean chicken, Mal­abar lamb biryani and avial along with con­tem­po­rary and pro­gres­sive ones like the seafood moilee and baked black cod.

In fact Quilon is the only south In­dian restau­rant in the world with a Miche­lin star to its name.

Sri­jith Gopinathan (SG) The Cal-In­dian cui­sine we serve is a happy mar­riage of Euro­pean-Cal­i­for­nian in­gre­di­ents with In­dian cook­ing tech­niques and spices. In­gre­di­ents such as scal­lops, quail and lob­ster are cooked with co­conut curry or with jag­gery. Un­like Lon­don, here I get to source all the in­gre­di­ents from within a 100mile ra­dius since Cal­i­for­nia has the best pro­duce in the world. I com­bine peak-sea­son in­gre­di­ents with In­dian spices that en­hance a dish, but never over­whelm. In 2016, we be­came the first In­dian restau­rant in the world to be awarded two Miche­lin stars, af­ter be­ing awarded the first Miche­lin star in 2010 and win­ning it con­tin­u­ously six times in a row.

How did you main­tain your sig­na­ture touch for this menu de­spite two dif­fer­ent cook­ing sen­si­bil­i­ties in­volved?

SA & SG Our col­lab­o­ra­tion is not to be mis­taken for a fu­sion menu, but one that car­ries in­flu­ences of both places (Lon­don and San Fran­cisco) but re­mained true to In­dian cui­sine. We did not di­vide the dishes among our­selves and cook sep­a­rately but added our touch to each dish to show­case a per­fect syn­the­sis. The four­course menu com­prised dishes like jumbo shrimp raita salad, turmeric whey scal­lop, moilee cream, mango chilli salsa, slow cooked quail with black pep­per crust, a baked black cod with spiced palm jag­gery glaze, or Cal­i­for­nia morels, pea ten­dril ‘saag’ served with a quail con­fit ‘naan bao.’ The dessert com­pris­ing rhubarb, shrik­hand crys­tals, and pulled golden pa­padi, had the tex­ture of frozen crys­tal balls yet the flavours re­minded you of In­dian shrik­hand.

Each course was paired with an ex­clu­sive se­lec­tion of wines. For in­stance, the main course com­pris­ing baby lamb shank slow cooked with spices and herbs for the non veg­e­tar­ian din­ers as well as the stuffed cour­gette flower with bell weather farm ri­cotta, ghee crum­ble and tofu and cot­tage cheese chop pis­ta­chio sauce for the veg­e­tar­ian coun­ter­parts were both paired with a Caber­net Sauvi­gnon, Can­non­ball, 2013 (Cal­i­for­nia, USA) wine.

How have things changed af­ter the Miche­lin star rat­ing?

SA Ear­lier, peo­ple could not com­pre­hend an In­dian restau­rant with­out the usual naan, chicken tikka and dal makhani. Ex­plain­ing coastal cui­sine and its sim­plic­ity and spices was painful. How­ever, the Miche­lin star changed it all. Even though it was un­ex­pected and came as a sur­prise ini­tially, the ex­em­plary stress on ser­vice, food and in­no­va­tion has helped sus­tain its star rat­ing till date.

SG The per­cep­tion of In­dian food is chang­ing and slowly, peo­ple are be­gin­ning to un­der­stand that it is not just about spices but has an ex­ten­sive range to of­fer. While much has been done and writ­ten about as far as Ja­panese cui­sine is con­cerned, In­dian, like Peru­vian cui­sine, is be­gin­ning to get no­ticed and be mea­sured against in­ter­na­tional cui­sine.

Pho­to­graphs By YASIR IQBAL

FLAVOUR TWIST (L-R) Baked black cod, spiced palm jag­gery glaze; scal­lop, moilee cream, mango chilli salsa; jumbo shrimp raita salad, turmeric whey

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