New Delhi ris­ing

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CHEF’S TRAVELOGUE -

Priyam Chat­ter­jee shares how a new breed of young chefs is push­ing culi­nary bound­aries in In­dia’s cap­i­tal.

The roots of North In­dian cui­sine comes from its his­tory of en­dur­ing count­less royal in­va­sions. Each em­pire brought its own food cul­ture to New Delhi, blended with the city’s sup­ply of spices and lo­cal re­sources. The city saw a heavy in­flu­ence of meat fol­low­ing the Per­sian in­va­sion; the Mughals brought with them colo­nial British in­flu­ences such as cream, which gave rise to the world fa­mous murg makhani; while In­dian par­ti­tion refugees from the north western fron­tier prov­inces also added their own Indo-pak­istani flavour to food. New Delhi is a culi­nary melt­ing pot of dif­fer­ent flavours and gen­res, and there’s much more to its cui­sine than just daal, tan­doori chicken and naans.

A new wave of lo­cal pro­duce

New Delhi’s din­ing scene is best de­scribed as be­ing ad­ven­tur­ous and cu­ri­ous, of­fer­ing myr­iad in­ter­na­tional cuisines be it Ital­ian, French, Span­ish, Asian fu­sion or mod­ern Ja­pa­nese. Now we have an increasing num­ber of Asian-in­flu­enced restau­rants that are con­stantly push­ing new flavour pro­files through vi­brant pro­duce sourced from lo­cal farms and mar­kets.

The city isn’t blessed with a wa­ter body so prime farm­ing and us­ing lo­cally grown in­gre­di­ents isn’t largely pos­si­ble. But ad­ja­cent states and cities pro­vide ac­cess to some of the finest in­gre­di­ents, thanks to the ef­fort of hard­work­ing farm­ers. For ex­am­ple, for my dishes and menu plan­ning at Qla, I work closely with chef­turned-farmer en­tre­pre­neur Ach­intya Anand of Kr­ishi Cress for his mi­cro­greens, herbs, ed­i­ble flow­ers and fresh veg­eta­bles. The pro­duce is beau­ti­ful and a lot more valu­able that just its role as gar­nishes. In­dia’s chefs are not only show­cas­ing their tal­ents and pro­mot­ing the lo­cal econ­omy via this em­pha­sis on lo­cal pro­duce, but they are also go­ing back to their roots and mak­ing use of

an­cient lo­cal spices, herbs and veg­eta­bles once again. Fol­low­ing the global turmeric health trend, other key lo­cal in­gre­di­ents that are fast gain­ing pop­u­lar­ity again are co­rian­der, mace, moringa, and net­tle.

To­day’s younger gen­er­a­tion of lo­cal chefs has bet­ter in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure, and a stronger ap­pre­ci­a­tion and global ap­proach to cook­ing than ever be­fore. They are us­ing their over­seas Miche­lin-starred restau­rant train­ing stints to en­rich New Delhi’s culi­nary reper­toire, adding depth and di­men­sion to the ex­ist­ing land­scape. With in­creased in­ter­na­tional travel, cou­pled with om­nipresent cook­ing shows, din­ers have broader hori­zons and are more open to new ini­tia­tives, lift­ing the glass ceil­ing on New Delhi’s some­what con­stric­tive and dated culi­nary frame­work. As a chef, it all comes down to ex­po­sure – trav­el­ling to new des­ti­na­tions, try­ing the un­fa­mil­iar and then bring­ing it back home and giv­ing it your own twist in a lo­cally ac­cept­able way.

Hidden tal­ents abound

While New Delhi’s culi­nary rep­u­ta­tion is still to be in­ter­na­tion­ally recog­nised, the vi­brant city of­fers a lot more than street food, veg­e­tar­ian fare, tan­doori tikkas, mo­mos or In­dian-chi­nese fu­sion. Some of the city’s most promis­ing young chefs in­clude Vipul

Gupta, di­rec­tor of culi­nary op­er­a­tions at An­daz Delhi’s An­na­maya, a Euro­pean food hall con­cept. With dishes such as or­ganic black pea lin­guine or mil­let chicken biryani with a ly­chee honey dress­ing, Gupta’s fo­cus is on meld­ing Euro­pean plates and lo­cal palates with a ‘Made in In­dia’ stamp, con­sciously us­ing lo­cally sourced ar­ti­sanal pro­duce.

Ab­hishek Gupta trained at two Miche­lin-starred Noma in 2016 and cred­its René Redzepi’s groom­ing for his cur­rent suc­cess as ex­ec­u­tive sous chef at The Leela Am­bi­ence Gu­ru­gram. With his ‘think global, act lo­cal’ phi­los­o­phy, pop­u­lar high­lights of his Global Cui­sine dé­gus­ta­tion menu in­clude freshly squeezed fer­mented beet­root juice; hoisin duck and black rice with lo­tus root frit­ter and burnt spring onion; and be­tel leaf shrimp ravi­oli.

The Oberoi Gur­gaon’s ex­ec­u­tive sous chef Te­jas So­vani also pays homage to his in­tern­ship at Noma, where he learnt about for­ag­ing, and the art of fer­men­ta­tion, sus­tain­abil­ity, cur­ing and age­ing. Em­ploy­ing a ‘less is more’ phi­los­o­phy at his min­i­mal­ist, mod­ern In­dian restau­rant Amaranta, So­vani’s menu sports in­no­va­tive con­tem­po­rary dishes such as Koli­wada prawns; Bird’s Nest of green pea-filled pa­neer en­velopes, as­para­gus and idi­ap­pam in a cashew and onion gravy; and the fiery co­conut pork fry with palm heart, maanga kari, tem­pered spinach and kad­um­buttu dumplings, again us­ing the best of sea­sonal lo­cal pro­duce.

Yet another ex-noma trainee is Ak­shay Bhard­waj, ex­ec­u­tive chef of Whisky Samba, Gur­gaon’s hippest whisky bar. Bhard­waj wows din­ers with an à la carte menu show­cas­ing lo­cal sea­sonal pro­duce, as well as his 11-course tast­ing menu paired with vin­tage whiskies.

Apart from crowd­pleasers such as achari chicken with Parme­san bis­cotti, and Kolkata-style ka­sundi ten­der­loin skew­ers, avant-garde dessert in­clude cre­ations like Five Tex­tures of Flamed Pineap­ple with co­conut cream, Clas­sic Af­ter 8 Samba Style Hot Fudge, and Whisky Sour Ice Cream.

Head­ing one of In­dia’s only Ar­me­nian restau­rants is Megha Kohli, head chef of Lavaash by Saby. Kohli crafts pop­u­lar Ar­me­nian dishes from Ben­gali chef Sabyasachi Go­rai’s child­hood in Kolkata, which he has brought to the artsy Mehrauli precinct in New Delhi. Spiced pide pie with kalimpong cheese; Ira­nian lamb koobideh skew­ers; and ponchiki filled dough­nuts are just some of the must-try ex­otic dishes.

The must-do rus­tic foodie trail

A sam­pling of tra­di­tional rus­tic foods is a must in this sprawl­ing city, which is di­vided into Old Delhi and New Delhi, each with starkly dif­fer­ent food styles. Old Delhi of­fers au­then­tic her­itage from the Delhi sul­tanate, while New Delhi ex­udes a slightly more mod­ern ap­proach to its tra­di­tional dishes. Start the morn­ing in Old Delhi’s Chandni Chowk – birth­place of In­dia’s quin­tes­sen­tial chaats and mithais – and move on to the smoky, twist­ing labyrinth lanes of the Niza­mud­din lo­cal­ity in the evening. The his­tor­i­cal quar­ter of­fers real Mughal-in­flu­enced food such as clas­sic grills, tan­doors and age-old dessert shops, while Niza­mud­din is a haven for meat-lovers. For in­stance, Ghalib Kabab Corner is a hidden gem fa­mous for its fork ten­der buff(alo) tikkas and tan­doori chicken that falls off the bone. For sup­per, Iqbals Restau­rant in Jamma Masjid stays open till 4am, serv­ing buff ke­babs, chicken malai tikka, and phirni, a creamy bro­ken rice pud­ding. Another of my favourite haunts is Nizam’s Kathi Kabab in De­fence Colony, fa­mous for its ke­bab rolls and its un­der­rated chicken curry.

Other must-do’s in­clude the Am­rit­sari kulchas at pi­o­neer Bal­jeet’s Am­rit­sari Kulcha in Paschim Vi­har, which has been serv­ing the stuffed Pun­jabi flat­bread since 1982. Ac­com­pa­ny­ing the stuffed kulcha loaded with but­ter is an en­tire thaali with chut­neys, onions, chick­pea curry and raita. The recipe is so sa­cred, the staff even im­port their wa­ter for the dough from Am­rit­sar to make the flat­breads as au­then­tic as pos­si­ble. Ganesh ‘mac­chi­wala’ Restau­rant in Karol Bagh serves up the best fried fish and chicken barra in town; and across the road, Roshan Di Kulfi is the ad­dress for scrump­tious chole bha­ture and kulfi falooda. The Pot­belly Rooftop Café in Sha­pur Jaat of­fers hip Bi­hari food, orig­i­nat­ing from the eastern state of Bi­har which bor­ders Nepal. I rec­om­mend lit­thi chokha – tra­di­tional stuffed whole wheat dough balls, meat pakora bas­ket, multi-coloured poori bas­ket and spicy chicken stew. Fi­nally, Ahad Sons in Uday

Park Mar­ket is a spec­tac­u­lar hole-in-the-wall Kash­miri joint serv­ing tra­di­tional Wazwan cui­sine. House spe­cial­i­ties in­clude maaz yakkhn flavoured with cockscomb flower wa­ter; and kong firin, a rich, saf­fron-flavoured rice pud­ding with nuts.

Priyam Chat­ter­jee grew up among a fam­ily of ex­cep­tion­ally tra­di­tional cooks, but was more in­ter­ested in join­ing the army than the kitchen as a young lad. Chat­ter­jee is cur­rently head chef and di­rec­tor at Qla, a mod­ern fine din­ing Euro­pean restau­rant in Delhi, work­ing mostly with fresh fish and veg­eta­bles. Trained by Jean-claude Fugier, the 29-year-old also counts Marco Pierre White as his men­tor, and cred­its Mas­simo Bot­tura, Mat­teo Grandi and An­doni Luis for be­ing his strong­est in­flu­ences when it comes to show­cas­ing his eclec­tic cook­ing style and cre­at­ing ex­quis­ite art on a plate. Chat­ter­jee was awarded Chef of the Year 2017 by Delhi Times Night Life; fea­tured in ‘Spe­cial Men­tions’ in FORBES In­dia’s 2018 An­nual 30 un­der 30 achiev­ers list; and was a South­east Asia semi­fi­nal­ist in the S.pel­le­grino Young Chef 2017 com­pe­ti­tion in Sin­ga­pore.

The In­dia Gate, a war me­mo­rial in New Delhi’s cer­e­mo­nial boule­vard of Ra­j­path

Priyam Chat­ter­jee

Amaranta Poached Gu­ju­rat baby lob­ster, black sesame, aubergine and olive pow­der Lamb loin in smoked milk, rasp­berry, beet­root, dark Ashanti choco­clate Mil­let Biryani at An­na­maya

King - Power Play menu at Amaranta Tra­di­tional manti with Kalimpong cheese at Lavaash by Saby

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