For long, fusion food was considered, in some ways, an experiment gone wrong as many were trying too hard. However, all this has changed over the past few years with several chefs now redefining what “fusion” truly means. With consumers becoming more aware, chefs are now focusing on the quality of ingredients being used and how food is being presented.
Modern Indian food, a term which many chefs prefer to use over “fusion food”, is an experimental take on Indian food that focuses on innovation, locally sourced ingredients, progressive cooking techniques and unique flavour combinations to offer an iconic dish in a new avatar that is not entirely unfamiliar. In this light, we now see many see many chefs creatively presenting dishes by tapping into the diverse cooking traditions of Indian history while using modern cooking styles. “Indian dishes were perceived to be oily, heavy and served in large portions. However, all this changed with modern Indian food,” avers Nimish Bhatia, chef and owner of Nimisserie. “The focus of modern Indian food is to provide a smaller serving that is proportionate to how much one can eat. This prevents wastage that can be seen when the food is given in larger servings.”
As the dishes are lighter and smaller, one can easily eat three or more courses without feeling stuffed. What makes modern Indian food stand out for Nimish is the fact that one can see all the ingredients used in the dish. Earlier, most of the dishes were served in a bowl and the main ingredients of a dish were covered in a curry. However, in its modern take, you can make out all of the ingredients and know what the star of the dish is. For instance, if it is a meat-based curry, you can see the meat entirely without it being covered in gravy.
Matters of plating
Furthermore, these dishes are also aesthetically plated. For instance, take the masala chai cheesecake and rusk layered with rose cake at Nimisserie. “Presentation is integral as food is all about the senses. If it doesn’t look pleasing, the diner may not eat it even if it tastes good,” says Nimish. Traditionally, garnishes such as julienned ginger, a swirl of cream, fried chillies or a few coriander leaves were added. Now, this has changed and a variety of garnishes are used, not just for adding beauty to the dish, but also for adding value to it,” avers Manish Mehrotra, executive chef, Indian Accent, New Delhi.
While these dishes may have used international cooking and presentation styles, a lot of importance is given to keeping the flavours intact. Hence, even as they play around with the cooking techniques or add a new ingredient to push the envelope, one thing chefs refuse to do is mess with the dish’s authenticity. “Keeping the core ingredients the same helps retain the authenticity and get the taste right. While you can add a new ingredient to the dish, it must not alter the flavour profile drastically,” says Saurabh Udinia, chef de cuisine — modern Indian, Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd. However, there are times when one is unable to procure the ingredients they need for the dish.
“In this light, you can use ingredients that are available locally. While they may not be traditionally used from where the dish originates, you can still use them in a classical sense,” says Sriram Aylur, executive chef, Quilon, London.
Much of the success that modern fusion food is experiencing is perhaps due to the fact that many chefs are becoming bolder with their fusions. However, while doing so, one must keep a few guidelines in mind. “First of all, it’s important not to mix two different cuisines together. For instance, you cannot serve a chicken tikka with a sambhar sauce. Secondly, there must be a reason as to why they go together. In essence, there must be a story behind the dish. Finally, the dish must be rooted in tradition. What this means is while you may choose to present the dish differently, the flavours and authenticity of the dish must be retained without altering the method that is used to make it,” Manish explains.
However, at the same time, it is important to not get overzealous and create a dish for the sake of it. “At the outset, some of the dishes should be ignored as it is total gimmickry. There are valiant efforts by many to bring in Indian flavours to Western preparations in an effort to embolden people’s palates, as they believe customers want big, bold flavours. For instance, in New Delhi, there is a dish called the tandoori momos. All of this is done in an effort to please the palates of those who enjoy these flavours,” opines Manu Chandra, chef and restaurateur. “While Indian fusion food started a long time ago, much of it has changed today as what is happening now is just for the sake of mixing two cuisines together. The focus has shifted from the real taste and authenticity of the dish to gimmicks and showing dishes in unusual containers,” adds Manish.
Additionally, what would work well is to use local ingredients and pair them with international techniques to create a dish that is essentially simple but sophisticated. “For instance, the risotto that we serve at Toast and Tonic uses local rice that is grown in West Bengal instead of the traditional Arborio rice,” says Manu. Sriram agrees, adding, “It’s important to use local ingredients as it allows you to stay relevant to the market. At the same time, you can stay true to the dish’s place of origin by using its traditional cooking techniques.” However, what’s important to remember is that the dish being created needs to be tasty and have good quality ingredients. Only then, can these dishes succeed in the days to come.