All for a plate of one's own!

Last Updated 27 September 2013, 18:50 IST

Given the popularity of the various cookery shows and rising expectations regarding a culinary experience by food-savvy diners, India is only a few steps away from being charted on the Michelin map, reckons Anusha Shashidhar

Come 9 O’ clock, and you will find several Indian households glued to their televisions, watching Masterchef Australia. And some others at 8 o’clock watching the goofy antics of Rocky-Mayur duo on Highway On My Plate.

It was only two or three years ago that food gained a popular leap in its lifestyle status. Suddenly, it wasn’t just the elite who believed in ‘wine and dine’. Every upper middleclass family cleansed up their palates for a culinary revolution. And then, food wasn’t just about homely comfort and taste, it had to appeal to every sense - sight, smell, touch, taste, and even hearing! Star restaurants and stand-alone restaurants alike had begun to entice their customers with food that could appeal to all their sensory perceptions.  

And before we knew it, India was on an all-time high mission to put itself firmly on the global map of culinary experience. A myriad number of Indian channels, dedicated solely to food, came to the fore, and other lifestyle channels aired innumerable number of cookery shows, review shows, and cooking competitions. Vicky Goes Veg, Highway On My Plate, Chakhle India on ‘NDTV Goodtimes’, and Masterchef India on ‘Star Plus’, were perhaps the most popular Indian food and cooking shows. The latest additions to this list are Mummy Ka Magic, and Khata Rahe Mera Dil aired on the newbie channel ‘Food Food’.

Slowly, offscreen too, people all around us started expecting more than just good food at fine dining restaurants. With that, began the entry of several elite restaurants opening across big cities in India.

If it weren’t for Masterchef Australia, hardly any of us, Indians, would be aware of the “Michelin” concept. Though it is not prevalent in Australia, the show had Michelin starred chefs for guests.

The Michelin star has been quite the high-funda accreditation in the culinary circles; it is recognised all across the globe. “High-funda” is actually an understatement, for there have been records of chefs committing suicide for losing Michelin star(s)! Even the Michelin critics are nothing short of spies when it comes to reviewing; their identities remain unknown from the moment they are employed till the day they retire! In fact, it was only about three years ago that the identity of Derek Bulmer was revealed, after he retired from a 33-year long career as a Michelin critic. Indeed, this man, who has stomached in 7260 meals for a career, was in charge of ­awarding, and taking away, the deemed Michelin stars, which can make or break the careers of top chefs across the world! Does give a bit of the heebie jeebies, doesn’t it? No wonder the character Anton Ego, a food and restaurant critic, in the animated movie Ratatouille was rather scary too. His dialogue, “I don’t like food; I LOVE food. If I don’t love it, I don’t swallow,” is enough to send a chill down any chef’s spine.

A Michelin starred restaurant is deemed based on not only its food, service, and hygiene, but also its ambience, cutlery, and even the loo! A Michelin critic is actually called an “inspector” (as if it weren’t fancy enough already), and (s)he never reveals his/her identity to the restaurant. The restaurant being reviewed hardly ever suspects a Michelin inspector because (s)he has undergone intensive training to remain undercover with ease, and this goes as far-fetched as having to rush to the loo to make complicated notes that otherwise can’t be remembered! In short, the life of a Michelin Inspector is as fancy as it can get, nothing short of a spy’s life, and inarguably has a direct hand in upping or condemning a restaurant.

While India is still not on the Michelin map, Michelin starred restaurants are certainly making way into our country. What this really means is that while the concept of Michelin stars is not prevalent here, branches of restaurants abroad that have been bestowed with the deemed stars are being opened across big cities in India.

Says Sumit Sharma, the General Manager of Yauatcha, a Michelin starred restaurant in Bangalore, “Indeed Michelin star is a very new concept not just in Bangalore, but India as a whole.” He notes, “Most Michelin star restaurants abroad are chef-led, which indicates the seriousness of culinary hospitality. But in India, it is mostly about food, and people do not care about the cutlery and ambience as much. Also, most fine-dining restaurants are corporate-owned rather than chef-led. It is only in the recent five years that people are more conscious of the overall standards of fine-dining restaurants.”

Going by Sharma’s observations, it is indeed only a matter of time before India too finds its way onto the Michelin map, what with the average customer growing sharper and smarter about dining experience. Afteral, ours is a diverse country even when it comes to food culture. And judging by the introduction of Indian editions of food magazines, saying India is on its way to an upscale culinary experience seems only fitting.

(Published 27 September 2013, 18:50 IST)

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