Past forward

Past forward
The word ‘rustic’ is associated with other words and feelings like ‘simple’, ‘rural’, ‘plain’ and sometimes, even ‘unsophisticated’.

But a rustic style of cooking is anything but simple and it most definitely doesn’t lack sophistication. In fact, it acts as a foundation for any good chef or culinary expert, and though fine dining experiences are becoming popular in the City, the rustic cuisine isn’t ready to take a back seat just yet.

According to Chef Surjan Singh Jolly, Director Food and Beverage at JW Marriott Hotel, a rustic style of cooking and presentation is the ABC for any chef. His voice trembles with excitement when he talks of the indigenous style. “Rustic cuisine is all about honesty, humility and going back to the basics. Only after learning this style should a chef move on to modern forms. It’s the foundation and one can build on it,” he says.

Without a strong base, without learning the intricacies of one’s culture and beginnings, it’s hard to progress, he adds. “Fusion foods are becoming popular but people are losing touch with their roots and traditional styles of cooking. I have nothing against modern styles, but everyone needs to know their alphabets. It’s a way for a chef to give back to and respect the community she or he was born in to,” he explains.

Chef Jolly is known for going back to his roots and learning from the best home cooks and khansamas. Next week, he will travel to Udupi, Coorg, Mangaluru and those regions in search of rustic methods and recipes.

“A team of chefs and I are going to learn cooking techniques from the various communities of the region — Shettys, Gowdas, Brahmins — for four days.”  He will visit paddy fields, work with farmers and watch them cook at home, while travelling on foot or bike.  His last visit was to Hyderabad, where he learnt to make traditional biryani from Nawab Mehmoob Alam Khan, a well-known cook. The chef incorporates these techniques into the five-star hotel’s menu. The Executive Chef of Taj Vivanta, Chef Ramaswamy Selvaraju, says that the rustic style of cooking and presentation is coming back.

Noticing trends, he elaborates, “For a while, people were excited by tasting menus, modern techniques and minimalism. But now that’s changing in big establishments. Instead of serving biryani in small portions, we leave the ‘handi’ for people to serve themselves. And when we serve meats,  we don’t spend time on presentation; instead, we slap the food on and garnish it with some herbs. People prefer this as it’s more natural, homely and comforting.” Chef Jolly and him mention that this style of cooking leaves more room for improvisation and creativity.

“You don’t have to measure everything in teaspoons and tablespoons. The chef can improvise as they go,” says Chef Ramaswamy.  Chef Jolly adds, “It’s not about the style of cooking — it’s a way to (re)connect with one’s cultural roots, their history and understand habits and routines of a community.”

Ask him what his favourite vessel is and Chef Jolly will say a ‘lagan’ or copper vessel, not some fancy kitchen fitting.  TV chef Aditya Bal also loves to explore rustic techniques and says it’s all about comfort. “People like to follow trends and that’s why modern techniques are so popular these days. Instead of making a simple mutton curry, people would rather deconstruct it and turn it into something else.”  But in the end, he adds, people  are simple at heart so rustic styles will never fade away.

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