On a sweeter note

CHEF'S VIEW Monish Gujral's culinary journey may be enviable, but he has learnt his craft the hard way. A Varsha Rao talks to the carrier of tandoori

On a sweeter note

It was the summer of 1983 when a young Monish Gujral was offered a job at a local book store for Rs 600. But he didn’t expect any response from his family when he told them the happy news. He was offered a job at the family establishment, Moti Mahal for Rs 700. The difference between the two salaries was Rs 100. But the amount of work expected in return was huge. However, Monish didn’t mind working in the hot kitchens, learning the basics of cooking from his grandfather Kundan Lal Gujral, the ‘father of tandoori cuisine’. So, the choice was clear! He would go on to work at Moti Mahal, not just for one summer though, but forever!

Apart from popularising tandoori cuisine, Monish has also penned down his culinary thoughts and experiences in books, blogs and newspaper columns. His first book was on his family’s tryst with the tandoor. His next book, On the Butter Chicken Trail, was awarded one of the best cookbooks in the world published over the last 20 years at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015 by Gourmand. Even his third book, On the Kebab Trail, which shed light on the best kebabs, was an award-winning one!

Now, Monish is back with yet another book. But this time, he’s hoping to appeal to everybody’s sweet tooth! On the Dessert Trail is a collection of more than 80 mouth-watering dessert recipes from around 50 countries that Monish has picked up during his travels. Here are excerpts from a conversation with him:

Tell us about your latest book, ‘On the Dessert Trail’.

On the Dessert Trail showcases and celebrates the popular and national desserts of the world with emphasis on making the recipes uncomplicated and simple. Having had the good fortune of travelling around the world, I have tasted various cuisines, met masterchefs and learned about their culinary journeys.

While researching for this book, I wanted to showcase the national desserts of different countries, but I was surprised to find out how these recipes were invented — few out of love, few out of duty, few out of need or requirement of time and, of course, few accidentally.

People usually hesitate to experiment with desserts. Do you think your book will help change that perception?

Most households have their comfort desserts, which they cook on various occasions like dinners, poojas or celebrations. In my home, it was always gur ka halwa or kheer. Sometimes, when my mother felt adventurous, she made a chocolate soufflé or a bread and butter pudding. In my book, I have tried to simplify the recipes and mostly used locally available ingredients to make it easier for the readers. I am sure it will change the comfort pudding menus in the homes.

What’s your favourite dessert?

Kulfi with falooda! I still cherish cold milk with rose syrup, sugar, falooda and ice on a hot summer day, or a slightly melted kulfi with falooda all over it with a drizzle of rose sherbet.

Falooda is of Persian (Iranian) origin and is said to have come to India during Nadir Shah’s reign. It is said that in the olden days, ice was gathered during the winter or carried from the mountaintops and stored in large insulated underground chambers, so that it could be used throughout summer. The best
use of this ice was to make desserts like falooda.

Kulfi is said to have travelled to India with the Mughals. It was prepared in royal kitchens using ice brought down from the Himalayas. This is also documented in Ain-i-Akbari.

What’s the secret to making the perfect dessert?

The perfect dessert, or in fact, any dish is perfect when it is made out of love. That’s why, when anyone is asked who cooks the best food in the world, the unanimous reply is, ‘my mom’. To make a perfect dessert, follow the recipe carefully. However, sometimes, due to the variations in the quality of the available ingredients and equipment, the dish may not come out as expected. But, don’t lose heart. Try again, and with some tweaking, you will get the desired results.

Fusion seems to be ruling the world of food today. Can there be fusion in desserts too?

Of course, yes! It’s always interesting to do fusion cooking. I have included phirni brûlée in the book, which is an Indo-French fusion dessert. We can
also do a fusion of Indian and Italian desserts with the famous tiramisu with pistachio, cardamom flavour and a hint of saffron.

What do you think about the food scene in India today?

Indians have started experimenting with food and the younger generation is always looking for change. But the masses still prefer the age-old comfort food like tandoori, Mughlai, South Indian, etc. Regional cuisines are also finding their place in the popular restaurants.

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