What's cooking in the kitchen of the future?

Some ups, some downs — these were what shaped the golden age of Indian hospitality, writes Madhulika Dash
Last Updated 28 December 2019, 18:45 IST

The difference between a trend and a fad, culinary legend James Beard had once said, “a fad is like foam, it is here today, gone tomorrow; but a trend is like a fine sauce, it’s there for a reason, it has a tradition and will decide the next course.” We agree. No matter how volatile and unpredictable the food and beverage industry has been, there have been such distinctive ‘sauces’ that have a significant impact on the Indian dining space, a few like these:

Vegetables get their due

“Charlie Trotter had ages ago urged chefs to treat vegetable as meat. His observation, based on the ancient culinary cultures that had thrived on respecting the vegetable and meat alike, has eventually led to chefs re-investing in quality produce, not only while procuring, but designing a dish. The result, we have baigan bharta in a cone, turning makki di roti and sarson ka saag into a cupcake or reviving the black carrot with a halwa,” says Sabyasachi Gorai, Culinary Director, Byg Brewski Brewing Company.

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Novelty of heritage ingredients

“Call it the need of novelty or the search of better ingredients, Indian dining spaces have finally opened to grains, vegetable and even fruits that go beyond the conventional: whether it is with rice where varieties like the Manipuri black rice and West Bengal gobindbhog has taken precedence, but also millets and vegetables. And the turn back isn’t just a fad but backed by the understanding and appreciation of these ingredients and their effects on our well-being,” says Sharad Dewan, Regional Director (food production), The Park Hotel.

Elemental foreplay & minimalism

“The one style that is catching up soon is minimalism. When I say ‘minimalism’ I do not just mean minimum use of ingredients but also the way they are treated, which brings us to the next trend called element foreplay. Essentially a bunch of clever technique, traditional and modern, that helps chefs use a certain facet of an ingredient to elevate their creation — this could be fermentation, infusion, curing or even fat washing. In fact, one of the finest examples of element foreplay is the beetroot cured salmon, orange infused watermelon, blackened garlic in prawns and such, “ says Mir Zafar Ali, Executive Chef, The Leela Palace.

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The rise of a concept

“Over the past decade, India has opened to chefs/concept-driven formats like Indigo, Bellissima, Arth, Café White Sage, Lavaash By Saby, Pluck, Anamaya, Pot Belly, Masque and more. A sure indication of not only our evolving dining spaces but diners as well, going beyond the conventional approach to food to make dining experience a possibility. And while it is still in a nascent stage, the change has allowed chefs to make some of the traditional cuisine more relevant — and of course widen the scope of palate play thus making the food and beverage arena more exciting,” says Nimish Bhatia, Culinary
Consultant & Owner, Nimisserie.

Intuitive & interactive

“Family style dining giving way to community tables, large portion plates to smaller plates and shared plates are a few ways in which Indians are dining out today. Also changing is the experiences that are conducted, which are more informal these days. The menu curated has the element of fun, discovery and even creativity that allows chefs and diners to have a conversation. This ‘interactive element’ has allowed room for not only intuitive menus where the chefs can play on a wide canvas of cuisine, technique and ingredients but also redefined ‘fine dining’,” says Praveen Shetty, Executive Chef, Conrad Bespoke Buffet Experience.

“Over the past two decades, a substantial amount of research has been devoted to the quality of the consumer dining experience. As a result, food in restaurants has become more sophisticated leading to the origin of bespoke buffet. Some buffets focus on micro greens, fresh seasonal produce, sustainable farming and endless varieties of greens along with additional segments that have fun dining as their theme with dishes like golgappa caviar, charcoal fumed peri peri chilli paneer tikka. It is a trend on the rise,” says Neeraj Tyagi, Director of Culinary, Pullman & Novotel, Aerocity.

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Vegan & fast casual

“Vegan cuisine is one of the biggest breakthroughs of the Indian dining experience. Thanks to the drive, more guests today are turning vegetarian nudging chefs to turn menus that are fast, yet nutritious and satisfying. Based on this notion, the mainstay of good dining is now trending on the concept of ‘small plates’ essentially single serve dishes resembling appetisers which are ordered as part of a more formal meal or as a tasting menu. For example, pav bhaji fondue, pepper mutton in appam cups, prawn balchao poi to state a few,” says Neeraj Rawoot, Executive Chef, Sofitel Mumbai BKC.

Indigenously inspired

“Call it a diner-driven trend or the need of the hour, restaurants are now truly going back to the roots for inspiration and to keep things fresh and exciting in the kitchen. And this doesn’t just involve concepts of farm to table or the head to toe trend that swept dining spaces a few years ago, but also all forms of sustainability initiatives, where chefs are looking at their own backyard for inspiring ways to cook and present. The rediscovery of ponk and moringa are the result of this trend. At Smoke House Deli, we often run a native menu that explores one or more such ingredients in a dish like jowar fettucini with tomato braised vegetables and bean sprout salad with brown rice flakes & crispy quinoa,” says Gresham Fernandes, Corporate Chef, Impressario Restaurants.

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Evolved dining spaces

“What really makes the last two decades in Indian hospitality the renaissance is not only the shifting of the gourmet experience from the top four food cities to the second-tier cities like Indore, Pune and Hyderabad to state a few, but also the evolution of dining spaces in these cities. Bengaluru for instance today has one of the maximum numbers of concept food places, Jaipur is where we have almost a dozen well-received restaurants based both on vegetarian food and farm-to-table and Bhubaneswar has already started having spaces that are fast casuals. The other trend is also the revival of street food in these cities as part of legacy keeping,” says Prasad Metrani,
Executive Chef, Fairmont
Hotels & Resort, Jaipur.

Reinvesting in food

“The single trend that has defined the decade is the evolution of dining spaces. Chefs, in the past few years, have travelled more than before — designing their menus and philosophy based on first-hand information and adventure. In sync have been diners who today have the power to spend and are looking for food that isn’t just expensive or exotic, but food that is wholesome and lends to their experience of dining out. This has nudged establishment (and in turn chefs) to rethink and explore newer ways of how food is procured, prepared and presented — resulting in the rise of food start-ups that not only help source it better but also create specialised products,” says Abhijit Saha, Chefpreneur, Fava & Caperberry.

In indigenous spirit

“From high quality single malts to gins, wines and even good quality rum, the Indian beverage space in the past few years has seen India reach on the top of the drink world. The same can also be said about bartenders and bars in India. From having thematic bars, to creating their own bitters, to infused gin and fresh ingredient inspired Indian drinks. Such has been the transformation that today we can have a bar that is completely dedicated to a concept like Juniper, Sidecar and Cocktail & Speakeasy or menus that go hand-in- hand with the cuisine,” says Yangdup Lama, Bartender-Owner, Sidecar, Cocktail & Speakeasy.

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Kitchen to bar

“With bars emerging as a key return on investment in food and beverage business, over the years, the drink scene has evolved tremendously. From better tech to alcohol to even a special line of flavourants. But the significant change has been among the bartenders itself, who have done their share in sustainability by working in sync with the kitchen to produce drinks that play to the seasonal sentiment as well. While this kitchen-to-bar cycle has enabled bars to churn out more sophisticated drinks on the one hand, on the other, it has been able to create a new series of drinks that celebrate our ingredients,” says Aman Dua, Beverage Programmer & Co-owner, Raahi.

(Published 28 December 2019, 18:38 IST)

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