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Raising the bar for presentation

Edible flowers, gourmet molecular garnishes, and colour pairings of ingredients are giving classic meals a contemporary makeover, writes Nivi Shrivastava 
Last Updated : 17 December 2023, 00:12 IST
Last Updated : 17 December 2023, 00:12 IST

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When it comes to classic recipes and street food favourites, there’s limited room for innovation without offending the original flavour and appearance of the dish. However, when gifted chefs re-create local food experiences with a fancy twist it’s not just about the much-loved dish but an overall dramatisation of the platter. If food is an art, chefs are the artists that re-interpret the age-old favourites with their signature touch. From presenting vada pav and cutting chai as a high tea experience with cupcakes and bruschetta to transforming Galouti kebabs into mousse-like consistency for flaky parathas or even the molecular deconstruction of the much-loved chaat — global street food continues to undergo a “luxe makeover” to woo upscale guests at fancy dine outs.      

Local love

At the ITC Grand Central located in the heart of South Mumbai, some of the biggest names from the business world, as well as Bollywood stars, make a pitstop to relish local flavours like Pav Bhaji, Vada Pav, Misal Pav, Bombay Sandwich etc. However, the art of presentation plays a vital role when guests visit a luxury hotel mentions Chef Ruffy Shaikh, senior sous at ITC Grand Central. He says, “It’s an art to create visually appealing food presentation. A delicacy is better enjoyed when the proportioning, styling, and choosing apt garnishes are done mindfully. We use colour combinations of ingredients, molecular gastronomic garnishes, edible flowers, smoke guns, rings, moulds, etc., to add a new touch to the age-old recipes without compromising on the original taste. With changing times, the need for innovation has been the key to tweaking the already existing dishes with millets. This fusion has led to the preparation of local dishes such as Millet Pav Bhaji, Millet Dabeli pav, and much more; which are tasty, nutritious, and loved by health-conscious guests.”

Global appeal

These days, chefs are experimenting with forgotten regional dishes to get them recognition at national and global levels in their signature style. At pan-India Raasta and Yeti outlets, the local dishes from the Himalayas are presented in a gourmet version to appeal to the contemporary crowds. According to Hanish Popli, GM at Raasta and Yeti Dehradun, dishes like Datshi from Bhutan, Kothey from Tibet and Sekuwa from Nepal are some of the best-sellers at the restaurant after the chefs reinvented them with more presentable and sustainable ingredients. He informs, “A good restaurant kitchen always emphasises presentation which includes everything from crockery to every element that is to be put on that piece, every element of the dishes whether it is the main item or the accompaniment or garnish, all of them should come together and form a marriage to stand apart as a dish. Between two different flavours which can go together to form a new one, different cuisines can be mixed from around the world and that makes much sense when the method of cooking is similar. The use of an ingredient included in the dish also plays an important role; for example, if we serve our classic bhelpuri/jhalmuri in a Vietnamese rice paper sheet and garnish it with foam of the coriander, tamarind emulsion, and fresh green tamarind — it looks classic but at the same time all flavours are known to everyone so it turns it into a new experience.”

Outer beauty

Flavour is the most important thing for chefs, yet guests eat with their eyes first, and that’s the thumb rule for modern chefs. These days, people are fond of a mix of rustic and modern presentation. Just looks and extremely small portions are not found appetising anymore unless it’s a 13-course tasting menu, remarks Chef Vanshika Bhatia, owner of Omo Café in Gurugram. A strong believer in re-creating classic dishes with locally sourced ingredients, she adds, “We love innovating with cooking techniques that we have learned over the years. For me, I like to take an ingredient and treat it in many ways to get different textures and layers in the dishes. In our latest Kashmir-inspired menu, we make the sauce of Nadru Yakhni as it’s made traditionally but with some extra mint. The lotus stem is cooked in two ways, one is crushed and made into a cake and it’s also braised and sliced for added texture. We serve all this with a local variety of red rice cooked with nuts. Elevating a dish but staying true to its flavours. I believe a lot of chefs also prefer good traditional crockery these days in brassware, silverware, or stoneware for a luxurious effect.”

Molecular transformations

Local street food dishes, particularly in the context of Indian street food, have undergone creative transformations in various culinary settings. For instance, Chole Bhature, a beloved street food, has been reimagined in diverse styles. These adaptations include Chole Bhature Tacos, a fusion twist served in a restaurant, and an inventive “Inside-Out Chole Bhature”, where the cholas are enclosed within the bhaturas and deep-fried, cites Chef Vaibhav Bhargava, partner chef at Cho- Vietnamese Kitchen & Bar. He says, “These modern interpretations aim to provide a more convenient and visually appealing dining experience while preserving the core flavours and techniques of the original dish.

Another example is the Shahi Tukda, which has been presented in an innovative manner using molecular gastronomy techniques. In this variation, Shahi Tukda is served with a rubbery substance dipped in liquid nitrogen, resulting in a fascinating change in texture.

Additionally, Lucknow’s Galouti Kebabs have also undergone contemporary reinterpretations. It demonstrates how traditional dishes can be given a fresh and innovative twist.”

A play of textures & techniques

Chef Bhargav mentions a fascinating evolution of the classic chaat dish in restaurants. He adds, “Using a technology called “Fobar”, chefs can create airy foam on top of chaat. This innovative technique breathes new life into this traditional dish, which is typically enjoyed during the winter season and traditionally prepared using other methods. A classic dish like Bhel Puri can be transformed into Bhel Puri Ice Cream, where the flavours and textures of street food are replicated in a frozen dessert served alongside the traditional Chaat Papri, offering a unique yet familiar culinary encounter. While presentation plays a crucial role in modern dining, preserving the authenticity of these beloved recipes and culinary traditions is equally important. It is imperative not to alter the taste significantly, ensuring that guests can savour the experience with their eyes while still savouring the familiar flavours rooted in these dishes. This involves creatively manipulating textures and culinary techniques to present familiar street food in a distinct and appealing manner. These culinary transformations have become possible due to the advanced kitchen equipment and technology at our disposal, such as Pacojets and sous vide machines.”

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Published 17 December 2023, 00:12 IST

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