A Plateful of Sass!

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‘If you don’t like my pie, you are not welcome next time!’

Coming from the co-owner of an upscale restaurant, that’s sassy! And that’s one of the reasons why The Sassy Spoon at Nariman Point stands out amongst many other restaurants in the city that offer modern European food in an elegant setting. Cheerful, bandana-ed Chef Irfan Pabaney was probably only half-joking when he said that. Because the food that he and the ‘Cordon Bleu-d’, pretty co-owner Rachel Goenka put up at this toasty restaurant is bold in its flavours, happy in its portions and unapologetic in its quirkiness!

The 'awesome twosome' of Sassy Spoon - Chefs Irfan and Rachel

The ‘awesome twosome’ of Sassy Spoon – Chefs Irfan and Rachel

But Sassy Spoon is more than the sum of its Chefs and their prized experience of working alongside some pretty big Indian and International chefs. There are undertones of personal wacky food experiences and inspirations here. There is a playful pulse on the city’s taste buds – mixed metaphors just belong here ;)  And at the centre of it, there is an enormous amount of… heart! With all that going on, chances of your NOT loving the food are pretty slim, what say?

But Irfan and Rachel don’t leave things to chance. Yes, they are quick to experiment with flavours and textures. But these experiments are very often vetted by foodie friends, famed gourmands and food aficionados of the city… and sometimes, by people like me who live to eat, and tell it like it is.

Take for example the humble Goan Poi, a traditional bread from Goa, freshly baked here and now the hero of the bulked-up sandwich section. Like others, I loved the cute little Pita-like bread pockets, especially the Crumbled Cottage Cheese with Sriracha Mayo filling. But the Crispy Chicken filling felt a bit incomplete… some fresh salad leaves? Or a sauce maybe? Chef Irfan agreed, and promised to tweak it into shape…

The traditional Goan Poi with Crispy Chicken filling

The traditional Goan Poi with Crispy Chicken filling

Then there’s the Mac and Cheese. Hang on, before you run for the door, at least give the big, cast-iron skillet one last look. Because this ain’t no ordinary Mac and Cheese here.

A twist on the Mac n Cheese... Mince, Spaghetti and Smoked Scarmoza

A twist on the Mac n Cheese… Mince, Spaghetti and Smoked Scarmoza

Skillet hot Mac n Cheese with queso and water chestnuts, straight from the oven!

Skillet hot Mac n Cheese with queso and water chestnuts, straight from the oven!

It could be a Minced Beef Spaghetti with Smoked Scarmoza waiting for you on the gleaming, distressed-wood table. Or a Goa Sausage topped with Mac and Queso, served bubbling from the oven. Enough to get you back from that door and dig in.

The South African Bobotie, aromatic and fluffy

The South African Bobotie, aromatic and fluffy

And then stay on for maybe a South African Bobotie or a Spinach and Feta Flatbread. So, is the Bobotie any different from spicy Biryani in Mumbai? Is the Flatbread any different from a fresh, crusty pizza slice? Not really. But do they taste good and make you roll up your sleeves and jump in? Oh yes!

A hearty share-platter of Sambhal Spiced Roast Chicken with Ginger Rice.

A hearty share-platter of Sambhal Spiced Roast Chicken with Ginger Rice.

Fresh, crunchy and loaded Flatbreads.

Fresh, crunchy and loaded Flatbreads.

And that’s exactly what the chefs would have you do. Call the cuisine ‘eclectic European’, call it ‘country-style’. But if it makes you want to eat more, and come back for more, then the chef’s job is done! Well, almost… because Rachel feels her job is not done until she has filled you to your gills with her glorious desserts from a proud, 3-page dessert menu. I only had space for one, but I ended up trying FOUR desserts – the Seven Textured Hazelnut and Chocolate Cake, (which is the best sin to sin on, methinks!), the intense Lemon n Thyme Cheesecake (I love lemony desserts and liked the sharp lemon hit), the Plum and Almond Tart (homely and nice) and the signature Sassy Stacks (light Red Velvet squares, perfectly paired with a mugful of… Cappuccino Foam!)

Red Velvet Squares paired with a Cappuccino Foam make the Sassy Stacks a go-to dessert

Red Velvet Squares paired with a Cappuccino Foam make the Sassy Stacks a go-to dessert

The Seven Textured Hazelnut and Chocolate Cake... divine!

The Seven Textured Hazelnut and Chocolate Cake… divine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good food done. Now ready to pick one up and take off? ;)

Good food done. Now ready to pick one up and take off? ;)

What I like about Sassy Spoon is its openness. Not just the openness of space, with a high ceiling, and a giant wall full of pre-loved trunks that make you want to grab one and set sail on a cruise ship! It’s also the openness with which the Chefs view food per se, listening to what people want and like, taking in honest opinions, giving it a bit of their own cheeky personalities, and thinking up palate-pleasers that leave your tummy tickled pink! Mixed metaphors again? Well, blame it on the sass here!

Argentina Food Festival – A Tango with your Taste Buds!

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This year, the Latin Americans have really played with our hearts, haven’t they?

Earlier this year, they tugged at our heart-strings through the goofy Blue Macaw named Blu in Rio 2 – an adorable movie set in the vibrant, dramatic and colourful backdrop of the Amazon.

Just a few weeks after, it was the real-life drama of the FIFA World Cup that first divided our whole nation into ‘blue-white’ and ‘yellow’ – rooting for the Argentina and Brazil teams – and then united us in shocked grief because neither team lifted the cup! :(

And now, just a few months after, it’s a different kind of drama unfolding here… a drama bursting with the passions of the land that is Argentina! Those who have experienced the magic of the Tango, watching it (remember Al Pacino in ‘Scent of a Woman’? watch here!) or doing it yourselves, will know the beauty, grace, power and precision that it embodies. The food from Argentina is no less… it’s a Tango with your taste buds!

The passionate and powerful Tango!

The passionate and powerful Tango!

With an Argentinian Food Festival in town, Teddy and I, having failed miserably at Tango lessons with J J Rodriguez, decided to explore other things Argentinian, and hopefully enjoy them much more ;) So we headed straight for Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai, and kicked off the evening on a quiet note with a crisp and fruity Chardonnay from the Mendoza valley of Argentina.

An evening of discovering Argentinian food!

An evening of discovering Argentinian food!

A crisp and fruity Chardonnay from Argentina's premier wine region in Mendoza

A crisp and fruity Chardonnay from Argentina’s premier wine region in Mendoza

But then, in walked the good-looking duo of Argentinian Chefs, Executive Chef Daniel Godoy and his assistant Agustin Bogado, from Alvear Art Hotel in Buenos Aires, and turned the tables… well, not literally ;) An animated conversation followed on food, culture, movies and, of course, football, and slowly the disappointed face of dear Mr. Rodriguez faded away…

Realising that we are true food adventurers, and eat pretty much ‘anything that moves’, Chef Daniel suggested we try tasting portions from the special menu, so he could take us on a culinary journey into the very fibre of Argentina. We were only too happy to go with the flow :)

And flow it did! The journey started with the traditional Empanada – a crescent-shaped pastry parcel with savoury fillings, sometimes sweet like our Karanji or Gujiya. These flaky dumplings with beef mince filling left Teddy smacking his lips… and asking for a few dozen more!

A deep discussion of how to make the tricky Parsley Sponge and the unique Cancheta!

A deep discussion of how to make the tricky Parsley Sponge and the unique Cancheta!

Chef Daniel’s take on the Humita, a classic Argentinian dish, was a first for me… and made me fall in love with the humble corn all over again! Set before us was a pretty mélange of fresh corn in a cheese paprika sauce, a slice of corn on the cobs, AND little salty, crunchy pods of Cancheta – a traditional un-popped popcorn, made painstakingly by first soaking for days, then deep-frying to give it that lovely brittle pop!

The Calchaqui Valley Humita, Chef Daniel's take on a classic and delicious dish

The Calchaqui Valley Humita, Chef Daniel’s take on a classic and delicious dish

The Chef’s favourite Quinoa Risotto followed, topped with a beautiful, green Parsley Sponge. And then came a hearty Fillet Mignon, served with the traditional tangy-sweet-spicy Chimichurri Sauce. Teddy liked the name so much, he got stuck with it… or rather I did, because the 3 boys got together and officially named me ‘Chimichurri’!

Fillet Mignon served with the traditional Chimichurri Sauce

Fillet Mignon served with the traditional Chimichurri Sauce

Finally it was time for dessert… and instead of one, we got a spectacular platter of desserts, made specially just for us! A Pumpkin Confit. A Dulce de Leche Icecream. An Alfajor – the traditional dessert of Shrewsbury-like cookies sandwiched with a dark Dulce de Leche paste. Crumbly bits of white Meringue, small dots of Vanilla Crème Anglaise, a large blob of Goat Cheese Sorbet and crunchy clusters of Almond Streusel. Every bit as great to gawp at, as it was to eat!

The spectacular dessert platter!

The spectacular dessert platter!

Just as we were about to demolish the dessert, Chef Agustin sheepishly announced it was his birthday! So a little candle was plonked on the mound of the Dulce de Leche icecream, and we had ourselves a little private birthday celebration – a birthday of someone who we had just met, who comes from the other side of the world, brought close to us through the magic of food!

Chef Agustin's Happy Birthday!

Chef Agustin’s Happy Birthday!

Yes, it’s the magic of food that unites, but it’s also an intangible connection, an invisible thread, that links Argentina and India in a secret bond. Some would put it down to similar customs, others to similar palates, weather patterns, love for colours, festivals, politics? But I think it’s just one young man, and our shared love for him… Messi! ;)

Food. Music. Adda… and Sajid-Wajid!

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One of Shakespeare’s most memorable quotes is…

‘If music be the food of love, play on…’

While drudging through this particular scene from Twelfth Night on a rainy afternoon just before lunch-break in school, honestly the only thing that got my attention was the word ‘food’! And ever since, the meaning of this phrase has completely eluded me, always dismissed as something to do with love of good music and food, something both the great Bard and I have in plenty! ;)

I was having a secret little laugh to myself thinking about this when Wajid Ali, one half of the popular, trend-setting Bollywood Music Composer duo Sajid-Wajid walked into the studio and broke into my thoughts with…

“If you don’t love food, you cannot create music”

I must have grinned like an idiot at this bold declaration, pleased as I was to have someone big and famous echo my innermost thoughts. Encouraged, Wajid went on to elaborate. At the very basic level, he explained, it’s survival. You gotta eat to live, and live to get your creative juices flowing. Hmmm… simple enough! But wait, there was more wisdom to be had…

‘It’s also about understanding the orchestration of the dish, the inflections of the spices, the tuneful marination of the different ingredients, the eye-catching presentation that will make you reach out for it, and the melody of flavours the food creates in your mouth!’

I almost stood up and clapped… Wow! While I’ve always found a close connect between music and food – the whole fluid process of ideating and creating, and then living and breathing your creation – this little nugget of philosophy, worded so simply and clearly, was just staggering!

Sajid and Wajid in deep thought at a studio recording

Sajid and Wajid in deep thought at a studio recording

A coffee break and a rare moment of peace... before the madness of music takes over!

A coffee break and a rare moment of peace… before the madness of music takes over!

But what else would you expect from someone who has music genes inherited from a long and illustrious family of award-winning musicians? Or someone whose creativity has been constantly inspired and fed by his Mom’s legendary cooking?

So the fact that Sajid-Wajid would be the chosen music composers for the first big-scale commercial Bollywood film on food and romance – Daawat-e-Ishq from the house of Yash Raj Films – can’t just be put down to coincidence or luck. It’s karma, darlings! Just meant to be!

But Karma is not an easy guy to come by! There have been struggles in the past, says Wajid, a mixed bag of hits and misses. While some projects took off, some did not live up to expectations at the box office, and others fell at the altar of uncertainties of the industry itself. But the brothers always believed good work would shine through and it did through the flair, fame, and fan-following of Bollywood’s most-loved macho man, Salman Khan! Groovy tracks like ‘Jeene ke hai Chaar Din’ (Mujhse Shaadi Karogi) ‘Do you Wanna Partner’ (Partner), and the two ‘Dabanngs’ are etched in the collective memories of all Bollywood lovers, along with soulful melodies like ‘Chori Kiya Re Jiya’ (Dabanng), ‘Surili Ankhiyo Waale’ (Veer) and something of a masterpiece, and my own personal favourite – ‘Lagan Lagi’ from Tere Naam! (Sukhwinder Singh rocks… wonder what he eats for breakfast???)

Wajid takes a short break from talking, and digs into a piping hot, crisp Vada Pav. As the aroma of garlic and green chutney fills the room, I sheepishly dig in myself and the conversation turns towards, what else… food! And the making of the music of the film Daawat-e-Ishq.

The hot, crisp and spicy Vada Pav

The title track is a true tribute to food – it is a grungy qawwali, quick and exciting like the feast Aditya Roy Kapoor is holding forth for his lady love Parineeti Chopra, playfully yet soulfully offering up his heart like a deliciously laid-out banquet. It aptly showcases love and food and the heady aromas of romance all in one breath, rendered perfectly by Javed Ali. A relatively easy one to compose, says Wajid, with a wink and another big bite of the Vada Pav, while I start nibbling on a delicious little Mawa Cake.

But ‘Mannat’ by Sonu Nigam, he says, was no cakewalk! A song that needed to convey the hero’s passionate yearning… in 3 completely different situations! It took a bit longer than a week, but nothing is insurmountable after platefuls of Paya and Keema Paratha, the regular staple at the brothers’ studio and ‘music-storming’ sessions!

The delicious and aromatic Paya Curry, a regular fare at rehearsals…

And sure enough, another gem was born – an intense, wavering, hymn-like song of devoted love. Of course, Sonu brought just the right flavor into the song to lift it above and beyond the common. So what makes every Sonu-Sajid-Wajid song special? Is it the decade-and-a-half old bond that has weathered and stood tall in Bollywood, a place famous for it’s transient relationships?

The magical trio of Sajid, Wajid and Sonu.

The magical trio of Sajid, Wajid and Sonu.

Yes and No!

Yes, Wajid says, because some relationships are like slow-cooked meat, that need gentle simmering to bring out all the flavours, marry all the juices together, steeping and basking in the heat, and lending that tender ‘give’ to the meat. A magical hot-pot creation, in short!

And No? Because Sonu apparently sings best when happily fed with hot, aromatic chunky Dum Biryani made by Sajid and Wajid’s Mom, that is carried in large ‘handis’ over to the studio during recordings :)

So, now that you guys have got a peek into the making of the music and the role that good, hearty food plays in it’s inception and creation, stay tuned for more crumbs of food-related Bollywood gossip… and maybe even a few spills! Ooops!

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