Of Sky-High Birthdays!


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Birthdays are always special, aren’t they? But if you have someone in your life like Teddy, it will be electric as well as special, year on year, because of the thought, care, creativity and planning that invariably goes into the celebrations.

So this year’s celebrations were expectedly thrilling, although I had no clue what I was in for! I was whisked off in the car, driven through a dark night that seemed to be gasping for breath under torrential rain, and landed up at plush St. Regis‘s elegant Asian fine-dining restaurant, By The Mekong, perched 37 floors above the lazily twinkling lights of the city of Mumbaiimg_3355

What followed was a special dinner peppered with some of the choicest dishes the city has to offer, starting with an aromatic Vietnamese Pho stuffed with fresh Seafood, onto the delicate and lip-smacking Edamame, Green Peas and Truffle Oil Dim Sum, to the Yunan Style Steamed Pork Belly, to the absolutely stunning Sichuan Chilean Sea Bass, cooked whole in the Chef’s signature style and carved and presented in a light, flavourful broth that you just can’t stop eating!


And to make the celebrations even more exciting, out walked the Chef de Cuisine of the restaurant, the much-decorated and very accomplished Master Chef Shi Xilin, joining our table for one of the most fun, interesting and passionate foodie chats ever. From stories of his early days spent in native China absorbing the basics of cooking from his Mom and learning the importance of waking up very early in the morning (he still wakes up at 6 am, no matter how late it gets in the maximum city of very late diners!) to his endearing fascination for Japanese methods of cooking during his stint in Japan, to his fitness regime and diet that keeps him looking so fit and bursting with energy, Chef Xilin held us a captive audience.

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Right up until the clock struck 12 and Teddy flipped on Facebook Live (watch the party come alive here!) At which point, I blew off a beautiful, blooming lotus candle and sliced into a gorgeous slab of Chocolate Cake generously baked up by the kitchen, all in the presence of the entire restaurant and staff around me, and pretty much the whole world of friends and family watching live on Facebook, wishing me Happy Birthday in a happy chorus of voices that lifted me higher, much higher, than the plush surroundings of the 37th floor.

img_3380The rain, by now a heavy curtain sliding silently down the expansive glass wall we sat cosily next to inside, artistically distorted the vista of the drenched city so far below. Reluctant to end such a beautiful, toasty evening, we called for and polished off a special platter of desserts put together by the Chef, and a delicate flute of my favourite Bellini that seemed to reflect my inner happiness in its sparkle and effervescence. And although the day of celebrations had only just begun, it was a night that will live on like a dog-eared, well-thumbed favourite book, as one of those memories most revisited in years to come.

Thank you, By The Mekong and Teddy, for making it so!  :) 




Unmasking the Stunning New Dining Experience in Town!


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It’s a balmy autumn night out in town. A narrow lane leads you away from a moonlit racecourse through a rain-soaked narrow lane, right into the heart of an erstwhile bustling textile mill finding its legs again with start-up offices, and a boutique or two. It’s after-hours and quiet. You stop outside a low building with a smooth black granite facade. No windows, no signboard screaming a name, just a large black square frame on a wall that is presumably the door. You pause briefly, wondering if you are in the right place, looking around for confirmation, when a guard materialises out of the night and smiles comfortingly while gently pushing open the black square. You step in from the darkness outside and the world around you transforms. This is the beginning of the Masque experience, the unique experiential dining space that opens its black doors to the city tomorrow, giving its gastronomes the gift of ‘Botanical Bistronomy’.


The minimalistic look and feel of the new dining experience at Masque 

But before I tell you what this cryptic term means (it’s worth the wait!), take a look around with me. A large minimalistic space with black floors and a tall ceiling envelops you. A massive, jagged, metallic art installation in the centre divides the space into into unfussy wooden tables and chairs on the left, and a long, regimented cocktail kitchen on the right. The fluted white walls are bare, the mass of  test-tube like lights hanging low over you are stately, and the aura is that of being… unmasked! You ask for a menu to get a sense of familiarity, but wait a minute, there isn’t one! At this point, if you are feeling a bit lost and out of your depth, it’s perfectly alright. This experience is not just new to you, its new to the city, to the country even. Just let your Rhododendron Gin cocktail ease you into your seat and get ready for the journey.

Now about the Botanical Bistronomy. It’s food that is international in its flair and presentation but completely local in its ingredients, consisting of only in-season produce sourced painstakingly from farms, orchards and forests across the country, or just outside the city. So there is that Rhododendron flower sourced from somewhere up in the misty Himalayas, an open Raviolo filled with the unique Fiddlehead Fern (click here for my interesting short story) from the faraway forests of the North-East, heirloom tomatoes and Roquette lettuce flowers in the sharp and fresh Tomato Tart sourced from an exclusive farm outside Nasik,  and the dark and gorgeous chocolate in the delicious Chocolate-Salted Caramel Icecream picked up from the charming shores of Pondicherry. The juicy Lobster paired with the Black Smoked Potato and the tender Chicken stuffed generously with Kashmiri Morels are also sustainably farmed and procured. And instead of a printed menu that changes every few weeks, you get one of the 14 Chefs (yes there are 14 of them, no they DON’T spoil the broth but work in perfect harmony!) who takes you on a personalised journey of discovery, explaining the concept of a tasting menu of 3, 6 or 9 dishes paired with cocktails or wine, depending on your appetite.

Speaking of appetites, go here with a good-sized one if you want the real tasting menu experience that is quite the rage in European cities, California etc. Indulge in the full 9 courses with the crafted cocktails, not so much the wines. But don’t limit your appetite to just the food, although I admit it’s hard to get over the freshness and realness of the ingredients that you taste in every mouthful. Do spare a moment to soak in the story that each dish has to tell. Take a few minutes to concoct that one cocktail that defines you from the mix-and-match Cocktail Chart that lets you make your own drink. Sit back and absorb the grand starkness of the ‘Wabi-Sabi’ aesthetic feel around you. And feast your senses on the theatre of dining as tendrils of smoke escape from the slow charring of the Corn Tamale being torched in front of you, and the large loaf of Artisanal Bread arrives nestled like a baby in a cosy blanket, served on a warm bean cushion. That is the experience you are paying top dollars for, and believe me when I say you are! And that is the experience you will take away and cherish long after you have blended back into the jostle and bustle of the city.


An unforgettable dining experience thanks to the people who made it happen… From the left… Bhisham Mansukhani (EatPost), Shilpa Chawla (Khao Piyo Local), Gaurav Sharma (Fever 104 FM), Nikhila Palat (Katalyst), Suprio Bose & Dolly Bose (Mumbai Food Freak), Me, Aditi Dugar and Shyamli Patel (Masque) 





Because… It’s Food With a Cause!


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Once in a while there comes along a moment in your life when you feel good about doing what you are doing, and send out a silent thank you upwards. And this year, I have had not one, not two, but three such blessed moments.

One was when world-renowned Chef Atul Kochhar ensured that my little sis Simi (not so little, considering she’s a Professor of Dance in London’s prestigious Royal Holloway College!) had a wish-fulfilling birthday dinner at his famous London restaurant Benares, with a plethora of off-the-menu dishes AND a personally autographed cookbook gifted to her as her special surprise birthday experience. Wow!

The second was spending an exciting afternoon with Aussie cricketing great, Adam Gilchrist, at Saransh Goila‘s Butter Chicken event, and getting ‘Gilly’ to shoot a personal video message with me, dedicated and addressed to his biggest fan… my Papa  :)

And the third was last week at the charming Flavour Diaries Cook Studio, where 7 chefs of the city came together to put up a grand dinner of 7 different courses, all to create awareness and raise money for one very good cause.

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The Chefs who pitched in with their time, effort, energy and skills… Tejal Choksi from The Cantonese Kitchen, Sahil Singh from Pa Pa Ya, Shilarna Vaze from Gaia Gourmet, Rishim Sachdeva from Olive Bar & Kitchen, Gresham Fernandes from Salt Water And Smokehouse Deli, Kshama Prabhu from Bar Stock Exchange and Anjali Pathak from Flavour Diaries with Nachiket Shetye and the Chefs’ teams. 

This 5th edition in the Food With Benefits series, a brainchild of Cellar Door Hospitality, presented some spectacular looking and tasting Asian-inspired contemporary dishes. But perhaps more important than the food was how it brought about a convergence of three different ideas so beautifully – One, of encouraging some of the most creative and dynamic chefs of the city to fire up their imaginations and push their boundaries of creativity. Two, of giving the food connoisseurs of the city an exclusive taste of some of the best dishes the country has seen. And three, of giving generously back to the community, with all proceeds from the dinner going towards a vetted charity organisation.

It felt truly special to be a part of this exclusive and exquisite dinner on all these counts.

Because it isn’t everyday that you get to see an open kitchen full of talented chefs  prepping, tasting and collaborating with each other, chatting and sharing their craft with us all, while putting up some artistic plates of delicious food.

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Because it’s not everyday that you get to taste such stunning dishes as spicy Buff Tendons and Marrow with Chrysanthemum Tea Gel, delicate Tofu and Scallop Carpaccio, aromatic Duck Broth, bold BBQ Pork Belly, juicy Beef Cheeks, smoky Chicken in terracotta pots with rich Ceylon Parotta, and delightful Cardamom Pannacotta with Brandy Snaps… all in ONE humongous meal!

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And because it’s not everyday that you get to see the passion, devotion and quiet self-assurance of members of Kranti, a charity organisation that works with daughters of sex workers, survivors of trafficking, or girls born and raised in Kamathipura, Asia’s most infamous red-light area, and feel galvanised into doing more, giving more, not just because it’s a good cause, but because you want to!


Yes, I feel blessed to connect to the universe through food. But someone said ‘It’s good to be blessed, but it’s better to be a blessing’. And moments like these remind you that food can make that happen.