The Night of the Most Stylish…

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They say people who eat that…   Will never be able to get into these… Ask me, I should know! ;) But thanks to a whole new generation of self-aware, confident celebrities with a true sense of self-worth, and an innate comfort and pride in being any size from zero to plus, I felt more like a duck taking to water rather than like a fish out of water. And these were no ordinary waters, mind you! It was the country’s most glittering, talked-about and celebrated fashion awards, the HT Most Stylish Awards night, hosted in the grand ballroom of J W Marriott , Mumbai, in a truly grand manner! One may say it’s a no-brainer to have Bollywood stars awarded style awards, because they are all stylish… after all, they ARE in the business of looking good! But it’s not always easy to find your own individual style – something that sets you apart from everyone else, keeps you culturally rooted and makes you look trendy and with it. That’s what stars who are repeat offenders at these awards have clearly done, and fine-tuned it to an art. Sonam Kapoor, Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone are some of the names who always set the happy sirens off with the fashion police!

Amitabh Bachchan still packs a mean punch with his style statement

Amitabh Bachchan still packs a mean punch with his style statement

But the accolades were not limited to actors and fashionistas alone. There were fashion icons in the fields of sports, music, politics, theatre, real estate, and of course, food, whose personal style statements have added an inimitable flair to their respective professions. For example, Monica Dogra in music, Zaheer Khan in sports and A D Singh in food.

A D Singh, the most stylish restauranteur, brings a decidedly stylish edge to his plate of food

A D Singh, the most stylish restauranteur, brings a decidedly stylish edge to his plate of food

Speaking of which, there was something else that was soaring high on the style quotient… the classy dishes laid out in the glittering buffet for the evening!

A giant Parmesan wheel for the richest Pasta experience

A giant Parmesan wheel for the richest Pasta experience

The usual live Pasta station was elevated to a grand affair with the presence of a giant wheel of Parmesan, from which the Chef would scoop out mouth-watering chunks to smother the pasta in. The usual handi of Biryani was replaced by an elegant, large, gleaming hand-beaten copper Deg, and the Biryani itself had a delicious, zingy mustard punch that spelled finesse.

The Most Stylish star of the spread - the delectable Koh-E-Awadh

The Most Stylish star of the spread – the delectable Koh-E-Awadh

And the legendary lamb chops dish, Koh-E-Awadh, a rich and rare dish traditionally reserved for very special occasions, was the unusual pairing with the Biryani, that made the night dazzle with its amazing flavours and melt-in-the mouth meat.

The gem-like Macarons

The gem-like Macarons

Even the desserts had attained some kind of royalty – dark Mousses with Chocolate Shards and temptingly layered Verrines stood tall and statuesque in fluted glasses, Fresh Fruit Tarts dotted snow-white trays like jewels, and perfect Macaroons filled up super-sized cookie jars like multi-coloured gemstones.

Elegant Mousse with Dark Chocolate Shards

Elegant Mousse with Dark Chocolate Shards

True, a lot of this was lost in the flurry of shutters, swish of chiffons, brush of Armani sleeves and purr of air-kisses – it’s quite natural that it would, given the night was about the stars that were being clicked, awarded, adored and emulated. But even though the eyes dazzled with some of the most exquisitely turned out men and women in the country, the eyes also danced to some of the most beautiful dishes around. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder ;)

The Rampuri Revival – Knives, Nallis and Nawabs!

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To a lot of us, the word ‘Rampuri’ evokes an entire era of Bollywood films where the floral-shirted, leering baddie with a mole would brandish the dreaded Rampuri chaku, a kind of largish switch-blade knife, much to the squealing dismay of the wide-eyed heroine and the recharged anger of the gruff hero, to create some of the most dramatic and iconic scenes of filmdom. Few other objects have attained such instant recognition, evoked such instant celluloid fear and invited such quick adoption and notoriety, prompting the government to finally ban the sale of the product!

The Rampuri Chaku - menacing fun!

The Rampuri Chaku – menacing fun!

Our small ‘Rampuri’ bought from a local fair used to be the source of unending entertainment too… of a slightly different kind! In our kiddies re-enactment of such dramatic scenes, (yes, we were filmy even then, so sue me!) instead of flicking open with a ‘clink-swoosh’ of the blade, the damn thing would always get stuck, making our designated baddie look comical rather than menacing, the rest of us collapsing in a heap of laughter…

So when it came to trying some specially curated dishes of the Rampuri cuisine at Palladium Hotel’s Sahib Room and Kipling Bar, you can imagine what frame of mind I was in. I half expected the knife on the table to be a switch-blade and pressed it gingerly. No, I did NOT expect the servers to be sporting a mole, stop already! And now that I have you at knife-point, let me tell you the fascinating story of the legendary, almost-lost Rampuri cuisine…

A touch of colonial class...

A touch of colonial class…

Quite like the Montmartre of Paris, Rampur – situated a short distance from its more distinguished and flamboyant cousin Lucknow – became an epicenter of free thinking and creativity around 200 years ago, promoting various forms of fine arts, including gourmet cooking, under the indulgent rule of the Nawabs. But perhaps the most exciting creation here was the Khansama Chunauti. Imagine today’s Masterchef series, but set in the royal courts of Rampur – large ornate halls with gilt pillar porticos and velvet drapes, where genteel chefs dressed in brocade Angrakhas and pearl necklaces stir giant slow-cooking Handis or Degs mounted high up over huge fires, while exchanging poetic pleasantries in chaste Urdu.

Sounds unreal, right? But that’s exactly what the annual gourmet cooking contest at Rampur was like, where renowned chefs from different kingdoms, primed for long arduous months by their respective heads of state, converged once a year to this Mecca of gourmet-dom, to face off in a battle of innovation, taste, presentation… and honour! Chefs were encouraged and handsomely rewarded (a few lost their heads too, literally!) for unique dishes, creative spice mixes, and evolved culinary techniques. The art was in the subtlety of flavours, derived from whole (khara) masalas, cinnamon, sandalwood, and a unique local yellow pepper. The beauty was in the varying textures arising from the use of raw papaya, fig, lotus seeds and banana flowers. A refined Rampuri cuisine evolved, distinct from the Mughlai or Awadhi cuisine that it borders on. But the Rampuri chefs had definitely not heard the adage ‘Sharing is Caring’, because the recipes for these signature dishes were guarded with life, and only passed down as legacy to the chef’s families, if at all! Almost 75% of the recipes are lost forever. The few that remain come from the original khansama’s descendants very reluctantly narrating them like stories, to a few patient and persistent modern day chefs who cared about this culinary heritage and have taken up the mission of reviving some of its past glory.

The signature Taar Qorma in all its legendary glory!

The signature Taar Qorma in all its legendary glory!

And that is how some of these prized heirloom recipes, gathered up by enterprising Chef Angad Rai and his team at Sahib Room, ended up resplendent on our dinner plates, waiting for us to relive a long gone era through our taste buds. And relive we did!

A selection of 9 lentils that goes into the creamy and rich Daal-e-Mumtaz

A selection of 9 lentils that goes into the creamy and rich Daal-e-Mumtaz

Laung Shorba, a fragrant Clove soup, got our palates tingling and ready. Then arrived a large platter of kebabs of which the Gular ke Kebab (Wild Figs Kebab), smoky Kathal ke Seekh (Jackfruit and Milk Seekh Kebab) and the poetic Tassavur–e-Paneer (Cottage Cheese with Pineapple) took our breath away, followed quickly by the tender n juicy Taat ke Gosht (Open Grilled Lamb with spices). In the mains, the Amla ka Salan (Poached Gooseberries in a Nuts-based curry) was outstanding – sour, tarty, nutty and spicy, it was just the perfect thing to mop up with the decadent Sheermal (bread made with saffron and milk), and a side bowl of the creamy and slurpy Dal-e-Mumtaz, made from 9 different lentils sourced from the region. The famous Dal Khichda and Taar Qorma, both standout signature dishes of Rampur, lived up to their reputation, but the Doodhiya Gosht Biryani (Lamb Biryani, slow-cooked in milk) was just sublime!

The impossibly fragrant Doodhiya Biryani!

The impossibly fragrant Doodhiya Biryani!

I really didn’t think my taste buds could take any more of this intense pampering, when our extremely helpful server, Aldrin, with a smile almost as sweet as the selection of desserts he was carrying, egged us on to finish with a flourish – Santra Ki Kulfi, infused with the goodness of fresh oranges, Sheer Berenj, a richer, nuttier  Chawal Kheer, and the unputdownable Khubani ka Meetha, a hot Halwa made entirely from Apricot fruit!

Santra Kulfi - a fresh burst of orange!

Santra Kulfi – a fresh burst of orange!

If this was just a glimmer of the level of finesse, dedication, artistry and innovation that went into food, can you imagine the treasury of recipes that was once painstakingly developed and is almost entirely gone? And if this was just a small appetizer to what those royal feasts were like, can you imagine what it would be like to taste just ONE SPOON OF EVERY MASTERPIECE DISH that was specially created to please the refined palates of the gourmand Nawabs? Makes one wonder, doesn’t it?

So if you like a piece of glorious history in your food, and want to really thrill your taste buds, a long dinner over this long weekend is just what you need at the Sahib Room. You can throw down a few interesting cocktails like Gungadin and Mowgli, quirkily named after Rudyard Kipling and his endearing characters. Or slouch carelessly inside the huge cocoon chair. Or catch a glimpse of the ‘Sahib’ himself at his reserved spot at the oak bar ;)

The Rampuri Cuisine showcasing is on at the Sahib Room and Kipling Bar at Palladium Hotel till 10th April, 2015.

Lights! Smoke! Applause!

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I love a bit of drama in my food, don’t you?

An elaborate feast, laid out with much fanfare in gleaming traditional brass or copper ware, like for the ‘Sajan Goth’ of Rajasthan or the ‘Jamai Shoshthi’ of Bengal. A whole giant aquarium of LIVE fish, crabs and lobsters to choose from in a seafood restaurant. A steady stream of molten chocolate, melting a hole through a chocolate disc as it is poured onto a layered Lava Cake. An eyebrow-singeing Flaming Jaeger Bomb cocktail. Or a BBQ Chicken served in a Cookie Jar, billowing with smoke!

The succulent and fun Cookie Jar Yakitori Chicken

This last dramatic scene came to life at the Robatayaki Festival at Joss a few days ago. Remember the Yellow Pages ad where they play ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ as the National Anthem for an athlete from ‘Robata’ about to receive his medal at the podium? Well, this has nothing to do with goof-ups, or athletes, or even countries ;)

Robatayaki or Robata is a kind of fireside cooking which originated on Japanese boats where fishermen would skewer their fresh catch of seafood, and slow-grill them on hot charcoals while huddling around for heat on cold wintry nights. Much like our very own Sigree! From fishing boats, to swish Roabata bars in Japan, to upmarket restaurants around the world, this style of cuisine has had a fascinatingly quick and successful journey to stardom. And Farrokh Khambata, a star in his own right as one of the most successful food entrepreneurs of Mumbai, realized the value of giving this trendy food experience to the city’s foodizens at Joss, now housed in a quiet, expansive corner of Santacruz West.

Theatrics were very much in evidence in the dishes that were part of the Robatayaki menu.

Delish Shiso Pork Belly morsels

Delish Shiso Pork Belly morsels

Bacon Wrapped Prawns - can't stop at one!

Bacon Wrapped Prawns – can’t stop at one!

A huge whole Shitake Mushroom with charred Asparagus - bold and beautiful!

A huge whole Shitake Mushroom with charred Asparagus – bold and beautiful!

Apart from the aforementioned Cookie Jar Yakitori Chicken, other delicious smoky offerings on the menu were a Turkey Bacon Wrapped Prawn, a Shiso Pork Belly, a Spicy Yuzu Shitake Mushroom & Asparagus, a Sesame Tofu and a Farm-2-Table Vegetable Grill with Chilly Parmesan. Alas, the intriguing Jingisukan Crushed Beef, inspired by the legendary Genghis Khan, was off limits due to the beef ban L But there were ample cocktails to drown our beefy sorrows in, the most quirky one being the Smoky Cosmopolitan, served in a specially made all-glass tobacco pipe, spouting smoke as you puff on the pink liquid within!

All smoked up on a Cosmo...

All smoked up on a Cosmo…

And then of course there’s the signature Big Bang Theory dessert – an elaborate ‘cosmos’ of sauces and berries and whipped cream and nuts, created as a centerpiece on your table by the Chef, with a quaint Meringue Cake as the centre of the universe, cracked open to release the luscious berry-filling inside for everyone to exclaim and pounce on! Who wouldn’t want THAT for a birthday celebration?

Korean Bibimbap - a melting pot of flavours and textures!

Korean Bibimbap – a melting pot of flavours and textures!

Generally speaking, test tubes and dry ice are not really my thing when it comes to food. More often than not, meals made with molecular gastronomy principles are abysmally portioned, leaving you hunting down the nearest Shawarma kiosk in the middle of the night! The portions here are thankfully fuller, and the profusion of flavours and textures, much like their hearty Korean dish Bibimbap, really hit the spot. So if a little smoke-and-mirror magic can evoke wide-eyed wonder in kids and adults alike, and make them whoop in delight, then I am all for the drama… and a rousing curtain call!

The Big Bang Theory Dessert that wows everyone, every time!

The Big Bang Theory Dessert that wows everyone, every time!

 

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