Back in the Riverford Field Kitchen, it’s down to business and I take on the role of a helper, going from hesitant-rookie to cool-confident in no time! Peeling, chopping, coring, grating, I constantly pick up little tricks along the way, driving everyone nuts with all my questions – Rob, the omnipresent genius, Giles, the culinary magician, and John, the maharaja of desserts, oblige willingly!
Good marinades, roasting temperatures, whisking techniques, bread-leavening methods… there’s so much to learn! And surprise, Rob even throws in a quick knife-skills class for good measure. But soon, it’s my turn to get bombarded with questions about Indian spices and their usage, unique flavours like Tandoori and Coconut, Indian cuisine outside of the ubiquitous ‘curry’, the amazing variety of regional cuisines in the country, our really late mealtimes! … even the Nigella effect back home and, of course, Slumdog Millionaire! Minutes turn to hours before I realise there are guests trickling in for lunch, and here I am, part of a large, open, professional and live kitchen. And yet, with just 3 chefs stirring up a wholesome lunch of 5 vegie sides and 1 non-veg main, doing a dramatic display of some impossibly delicious desserts, for around 70 hungry guests, everyone and everything is calm, sorted and oh-so-focused! How? Wow!
While the smiling waitresses get into action explaining the concept of sharing food around a community-style table, with a set-menu for lunch, but a choice of just ONE dessert from the gorgeous fare on display (the chorus of groans as this last piece of news is broken to the guests is quite believably a regular feature!), I get into action with my Kosha Mangsho – prepping the meat, seasoning, browning and then slow-cooking the lamb to the desired texture, taste and consistency. The number of stop-bys, from my new kitchen friends and curious guests alike, makes my heart swell with pride…
Long after the guests have left, we settle down to an al fresco lunch on wooden benches under pretty canopies, just by the fragrant spice garden. Tidbits about culture, food, personal experiences and travel anecdotes float around, along with platefuls of my Kosha on fluffy steamed rice, and some really fresh salads and vegies. When it draws to an end, I am happy with the squeaky clean pot of Kosha, and quite elated with the shower of blessings and flurry of compliments. But the final badge of honour comes from the enigmatic Rob – a much-awaited, slow nod of approval and a simple, smiling declaration of “Very good, 9 out of 10!’!
As far as experiences related to food go, this was clearly one of those on a very high pinnacle – a beautifully snow-capped, sparkling one at that! – topped just a bit more by a warm and friendly chat with Guy Watson himself. And because he missed out on the Kosha, he insisted I go back and make something for him next time! So, until next year, guys!