Some of you will be familiar with a Mr. Charles Lamb, co-author of ‘Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare’. It was the single most terrifying text that we had to struggle through in school, and it didn’t help that we had a tenacious teacher in Mrs. M, who taught us English like one teaches Calculus! Well, this same gentleman Mr. Lamb famously quoted that “Asparagus inspires gentle thoughts”. Now I don’t know about you and your experiences with eating asparagus, and I’m sure not all of them can be recounted with a straight face, but mine was far from ‘gentle’!
Last Saturday dawned like any other – with a certain sense of wild freedom, endless possibilities and bubbling energy that only the start of a weekend can bring. At the end of a short drive through city streets, left uncharacteristically empty by vacationing families, Teddy and I arrived at Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, one of the most iconic symbols of Mumbai, and entered Shamiana that had been converted into a temple of Asparagus. It was the start of the Asparagus Festival, an annual event that is celebrated at all the restaurants here.
But what was meant to be a lazy afternoon turned out to be a high-energy, fun-filled adventure, not just of discovering some fabulous new Asparagus dishes, presented beautifully and with immense love for the super-food, but also of discovering new friends amongst fellow foodies who were all in the mood for some good-hearted fun and laughter. So our motley group of Nikhil, Madhulika, Shefali, Nikhila, and of course the irrepressible Teddy started off with an Asparagus Cappuccino, a hot favourite at the festival every year, given the amazing flavours of the simple foaming asparagus soup
garnished delicately with Morel dust, served steaming in a coffee mug! This was followed by a fresh and colourful plateful of Goat Cheese and Asparagus, piled high on a large slice of Fresh Watermelon – a treat for a scorching summer’s day that could have done with a little more flavour.
I opted for the Scallops next, a pretty plate with a lush green bed of creamy Asparagus Puree topped with juicy medallions of Seared Scallops and a delicate bouquet of green and fat white Asparagus spears balanced precariously on top. Yes, it was as divine as it sounds! And it’s one of the best things I’ve ever had, for sure!!
By now, the table was a criss-cross of forks with each one grabbing forkfuls of food from the other’s plate in between animated conversations about food festivals, hits and misses amongst new city restaurants, and hilarious foodie moments. Given the wave of uninhibited sharing, we decided to spread out our options over the main course. Soon enough, forks were flying over a smallish portion of Asparagus Hollandaise, a delicate and crisp Filo Parcel loaded with aromatic Minced Asparagus and Raw Mango, a juicy Asparagus Chicken served on Saffron Risotto, and the very fancy and very deliciously flaky Sous Vide Sea Bass on Beetroot Quinoa. The house was equally divided on which was better – veg or non-veg – although the Sea Bass and the Filo Parcel were clear winners for me! But we called it a truce and turned our attention to the tempting desserts – several large boats of creamy Baked Yoghurt, and a handful of Asparagus Bavarois flutes!
But the best was yet to come… A little birdie told us that Chef Hemant Oberoi, the ‘Big O’ as he is fondly called, had a few moments to spare and could meet us in his chef’s chambers. We galloped in glee through the labyrinthine corridors of the various kitchens, past bounteous pantries and frantic room-services desks to finally reach the shrine of Chef O. And there he sat, smiling, very down-to-earth, very huggable, surrounded by shining plaques that told of only a fraction of his decades of culinary achievements. He regaled us with food and travel stories from far and wide (an exclusive coming up soon right here!), and even shared a few anecdotes from his exhaustive 2-year research for the Temple Cuisine Food Festival, his pet project to revive and showcase forgotten traditional foods of the country.
Reeling from that brush with a food God, we wandered around the beautiful corridors of the stately hotel, losing our way several times before coming to our senses and finally bidding adieu to each other, and a happy ‘asparagussed’ day! Sigh!
Plate-Licker’s Wisdom: ‘A’ for asparagus, ‘B’ for Big O, ‘C’ for (great) company 🙂