Seasoned chefs share their idea of playing republic in the kitchen with dishes that personifies the very concept of being “republic”. Bonus, they are all retro!
By Madhulika Dash
Each year around Republic Day, one sees a slew of food offers all marked with the traditional orange white and green colour. “It resembles the flag,” is the most doled out explanation. Not this Republic Day however, as some of India’s finest chefs decide to pay ode to the one year they consider to be the real culinary republic.
In this series of BAWARCHI’s culinary series, we look at how the “retro years” designed and shaped dishes that we together consider the finest showcase of our culinary wealth – and have elected them as represents of the Indian food tapestry.
1 - CHEF SHANTANU MEHROTRA, EXECUTIVE CHEF, INDIAN ACCENT
PUCHKA, FIVE WATERS
There is something fascinatingly, life-like about puchkas or gol gappas. Much like our own lives, puchka too have changed over the years. And much like life, there isn’t a right way or wrong way of having this dish. Plus it is versatile enough to adapt to new changes pretty easily. Who knew that a few years ago, puchka would go great with vodka, but it did; or for that matter wasabi – and it did well there too, albeit with not that much fanfare. In that sense, it is much like our republic. It changes – but becoming worse or better , all depends on the people you chose, similar like the water you chose in this dish. But rest assured, any combination that you chose, you may like it or not – but it will be an enjoyable experience.
2 - CHEF RAJIV MALHOTRA, CORPORATE CHEF, HABITAT WORLD
The thing about being a republic nation is our independence to give an idea or a thought a chance to be a reality. We bring in a great vision, leaders whose thought we
appreciate and then chose them to help us implement it. The charm of butter chicken is similar. It was a great put together dish, whose intention to make something clever with leftover food. Little did Kundan Lal Gurjal or the cook who made it even gave it a thought that would it work – let alone become a national dish of sorts. But it did, even spewing versions that almost rivalled that of khichdi. And each of those have done well in their own spaces. Being republic is that for me.
3 - CHEF MIR ZAFAR ALI, EXECUTIVE CHEF, THE LEELA PALACE, BENGALURU
MODAK WITH A TWIST
The beauty of the Indian sweet scape is its versatility, the sheer easiness with which they can adopt to different ideas without losing their basic characteristic of making you, palate happy is almost breathtakingly brilliant. And the one sweet that does it so effortlessly is the modak. This 3-ingredient sweetmeat has a brilliant take-on-a-new pairing appetite – just not for Indian flavours but also international. And yet when it is presented, it showcases a brilliant marriage. Isn’t that what being a republic all about – the chance of trying something classic and new, and yet coming out with something that works.
4 - CHEF DHARMENDRA LAMBA, EXECUTIVE CHEF, TRIDENT HYDERABAD
TRIO OF STRAWBERRY, LYCHEE AND ROSE
I grew up in an era that was much about challenging the old, bringing in the new and radical. I worked in an era where following the basics was sacrosanct but came with a liberty of trying something new when showcasing. It is the combination of the two that has made me the chef I am today and reflects much of how I work with my kitchen team too, where I allow an idea grow with interesting additions. The Trio of Strawberry Lychee and Rose is in fact a dish that came as an ode to my growing years – and the different flavoured icecream and treats I have had. Constructing this dish was like a timetravel to things that enrich our life – just like the concept of Republic. It is after all our chance to give an idea our support and chance to grow.
5 - CHEF ATUL UPADHYAY, EXECUTIVE SOUS CHEF, TAJ PALACE, DELHI
TANDOORI EGG BIRYANI
Nothing deconstructs the beauty of republic than biryani. This medieval time, Persian born rice feast has been at the core of many innovations – and yet every time it has come out to rule the scene as the new favourite - a celebratory dish with its exquisite amalgamation of rice, spices, fragrances and meat. Much like the idea of Republic. In the Mughal royal kitchens, the biryani was cooked over charcoal in an earthen pot over a wooden fire. Taking inspiration from this retro technique, our Tandoori Anda Biryani is prepared in an earthenware casserole – the handi and inside a traditional clay oven – the tandoor. This imparts a unique aroma to the Punjabi flavours of this dish.
6 - CHEF MEGHA KOHLI, HEAD CHEF, LAVAASH BY SABY
MY DEVIL EGGS
The first time I had the Devil Egg in Kolkata while researching for Lavaash, it hit a childhood note. It was devil’s egg only more lavish – more like the Easter Egg, just savoury with a good chunk of meat. Then I was told about how it was a Colonial Indian innovation, where the enterprising food vendors decided to take the scotch egg, the nargisi kofta and create something that was much more than just a snack. It had to be a palate fiesta. The idea that would excite any chef today, I am sure didn’t have many takers, till someone had probably created and pushed it on to a happy-to-try friend. But once it was tasted, the radical sounding idea became a hit. So much so that it is one of the most awaited treat not only during Durga Puja but also winters. And you know what, it is worth it. Just like being republic!
7 - CHEF HARANGAD SINGH, EXECUTIVE CHEF, PRA PRA PRANKSTER
I always joke around my staff that I run a republic kitchen. Each week, I bring forth one of my team member to lead the R&D of the kitchen to make all things that quirky side out. It is, I have realised, the best team building exercise that has not only opened my team – but my perception – about pushing the envelope. It has also made me work harder at changing our way of looking at things. The Chenna Chaat, which is a North born chefs tribute to the art of chenna making of Odisha and Bengal, is an outcome of that changing perception. It brings together the subtle sweetness of an chenna made in house and weds it beautifully with the flamboyancy of chaats of the North. The dish while has had its initially share of likes and not-so-likes, is hailed as an interesting fusion that can become a way to make food relevant for the new generation. Republic, isn’t it.
8 - CHEF DHIRAJ DARGAN, EXECUTIVE CHEF, COMORIN
GUNPOWDER IDLI, GOLDEN CASHEW
For me, the best learning about being a republic has come from food, especially each time I design a new menu. In my years of working with food, especially in the Progressive Indian space, I have come to realise that dishes that work best are ones that come from common consensus and then is improved one person’s expertise. Like the Gunpowder Idli with Golden Cashew. An ode to the many faces of this famous breakfast, the style in which we present the dish is modern, but the curation was a marriage of many childhood memories and anecdotes.
9 - CHEF RISHAB ANAND, PASTRY CHEF, THE LEELA PALACE
BERRY FRUIT AUGRATIN
My fondest memory of Republic Day incidentally is around the time when India was rediscovering the joys of an interestingly put together sundae, casatta and of course the royal falooda. A time when desserts had gone crazier with new thing being tried and tested. Of course little did I know that those late 90s will eventually manifests itself today, but in the refiner manner. The Berry Fruit Augratin is a simple ode to that time and the different seasonal berries The ingredients are inspired by late 90’s selection of berries which are forest berries, black berries, blue berries, strawberries, kiwi berries and red currant. The dessert is gratinated and topped with tropical mango sorbet and sherry sabayon. How is it republic? Well it is the whole idea of how it takes both older and newer ideas to create a better outlook – in this case, the amazing dessert.
10 - CHEF RAVI TOKAS, EXECUTIVE CHEF, PRANKSTER
KALA CHANNA SHORBA
For me, the very idea of being republic is the ability to see things differently, and yet have a connect to the world perception. This is how the Kala Channa ka shorba was developed. The dish of course is an ode to the traditional kala channa ki dal we all love to have with rice, roti and even puttu. Each version has its own flavour twist – while the kala channa of North has this robust flavour of masala, the one from Kerala comes with an added sweet play of the curry leaf and coconut. The shorba is my ode to both these masterpieces with the twist being the accompaniments where you can make your very own kala channa dish. That was the initial thought till the time I realised that the way we present a dish is also an ode to the channa chaat that is available across India.
11 - CHEF SRINIVASALU, SENIOR SOUS CHEF, CHOR BIZZARE
If there is one thing that does absolute justice to a classic even in its current form, it is the Galouti – a Awadhi speciality which traditionally made with meat using a technique of Galawat, which predate the dish itself. Today of course, Galouti Kebab are made with a wide variety of ingredients including the jackfruit, rajma and even the whole collection of yam found across India. But the thing that is most fascinating is that each one of the version does absolute justice to the melt-in-your-mouth – both texture and taste wise. And that for me is being a Republic.