Article

GOING RETRO TOOLED

From rediscovering the old stovetop tandoor and pie iron to putting the oven, automatic rice cooker and stone grinder to their ultimate test, the past few years have seen chefs playing the old timers to the hilt.


By Madhulika Dash; Cover Picture Courtesy: Sanchez

What do chefs do when they have time to muse? If that question has ever occurred to you then take heart. We at SifyBawarchi did the foot work for you as we spoke to some of our culinary masterminds on what is their favourite kitchen boy toy. Here’s the lowdown:

CHEF VIJAYA BHASKARAN, CHEF AT OLAM INTERNATIONAL (GLOBAL INNOVATION CENTER), BENGALURU

FAVOURITE BOY TOY : THE WET STONE GRINDER


When you have spent almost half your life years heading (and putting together) the finest of kitchens for some of the top brands in the country, it is a given that you may have worked with the best kitchen tech can provide. And in Chef Vijaya Bhaskaran case that is inevitable. As someone who has seen the industry evolve, he has been on the landmark point of some of the major kitchen appliance revolution both at the commercial kitchen and at home. But when it comes to his favourite kitchen toy, it is undoubtedly the WET STONE GRINDER

“It is an appliance that I have grown up with – and in my years seen it change in shape from being a large format mortar pestle to a stone pot with an electric handle that makes making large batches of batter an easy affair. However, it is the old school version that I am in love with the most. It has this amazing ability to add that earthy aroma and taste, while giving you the complete command of shaping your own batter. Not to mention its multi-functionality. This year in fact, it made me realise how beautiful a tool it is to handle edible nuts for making various grades of pastes too, each with that deliciousness that would be hard to replicate in modern appliances,” says Chef Bhaskaran, who recently introduced this humble home tool into his research center – and even get his colleagues in Singapore fall in love with.

CHEF PRADEEP KHOSLA, COO & CORPORATE CHEF PRUDENTIAL FOODS, VP ALCOR HOTEL JAMSHEDPUR

FAVOURITE BOY TOY:  FOOD PROCESSOR


When it comes to food and tech, no one marries the two like Chef Pradeep Khosla. A seasoned chef and the finest culinary authority on Hyderabadi Nizami cuisine, Chef Khosla is known for his penchant in finding the perfect, multifunctional aide for the kitchen. And in his long career as a chef, where he has worked in every segment of food business, he has found this skill to be an ace, especially when it comes to standardising sauces, mixes and even a certain form of batter and dough. But at home, he swears by the 1957 wonder appliance called the FOOD PROCESSOR.

“I still remember when the food processor was launched by Inalsa, it made for a lot of curiosity. Indian kitchens and homemakers till then were big fans of Sumeet Mixie, which made for easy grinding of spices and blends. But this food processor came with a claim of being the ‘unpaid yet effective sous’ in the kitchen. For us as young chefs, it was a playground as it allowed us to achieve a lot in a little time. Of course, being bulky with a lot of attachments made it a confusing tool too, which may have been the reason that the food processor didn’t reach its tooled crown, but that was till recently when I began tinkering with the appliance again and realised how effective it can be to create an array of mise en place without the hassle and cuts. Of course, you need a little knowing and smidgen of patience with it – which this year I had loads of.”

CHEF SHARAD DEWAN, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, FOOD PRODUCTION, THE PARK HOTEL

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: STONE GRINDER AND STEAMER


From adopting traditional culinary techniques into modern kitchen to working with forgotten grains, Chef Sharad Dewan, as the culinary director the food division of The Park Hotel has done it all with a matchless flair and charm. Known as the ace of innovation, his last few years as the Regional Director of the food and experiential focussed brand has been spent researching, documenting and even bringing back the old school goodness into the gourmet tables. Amongst the few chefs in the East region of India to truly promote the cause of ethical farming and farmers through collaboration and promotion. The interesting bit is that his professional zeal also showcases in his home kitchen, which is a repository of some of the finest traditional tools, pots and pans. Understandably so his choice of tool for this year would be a retro kind – and it is the good old three-layer Steamer and stone grinder.    

“I absolutely love, love the stone grinder or silbatta as we call it traditionally. All my chutneys, wet masala and even crushed spice mixes are made using this traditional tool. And for good reason: The Superlative Taste that no modern equipment no matter how advance can replicate. This is a standard not only in my home but at all the commercial kitchens I helm and used extensively to give our food its unique aroma and flavours – even that smidgen of mineral goodness. So working with it was an obvious choice where I used it to create the perfect blend for my soup. Another retro tool that I took fancy to this year was the 70s big boy, the Steamer. This three layer blockbuster was first introduced to encourage people to steam food and especially make idlis, but can be used for a plenty of things including making puddings, custard, of course all kinds of steaming – and even braising meat for a great casserole – and then reheating too.”

CHEF SABYASACHI GORAI, CHEFPRENEUR FABRICA BY SABY & SABY’S DELI

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: THE ELECTRIC RICE COOKER


He is known to revive forgotten cuisine, a Slow Food advocate and perhaps the only chef in the country who has been able to create a popular menu on the culinary history of Indus Valley Civilisation this year. It is his constant zeal to find the old and the gold that has enabled the award-winning culinary mind to curate some of the most amazing dining spaces in the country. Given his penchant for doing things culturally accurate, it was given that during the lockdown this year he would have discovered something vintage. Instead, the Urban Chef choose a retro tool for indulgence – courtesy his off the suitcase lifestyle.

“The kind of work I do these days ensures that I keep on traveling 24/7. Given which, very early I decided to have a pantry instead of kitchen in my apartment which would at any given day have only three things – a hot plate, an electric kettle and a rice cooker, and perhaps one of two pans. It is a kitchen that would fit into a picnic bag – the one which you use for a small group. But it was during the lockdown period that I realised what a fascinating piece of equipment the rice cooker is. Introduced into India around the 1988 by Panasonic (I think), it soon became a favourite of working couples. It could cook, heat and keep food warm with minimal cleaning required. In the lockdown, I created all my meals in it – even did Biryani masterclass using a rice cooker. The versatility impressed me so much that today most of my prep work and meals are created using the rice cooker, including duck confit – and may I add, they have been well loved.”

CHEF VIKAS SETH, CULINARY DIRECTOR, EMBASSY LEISURE

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: THE MOLCAJETE


As one of India’s finest Mexican specialist and the culinary director of not one but two award-winning restaurants in the balmy town of Bengaluru, Chef Vikas Seth is known for his zeal for creating global flavours for the Indian palate but also being a voracious advocate of  locavore cooking. one of the first few to adopt the local millet into Mexican cuisine with ease, he remains at the front of sustainable cooking and a popular trendsetter when it comes to reviving traditional and forgotten dishes by giving them that unmissable Chef Seth’s touch. His current venture, Garam Masala stands testimony to the chef’s repertoire and ingenuity. His choice of retro tool reflects that very easiness in which he dabbles between Mexican, Asian, Oriental, Continental and Indian cuisine – he loves the Molcajete or as we pet-named it, the Mexican Mortar-Pestle

“I discovered the Molcajete during one of the many trips that I had made to Mexico to understand their culture and food. And yet, it wasn’t until a few years ago when I walked beyond Mexican city that I truly understood why Molcajete – a traditional tool that dates to the pre-Columbian era – is such an integral part of their food tradition. Made from the volcanic rock, this bowl-shaped tool’s coarse surface is great for expressing the oils of chile peppers and other ingredients and yields a more cohesive texture than salsas prepared in a blender. Plus, the porous rock retains the flavour of the food prepared in it, allowing the molcajete to season over time. This, I realised, not only gives the tool its unique distinction but also makes it perfect for Indian cooking as well. Bonus, you can take it on the table too!”

SALIL FADNIS, HOTEL MANAGER, SAHARA STAR

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: WOODEN SPATULA


After spending half of his lifetime in commercial kitchen, Salil Fadnis, a hands-on chef at heart and mind, has worked with the best of tools that the appliance and tech world had (and has) to offer. He calls it the “essential perks of being in the culinary space.” In fact, as the culinary head of many an award-winning restaurant, and one of the trendmakers of the F&B segment, playing with new tools – and even those up and coming- is just an extension of his role as a seasoned chef, mentor and hospitality expert. But when you have worked with the best, and have the access to the coming next, what could be the best indulgence? Surprisingly, it isn’t an appliance but a set of tools called the WOODEN SPOON.

“One of looking at it is that. After all, only when you have seen the world can you look at your backyard with a new fancy and find those little details that are an absolute wonder. But for me, the love of wooden spoons and tools was always there – more when I became involved with sustainable cooking. That’s when I re-discovered the love of wood and its virtues in the kitchen. Since then, I have moved from the long-lasting steel to an eco-friendly wood. Working with them has this meditative kind of feel, plus it does add to the food’s taste as well, especially soups and curries. Even making your own cheese is better when done with a wooden stirrer and blender. Little wonder that wooden tools were such a prized possession during old times.”

CHEF PRADEEP TEJWANI, CHEFPRENUER THE YOUNG TURKS

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: THE PIE IRON OR TOASTAA


If you ever wondered what makes a restaurant, unique and successful, then there isn’t one but two culinary minds working in opera-style synchronisation. One such versatile mastermind is Chef Pradeep Tejwani, the founder of one of the finest consulting firm called The Young Turks. A multi-cuisine specialist and an ardent culinary researcher, Chef Tejwani has been the food force behind many a successful food spaces across the country, and abroad. It is his penchant of constantly finding means to wed traditional styles and ingredients into modern technology and space that has earned him the nickname of being the Donatello of the new food formats and musings. Little wonder that his choice of indulgence this year was the Sandwich Toaster or as inventor John O'Brien called the Pie Iron.

“If you have a large part of your life in Mumbai, it is inevitable that there is one piece of kitchen tool that you would be all too familiar with: the toastaa. Or as we in the culinary world call the Pie Iron. It is essentially two square pans made of iron or aluminium hinged with a handle to make it turn with ease. A standard at any Mumbai Sandwich stall today, this roman innovation that was perfected in the 60s was created to do more than just serve people with well done toasted sandwich with the cheese melted inside. Exactly what else could this little entrapment that made one perfect grilled sandwich at a time could do was what my lockdown was all about: and as I discovered it made great omelette, grilled chicken cutlets, pancakes, uthappam – and even a delicious quiche with a little patience and room for a few trial and error.”

CHEF AJAY ANAND, EXECUTIVE CHEF, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES, USA

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: THE OVEN


For the past few years, if there was one chef who spearheaded the farm to table movement by example then it was Chef Ajay Anand. A senior chef who has worked across all F&B segments – from hotels to cruises – he created a food space that not only used the produce of the farm created next to the restaurant, but also promoted concepts like ‘repurposing’, ‘sustainable’ ‘milework eat’ and more by presenting it in a progressive way that would appeal to the younger palates and impressionable minds. His innovative concepts – whether it was finally carving a platform for homemakers and culinary custodians in the world Chef Forum or endorsing food startups – were trends that many emulated in the years following. His pet love remained traditional food done using the right tech, and one appliance he was always fond of was THE OVEN.

“As a chef, I would any day prefer to do things the traditional, hands-on way. However, when you run an establishment that doles out a certain amount of food with neck-breaking speed, technology is your best friend. And over the years, you become appreciative of the finer things that kitchen tech has managed to achieve while keeping it hugely versatile and happily convenient. One such appliance has been The Oven, which perhaps has seen more evolution than other classics – from the oval shaped to gas-run to the combi- memory-space wonders today. What I have in home for many years is the 90s compact boy, which has during lockdown, helped me diversify the things we cook at home, and even drive me to innovate many things while keeping the cooking minimalistic.”

CHEF IRFAN PABANEY, COUNTRY HEAD, SODABOTTLEOPENERWALA

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: TWO-PRONG FORK


From cafes to quaint cake shops, from shack cooking to fine dining and acing the fast casual concept in India, the Colombia-Born Chef Irfan Pabaney has mastered it all, and with a flair that has made him one of the finest “Slow Food” Chef in the country. Today, as the Country Head of the Parsee Outlet, he not only impresses the city’s well fed Bawas and Bawis with his culinary excellence and understanding of their food culture, but when at home can cook a meal that is easily one of the finest taste travel experience one can think of. What is the ace’s ace tool for creating such wonders – unbelievably his Two-Prong, Viking-style fork.  

“This may appear like a very large fork, but it is a tongue, a pakad and a palat all combined in one. It is the most useful piece of tool that you would find in a kitchen, whose basic rule of cooking is to go rustic and use the fire straight and roast. In the past few months, I have taken not only a liking for roasting, poaching and barbecuing – and the one sous chef that has aided me through it all is this fork. It makes multi-tasking a piece of cake,” he says using the fork to tug out a tray of freshly baked cookies for a taste.

CHEF PRAVEEN SHETTY, EXECUTIVE CHEF, CONRAD BENGALURU

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: PRESSURE COOKER


When it comes to Indian cooking, Chef Praveen Shetty has one set rule in the kitchen: no western appliances. This while gives his food a distinct taste and superiority, it also adds to the team  (and guest) experience as they discover the charm of preparing food old school. But beyond the mixes, masalas and blends that are by order made on stone mortars, for the rest of the prep work, the fitness buff does take help from the tech world’s modern tools. “It’s convenient, time saving and in some cases necessary too,” says the Karnataka culinary expert with a smile. A fitness-buff and fond believer of keeping it simpler and tasty, he is amongst the few chefs who have mastered the art of marrying conventional tools with traditional wisdom to create a spread that is high on taste and curative properties. His toy of choice the Pressure Cooker.

“Absolutely. You see when Denis Papin created the first iteration of the pressure cooker in 1679, which he called the Steam Digester, the purpose was to allow food to be cooked faster and stay warmer till served. The innovation was revolutionary as it introduced the concept of “easiness” into the kitchen space, but it needed a lot of hard work, especially finding a furnace. This led to the invention of the safety valve.   It was presented in King Charles II Royal Society and was cleared for use. It was however, post the Second World War that Germany developed the cooker we see today – which didn’t only cook food faster, but preserved nutrients as well. And with little science can perhaps be the single appliance that can cook, bake, steam and even pop – and more in the kitchen. It is also the secret to less washing.”

CHEF MANDAR MADAV, EXECUTIVE CHEF, CONRAD CENTENNIAL SINGAPORE

Favourite Boy Toy: The Oven & The Dutch Oven


There isn’t one trend that this Maharastrian cuisine specialist hasn’t aced: whether it was progressive cuisine, modern interpretation of traditional dishes, reviving forgotten recipes and ingredients or the artistic side of Monochromatic plating. Tell that to the suave culinarist, and he is likely to make ‘light’ of it by saying it is all in a day of a chef. But that humility does little to masquerade the width of the work that Chef Mandar Madav has done in his life as a professional chef. A zero-food wastage advocate, Chef Madav has been a front leader when it comes to working with local produce or taste from waste concepts, where he uses parts of produce and even meat to create that were once thrown away to create delightful dishes that stand witness to his style of cooking and evolution. A die-hard culinary scientist, he continues making traditional dishes relevant by putting them in a format that is suitable to the contemporary home cook – with his trusted Oven playing sous chef.  

“One of the virtues of – and I think the most cherished too- of being in the business of food making is that you don’t just develop culturally, you also inculcate the knack of using science, technology and skills to create, document and even revive recipes. It was one of the biggest lessons for me during 2020 when I decided to use the oven at home along with the Dutch ovens – an 18th century innovation – and put them to extreme use creating dishes that these appliances were not built for, at least when they were invented. As the year comes to an end, I can now say that appliance don’t have a culinary boundary. How I know it because I used the oven and the Dutch oven alternatively to create my own laadi pav, handvo, chicken to even the breads that I had once thought needed a wood fired oven to make. In fact, both these will likely to be my best kitchen buddies for the next year too.”

CHEF AMEY MARATHE, HEAD CULINARY, PARADISE FOOD

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: THE CHINESE WOK


The end of last year while finding a way to standardise a certain make of Biryani, Chef Amey Marathe, a specialist in gastropub food and culture, decided to go with the combi oven – a latest version of the oven that are fed with enough memory space to save, process and cook over a 1000 plus or more dishes from across the culinary book of the world. after a few trials, he hit upon a classic way to do so – which, as Chef Marathe puts it, “needed a few adjustments, a great paste and the right rice.” He did eventually put that into practice and was a success. But this wasn’t the first time that the chef was working with tech to get a traditional dish accurate to tradition, his years of working with Indian food has made a master of sorts. And where it all begins – at his home kitchen, the base of all his experimentation, and the Chinese Wok, not the commercial one but the hand trained, iron cast one.  

“The amazing part of working with this Han dynasty popular round-bottomed pan is that it is multi-functional. You can stir-fry, fry, steam, make curry, poach, smoke and sear using one pan that is easy to clean, low maintenance and extremely portable. In fact, those who possess a good wok will tell you that it translates into Indian cooking well because of its shape which allows one to have three different heat/cooking zone in this traditional cooking pot. You can move your food from hot frame to warm to the cold zone with equal ease. And given that mine is a cast iron the heat is often evenly distributed, which means the food is cooked fast and evenly. Bonus, once you get used to woking it well, you can tackle two dishes at a time – with a bit of practice and smidgen of risk.”

CHEF GLYSTON GRACIOUS, CITY CHEF SOCIAL MUMBAI

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: THE CLASSIC OVEN & MIXIE


While it is common to have young chefs return to their roots once they have gained a new perspective by learning cuisines from across the world and even perfecting them in their own signature way, Chef Glyston Gracious comes as a happy exception. A sustainability specialist and traditional culinary revivalist, it was very early on in his career that he looked home side to not only find new muses for his creations, but also perfect a few techniques that we Indians do better than everyone else like frying, our array of chutneys, and of course our style of curing food – which says the City Culinary Head – has the largest variations in this part of the world, and each is appealing to all forms of palate. His zeal to be good at his home beat not only charted his road ahead as a chef but turned Chef Gracious into one of the innovative chefs of current time. His menus stand testimony to his ingenuity. What keeps you going, constant innovation in the kitchen and at home. His partner in culinary game: THE OVEN AND MIXIE

“Hard to believe but I still use the oven that is at my parents’ house to do a lot of the experiment cooking that I am interested in. The old-style ovens, even those that came till the early 80s, along with old tins make for a very interesting baking experience. They teach you a lot about oven rooms, pin areas and others. Of course, they also up the challenge because of the constant manual handling vis a vis the modern-day version that need little to no supervision. But the one thing that I used to the hilt was the Mixie. It is a fine piece that allows you to work with the most obtuse of ingredients to a satisfactory result. Fascinatingly, the Indian Mixie created of Sumeet, which came as an answer to the 1930s Innovation Miracle Mixer made by stringing two cups with spinning blades in the bottom, aced at the art of doing all the grinding, blending and mixing needed for Indian cooking, while leaving you in command of just how you want it.”

CHEF ANSHUMAN BALI, EXECUTIVE CHEF, JW MARRIOTT MUMBAI SAHAR.

FAVOURITE BOY TOY: THE OTG


With nearly two decades in the industry working at the helm of some of the trendmaking brands in India has given the Lucknow-born Chef Anshuman Bali the penchant for innovating and is an expert at churning out delicious Mediterranean meals. Through his journey at various hotels, Chef Anshuman is dedicated to the Food and Beverage industry and has developed a versatile personality through the different roles he has managed in the past. His remarkable culinary abilities, leadership skills, insightful knowledge and strict hygiene discipline have helped him achieve great heights in his career. His affinity for ‘soul food’ strongly reflects in his cooking. He loves traveling, exploring new cultures, cuisines and local flavours. His choice of tool this year for experimentation is the OTG (oven, toaster, and grill).

“The one equipment that was my favorite was my tabletop oven, or as many would recognise it as the OTG. A perfectly good mix of oven, toast, and grill with convection fan for transferring of the heat, this little combi-appliance makes for a great support if you are planning to try out a lot of recipes that involves some form of grilling, toasting, baking, moulding or simply melting. I tried various recipes, be it cookies, brownies, soft buns and pound cakes. Then I also did some Indian starters (tandoori version) kebabs and tikkas. Not to forget the evening teatime savories like cheese toast, mini pizzas, loaded nachos etc. Things I could effectively transfer into the tabletop Halogen oven at my hotel kitchen with near about perfection. In fact, thanks to the little OTG, I ended up recreating some of the fun recipes at work for the Brunches and Kids cooking demos.”