Runaway 2020

Image Courtesy: 10th Street Cafe

The final showcase of what India ate, drank and liked in the past decade, with a little help from experts of course.
By Madhulika Dash

We agree; trends could almost sound silly at times. But then it is season time – a time to celebrate, feast, indulgence, and a time to look back of how the year was. Only this time we are looking at the decade that shaped India’s Golden period of dining. How? Scroll on...


“Let me clarify first: no matter which cuisine trend, India , largely, loves their dal chawal. And it is true for every state. In mid 2000s, when home chefs were invited for food festivals, it wasn’t just about giving diners a different experience, it was learning for the chefs as well. Turn 2019, those learnings have finally become lesson in not only designing menus, putting together restaurants but also cooking food, which is today wholesome and far extent seasonal too,” Vineet Manocha, Senior VP – Culinary, Lite Bite Food.


“The trend of using locally sourced exotic ingredient may have started because of the economics and the novelty factor associated with it. But over the past one decade, it has cajoled not only more chefs to have a more peripheral vision when designing menus – and one of the primary reasons for this is the taste as well. Of course an avocado sourced from Spain will be better than one that comes from Bengaluru, but the quality, freshness is much better. The other advantage of this Indian foreplay with western cuisine has also cajoled diners to try different options like a guacamole made of yam served in a tortilla made of Ragi instead of corn. The larger benefit: a reduced carbon foodprint,” says Vikas Seth, Culinary Director, Embassy Leisure.


“There is no denying that the Indian dining space is still limited to popular dishes, but that scenario has changed as chefs and establishment both have invested in bringing in local favourites to the fore. In the Marriott Group for instance, there is emphasis given to discovering local specialty and make it a part of our food & beverage offering. This along with the rise of culinary specialist we call Home Chefs have ensured menus today are more locavore – even our international side has ingredients that can be locally sourced. It is a trend that is likely to continue with chefs now exploring the lesser known side,” predicts Himanshu Taneja, Culinary Director, South Asia, Marriott Hotels.


“Not so long ago, an often-given advice to restauranteur was either open a Chinese restaurant, an Udupi or an Indian. And by the latter, one usually meant North Indian. Sad but true, we were a nation that still loved to dine out on butter chicken and Manchurian. Early 2000 changed it with chefs like Moshe Shek and Rahul Akerkar and restauranteur like AD Singh and Riyaaz Amlani who introduced the concept of concept restaurant. Chef Moshe turned dessert into an all-day café restaurant while AD Singh played with the still haute European cuisine. After the initial years of teething issue, these restaurants became the foundation for concept restaurants leading to places like Lavaash By Saby, Theobroma, Nom Nom and even Tuskers – a space that serves the best of Gujarati-Marwari-Rajasthani thali with the best of scotch. And eventually sub cuisine places like Thangabali,” says Dharmesh Karmokar, Co-owner, Thangabali.


“Call it the rise of health-conscious diners, people influenced by social media or chefs worldwide reinvesting in vegetable – seasonal favourites like beetroot, moringa, yam and others took centerstage, and eventually became as big a part of the menu as the meat. Of course, there were other fads like the rise of mock meat which led to mushrooms, soya and spuds becoming the new chef’s favourite behind the change, the biggest push came from the chefs themselves. Putting forth a dish that challenged a chef’s creativity and was still on par or better than that of meat was the biggest high for the culinary community. Result, concepts were built around a vegetable or a group of it with a significant help coming from the farm to table, organic quarter. Thus, leading to even restaurants being built not so much on the concept of meat but vegetable and the freshest use of it. Annamaya, Pluck and even ITC Chola’s Royal Vega being the recent posterboy of this movement,” says Chef Neeraj Tyagi, Director of Cuisine, Pullman and Novotel, Aerocity.


“According to author Michael Pollan, countries with an ancient culture have the best strategy to turn back to healthier eating courtesy their dietary pattern. By that logic Indians are among the few blessed one. Thanks to our culinary heritage, we not only have a habit of eating seasonal but wholesome as well, making us less prone to diet-induced allergies namely lactose intolerant. In fact, our traditional eating system is significantly vegan as well. But not in the last two decades that has seen the dining table shift from region-based food to convenience food like burgers, noodles and pizza had in larger quantity. The outcome of that plus lifestyle and many have turned vegetarian with dietary restriction (doctor advised and otherwise). This plunged the F&B industry into discovering alternatives – many of which were a part of our dietary habits like the different kind of milks, protein from legumes and others. Result, in the past five years, Indian F&B space ingredients list has widen to include more traditional food, processed in-house, ” says Chef Anirban Dasgupta, Executive Chef, Hyatt Pune.


“I confess: it isn’t exactly been a decade trend when it comes to fermentation. We have a culinary heritage of fermentation; and are a voracious consumer as well. It is a part of every meal – be in form of pickles, curd, kanji, batura, idli, dosa or even papad. In fact, even our sweets like jalebi uses the technique for its interesting flavours. But when it came to dining space and the culinary world of fermentation, the entry has been a little late with the chefs using the technique on ingredients to give dishes a different flavour element. And while finding akhuni, miso, kimchi, home-made cheeses and other fermented produces in the commercial kitchens are becoming the norm – with chefs making them in-house or collaborating with artisanal makers – the beauty is the wide acceptance in
diners who love to experiment with a miso-butter as well as a queso fresco on a taquito,” says Chef Balpreet Singh Chadha, Executive Sous Chef, Andaz


“Tough luck. But there is no way to get rid of the word ‘authentic’ when it comes to Indian food space, in spite of it being misspelled in most places. However, the drive to find authentic meals in the past two decades has led us to scour for something that is not specific to region but community as well. Thus, giving the Indian dining landscape more culinary colours to play with. So while we are still gung ho about that authentic Wazwan and Rajasthani thali, we are as excited about discovering the nuances of Anglo Indian community, the Kodavas and even the Bhatt community. Fascinatingly, this zeal has extended to International cuisine as well. The prove of this are the restaurants that just don’t explore Chinese only under Pan Asia umbrella but extend to Vietnam, Indonesia and Korean as well,” says Chef Pradeep Tejwani, Chefpreneur, The Young Turks.


“When it comes to the concept of set-menus, a term gaining coin in all-day dining, there is nothing that can beat the thali – our very own scientifically designed bento box. But then how can something so intrinsic to our culinary habits see a comeback. Well, in most dining spaces, thali is with some of the best Indian spaces using it not only to showcase their culinary expanse but also as a measure of sustainable food. After all, as diners, we are DNA-tuned to the wholesomeness of a thali. What has changed of course is the way it is presented today: from the small katori laden platter to small plates where a meal is recreated using not the Western science of nutrients in grammage but the taste factor of an Indian thali. This has also allowed chefs to play around with traditional ingredients with panache,” says Chef Neeraj Rawoot, Executive Chef, Sofitel BKC.


“it may have begun as a commercial convenience that ensured malls more footfalls and restaurateurs’ platforms to showcase their cuisine with success, but at the end the fruitfulness of a food court was the introduction of community dining. Tables were shared, meals were shared and most importantly, it became a platform that could introduce interesting concepts like a store that specialised in milkshake (Keventeers), icecream (Naturals) and even donuts (Mad Over Donuts) to name a few. It was this aspect of a food court that Starbucks adopted a few years later and eventually it made into fine dine places like The Table, where it is done to encourage the concept of a communal dining,” says Chef Mayank Tiwari, Group Executive Chef, PVR Cinemas


“India has always been about family style dining, but the turn of 2000 and the rise in income led to the emergence of young people, who dined out in groups, but loved their food with even a Joey like “I don’t share my food’ hangover. This and the rising awareness to cut back on food wastage led to a more informal style of presenting food – small plates and shared plates – that allowed a sense of being a part of a group while having your very own little treat. On the dining front, both these options allowed diners to explore more and chefs to create a variety of options that can be enjoyed alone or in a group. The effectiveness of the format has made small plates and shared plates are a part of every casual to casual premium restaurant today and is likely to continue for the next few
years as well. After all, dining today is about exploring, where lesser is more,” Chef Chetan Sethi, Chefpreneur, Ustaadi.


“One of the interesting trends that has happened behind the burner has been the shift in the way dishes are thought and rethought. While much of early 2000 was about learning how food could be interestingly presented with some of country’s best redesigning plates on their travels to the mid of 2000 taking on the deconstructing influence from Nordic cuisine and colours from Peruvian cuisine to finally arriving at their comfort zone of creating stories by using different dishes to create one stunning plate of delicious food. And now it is a mix of both where chefs are deconstructing and reconstructing elements to create a dish, which is their ode to a concept, a technique and ingredients. Thus, resulting in a change in the way food is perceived. Of course, this season too we have eaten mostly with our eyes (and the camera), “says Chef Sujan Sarkar, Chepreneur, Rooh.


“One of the key players in changing the foodscape of India have been home chefs – essentially home/hobby cooks who ace at the art of making food, especially of the region they belong to. The rise of these home chefs thanks to television series, social media and hotels in search of newer ways to add freshness into their food and beverage offerings, Indian dining space today covers more than 20 new regional and sub regional cuisine spread in their various offerings including those in the room amenities as well. But the one thing that home chefs have allowed is the discovery of custodians of legacy cuisine (royalty and otherwise) who have helped chefs and diners discover the wonders of lesser known ingredients and traditional techniques. In fact, their collaboration has been
one of the many reason for spaces like Pot Belly and Bob’s bar, Dalma, Saffron and even Bhojohari Manna to exists and how, “ says Chef Sumanta Chakrabarti, Corporate Chef, Ambuja Neotia Hospitality.


“For me, the one thing that has stood out in the past two decades is the coming of age of our chefs and the confidence in what are they offering. From following the western style of silverware dining, today Indian restaurateur are much at ease in creating a space that represents their ideology of food, hospitality and creating of services. And much of this can be seen not only in how the spaces are being designed but also how menus and food are being presented – which has gone from experimenting with it to suit the palate to presenting the chefs idea about the food. The outcome of this are spaces like Masque, Indian Accent, Masala Library to even Prankster and Lavaash on one hand and others like Prankster, Ministry of Beer and HopHaus on the other that bring together good
food, good ambience, good service and a story together to make a meal memorable,” says Sandeep Singh, owner, MOB.


“Food has always been about taste. True, and it is one thing that every chef plans to achieve from the burner. but lately, it is also about the waist and low waste – the two aspect that has over the last decade gradually changed the way food is procured, cooked and presented. And has lately come to the fore in the garb of ‘sustainability’. While it is true that the chefs who have begun practicing this are far and few in between, who have championed the idea of minimum food wastage through experiments with the unglamorous vegetables, using the scraps and even doing exclusive sit-downs with nose to tip as the theme, where an entire livestock is used to create a seven course meal. Of course, inside hotels this has led to the creation of not only theme-based spreads that are all about
promoting the idea of ‘eating fresh and healthy”, it has also nudged chefs to have their own little gardens that promote the idea of waste management,” says Vincent Marques, Manager Retreat, Jehan Numa Retreat.


“Recently there was a pop up organised by Madhya Pradesh Tourism to promote the royal cuisine of the state. A few decades ago, the thought of it would have been cast aside as too radical. Not today though. Thanks to the widening of the F&B offering in the country, heritage and heritage cuisine now have a better chance at survival – and without compromise. And this is a far cry from the one resort opening a few years ago when the only way to keep your legacy alive was turning into a hotel with a brand that would manage it for you. The turn of events in the past few years where heritage has become a buzz word for people across – and this doesn’t only include the foodies – traditional wisdom that once shaped the feast table of the royals today are seeing a revival – and with it are
smaller industry and makers who heeded to the needs of such a royal table. But most importantly, it has become the big nudge for revisiting the culinary wisdom that shaped our food for wellness,” says Hemendra Singh, Culinary Revivalist and Custodian, Bhainsrorgarh Fort.


“The big change that has occurred over the years has been the kitchen. Once relegated as the backroom of a restaurant, kitchens too have now moved to the front of house much like the chefs – and dining has become more interactive. In fact, having live station today or a glass screen where the diners can see the kitchen, interact with the chefs and see their food be prepared have become the mainstay of many a restaurant, especially the all-day dinning inside the hotel, where it has emerged as one of the keys to success. Of course, the format that began as a distinguishing feature initially and then rapidly a buffer favourite is now also seen as the best way to introduce guests to newer cuisine and to sustainable cooking. After all, each interactive station by virtue of having their
food displayed turn into these little theatres of showcase where food is custom-made to a diners liking and has a higher rate of acceptance. It is the future of dining – especially those moving towards fast casuals,” says Chef Praveen Shetty, Executive Chef, Conrad Bengaluru.


“From coffees to teas to even wines and scotch designed in India, the last decade belonged in every which way to going indigenous, especially when it comes to the beverage segment. Today, when you think of great coffee, you don’t have to think a brand from Ethiopia, but of home-bred brands like Blue Tokai, Devi Coffee and CCD, who source coffee from down South, roast it in Bengaluru and blend it to our preference. In fact, we have the best of organic coffee growing in Araku Valley and the hills of Koraput. Likewise, for tea, tisane and even scotch that grow in the country and counted the best in the world. And if you have been enamoured by the new kinds of wine that are made from sweet fruits except grapes, look no further as we get some of the best kiwi wines from Arunachal
Pradesh. Things that have clearly been a part of our bars, which have gone decisively in-house and Indian,” says Varun Sudhakar, Head - Innovation & Operations (Beverages) – Gourmet Investment Pvt Ltd.


“Patisserie has come to the fore. What made that happen? the rise of standalone coffee shops, the debut of sweet places that are dedicated to a single facet of what constitutes the world of dessert; or pastry chefs who have decided to reinvent the space. It is in fact a coming together of all the above factors along with diners who believe that having a wedge of a great chocolate cake is in itself an indulgence worth traveling to a restaurant or dining space. In fact, it is the trend of making dessert a treat that has seen not only the sweet space evolve with varieties that go from lactose friendly, low sweet, low carb to breads that have experimented with gluten-free flours. And of course, especially plated dessert that use the sweet and savoury side both to give a unique experience. But the one place that has really shaped up in the past two decades is that of the chocolate. From being a semi-sweet treat, the world of chocolate today has emerged into this ever-evolving sphere that can be sophisticated, charming, decadent and rich – with a range that can help you explore chocolate (the dark, bitter one with fruity notes) and its various creation, “says Chef Harpawan Kapoor, Head of Product Development, ITC Limited - Food Division.