BENGALURU: Professional cooking is a pure art like music, dance or painting. It requires a certain level of expertise and the flexibility to adapt to technological changes or experiment with trends.
Food itself has come a long way. Gone are the days when people used to dine out to have dal makhani, butter chicken or naan.
People today are more open to trying different cuisines, they look for variety and they like to be surprised. That’s where the expertise of a chef comes into play.
One trend which has taken over the Indian culinary by storm is the use of edible flowers in the food and the city chefs are turning the heat on with some absolutely brilliant eye-pleasing and lip-smacking food. Chefs are extensively using flowers like lavender, nasturtiums, squash blossoms, chrysanthemums, day lilies, chives and thyme while cooking. They are being used frequently in salads, desserts or any other dish since it not only makes it look good but also adds flavour to any dish.
Chef Nimish Bhatia of Nimisserie says that it is “wonderful to cook with flowers” and adds, “Whatever is on the plate has to be edible”. He believes that flowers give a new identity to the food and also make it sensuous enough to tickle the palate.
Flowers can be added while cooking or as garnish. Chef RayomundPardiwalla of Movenpick Hotel & Spa says “We use edible flowers mostly in the recipe itself and also on occasion to garnish. That way, these flowers add taste, aroma and flavour to the end product”. He adds, “We make sure to procure flowers which have zero-tested pesticide. We also have to keep in mind the quantity of edible flowers we add to certain dishes, as the brighter the colour of the flower, the stronger the flavour”.
Flowers are often overlooked as a food source. But, they are not just pretty, they come with various health benefits. Flowers, especially those with deeper colours, are high in antioxidants and contain vitamin sources. Some even contain pollen that can lessen allergy attacks and a few have substances that are good for digestion.
Chef Thomas Joseph of Crown Plaza says, “Edible flowers are an innovative ingredient in the culinary world and are considered a healthy choice as they act as good antioxidants, apart from being a rich source of Vitamins E and C, including folic acid, riboflavin, pyroxidine and niacin”.
Flowers were always used in cooking across cultures. In fact, there is mention of its culinary use even thousands of years ago. Indian sweets have always been using rose essence and saffron flowers. But it is only recently that the use of an extensive range of flowers has picked up.
Avijit Deb Sharma, Executive Sous Chef of The Ritz Carlton, says “It is not just the sudden push; it was present in the earlier cooking also. In Bengali cuisine, there is a dish called KumroPhuler Bora, it is basically a pumpkin blossom frittata. Another dish named Mochar Ghonto is made of banana blossom”.
Sharma adds, “They are being used in several dishes but it has not been talked about. Presently we are experimenting with different essences and textures of flowers in modern cooking to make it more interesting”.
Is it just a trend that everyone wants to catch up with or does it have meaning?
Tejas Krishna, a city-based food critic, vouches for the “overwhelming delight” it brings.
“Flowers not only add colour and fragrance, they bring in a distinct texture and elaborate the taste by giving an overwhelming delight to the taste buds. Striking the right chords and creating a combination flavours that go well with each other is the key”.
“It makes a good difference. I use flowers extensively. We do a dip with hibiscus flakes; it is tangy, inviting red colours and gives a long bite for texture. We do a salad with freeze dried fruits, marigold, lavender, arugula, lettuce and it is great. We also prepared a soup with camomile, lavender, jasmine and tomato dust like a brew. It gives a fantastic aroma and adds so much value and culinary conversation of the whole dish,” says Chef Bhatia.
Chef Joseph agrees with Krishna and Chef Bhatia. He says, “Rose makes a big difference in taste of food and we use it mostly for desserts and to a great extent in our curries. Pumpkin and Zucchini flowers are being served as a dish in itself”.
Some, like city-based food critic Prateek Thakker, have a different take.
Thakker says, “To some extent edible flowers do enhance the taste of the dish but most of the time it is a hindrance. I am not much a fan of edible flowers being used in the food. Japanese food uses a lot of it to give a taste. With Sushi, a raddish flower cleanses your palette, not otherwise”.
Speaking on the availability of edible flowers, Chef Joseph says “Yes it is easily available, in fact we have it at our hotel nursery and Bengaluru being a garden city we have a wide variety locally available”.
Chef Sharma also says flowers are easily available in the city. Growing Greens supplies the edible flowers to Ritz Carlton.
Surprisingly, Chef Bhatia says “No, I do not get this easily in the city but we source it from Mumbai and Gujarat”.
(Author is a city based food & lifestyle blogger. He blogs on Effective Bakwaas).