Winner of The Gourmand Award Paris 2012, chef Michael Swamy was in the city on Tuesday to conduct the Wine in Food event at Westin Hyderabad as a part of the Seagram’s Nine Hills seven-city odyssey. Speaking to City Express about the art of wine, the graduate from Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School (London) tells us more.
Having cooked with a lot of ingredients and experimented with a lot of spices, he tells us why wine is special. “Wine is completely natural, and when cooked, burns out the alcohol content, rendering the flavour to the food. People use synthetic vinegar which comes from a lot of chemicals; instead it’s healthier to use wine.” Swamy’s affinity for the fermented grape stems from his preference for all things natural and not using chemicals in his food.
Having been in the kitchen for the past 20 years or so, Swamy has to his credit the cookbook The East Indian Kitchen and has even been a part of MasterChef India for the first two seasons. However, Swamy says he learnt more from his apprenticeship and mistakes.
“While I was specialising I also got into food styling. I worked with a lot of Michelin Star chefs, helping them on their food. I got a chance to learn the system.” Also on a mission to take a more varied Indian cuisine international, other than the typical curry, he urges Indian cooks to experiment more.
“Indian cuisine is still not the international cuisine. You need forward-thinking chefs who are willing to take risks. Every chef plays safe. I admit I’ve made mistakes, but what’s the harm?”
Coming back to wine, he feels the Indian palate is ready for the change, even though it still prefers its dal-chaval. “Wine has become very big in India with a lot of companies doing wine appreciations. We thought about doing something better than that.” Which meant adding it to the food. This, however, he points out, isn’t a radically new thought and in fact is a very Indian technique from years before.
“Indians used to use fermented juices like Soma from the Vedic times. Nowadays, nobody even uses natural vinegar. Wine makes for a very healthy alternative.”
Besides making food, Swamy has also had a penchant for visually capturing his food, among other things. Talking about food photography, as great as the images may look, Swamy shares a few insider tricks. “I learnt how to shoot, how to lay food for the camera and so on. Knowing the lighting and knowing creativity, food just comes alive on camera. For example, for a photo, the food is three-quarters cooked and a lot more oil is used so that it looks shiny and more appealing.”
A regular to Hyderabad, Swamy of course loves the biriyani. But there’s a lot more he wants to explore. “I love the expressway while coming in (from the airport). Hopefully I’ll come back again. I want to do a week of research on Hyderabad cuisine.”
Presently, he is working with Vikas Khanna on his books. The chef also has three books in the pipeline which bring his love for food and travelling together. “Nowadays you can get any recipe on the internet. You have to come out of the box and be creative and innovative. A recipe should have a story, some romance and life. Food is celebration in life.”
As far as opening restaurants is concerned, he dismisses the idea saying, “In the past, I’ve opened restaurants, and sadly closed restaurants too. I don’t really want to get into that messy game.”
Swamy seems to have also been bitten the proverbial bug as he has plans for his own show. Quite discontented with how MasterChef played out, he feels that the cooking talent coming on to the shows can be better. “By January -February, you’ll see something happening,” he hints.