Homemade in restaurants

Back-to-roots chefs bring to table cherished culinary memories of their mother and grandmother to churn out signature Indian dishes

Published: 19th May 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 18th May 2019 04:40 PM   |  A+A-

(Above) Chefs making dough; garnishing

Express News Service

Fluffy Ramassery idlis steamed in banana leaves, toddy-infused sweet appams, jowar and bajra rotis topped with ghee and jaggery, Kashmiri haak, spicy Himachali kaale chane ka khatta, bhang ki chutney—the list is endless. Restaurants are steadily looking inwards as maa ke haath ka khana takes centrestage. While the time-tested dishes such as butter chicken, dal makhni, Mysore masala dosa and laal maas are still occupying many professional kitchens, their lesser known country cousins are slowly edging in too.

Vineet Manocha, Corporate Chef with Lite Bite Foods, a food and beverage retail company, believes in the saying—‘Behind every successful chef is a matriarch.’ Says the chef, “Recipes do not make finger-licking food, love does, and a generous portion of love is a tenet of mother’s cooking and restaurateurs understand that well.” Lite Bite Foods has done a series of food promotions with home chefs and moms, who specialise in their cuisine. Their recent Andhra-Telangana, Marathwada promotions in Zambar and Sindh Da Swaad in Punjab Grill got a phenomenal response. This was food cooked by mothers and grandmothers.

Like many other cultures around the world, people in India have always prized ‘mom’s cooking’. According to them, no Michelin star can beat that. But what till now was a challenge to this ultimate winner was the concept of eating out, created to serve food that was ‘something special’, and definitely not what your tastebuds were used to. Food had to be made ‘restaurant appropriate’—something no one ate at home. But this food soon became known as signature Indian food.

Clockwise from left: Bhaang ki chutney; Kudampuliyitta viral meen curry; Kashmiri Haak

“Earlier, a trip to the restaurant would mean a special occasion or celebration. Patrons expected something different. But now people want food that they miss,” he adds. The restaurant business in India has come a full circle.

As chefs go back to their roots, nostalgia is the key. Also, with health and fitness in focus, a balanced meal is what most patrons want even when eating out. “Traditional Indian meals include carbohydrates, proteins, fats and fibres, all of which are elements that you need for a balanced diet. One of the key specialities about home-cooked food is the authentic spices and fresh vegetables that go into the making. Also, the Indian food culture involves a wide range of healthy vegetables and the cooking technology adapted at home is simple yet versatile and helps retain freshness and the nutrient content,” says Chef David Edward Raj, Managing Partner, Culinary Development at Elior India.

Trained across the world, chefs today are proud to cook food that they grew up with. Some like Chef Ajay Anand, Director of Culinary at Pullman & Novotel New Delhi Aerocity and Chef Abhishek Gupta, Executive Sous Chef at The Leela Ambience Gurugram Hotel & Residences, try to merge their global experience with the kind of food they ate back home to develop their signature styles and give patrons a perspective beyond clichés. These back-to-roots chefs are helping a host of Indians who grew up alienated from their own food cultures. Zorawar Kalra, Founder and Managing Director of Massive Restaurants Pvt Ltd, says, “Maa ke haath ka khaana is a treasured sentiment. It brings back cherished memories of my mother and grandmother, who would regularly churn out the most delectable dishes for me.

One flavourful dish in particular that always makes me nostalgic is Rista Kofta. As a tribute to my grandmother, I have introduced the same recipe in the form of Rista kofta subway sandwich at Farzi Café. And it makes me immensely happy that it has now become one of our most popular dishes.” These new-yet-old flavours will always bring us comfort, he smiles.

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