THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Marrying two culinary streams can be a risky affair. But when chef Alexander offers you his steaming canary-yellow pumpkin soup, you are instantly tempted. It comes with a subtle, silky texture, enhanced by the sweet, familiar flavour of coconut milk. And, instead of the traditional garlic bread arrives regular baguette garnished with cinnamon and pepper. The chef brilliantly brings in three Kerala elements in this international dish- cinnamon, pepper and coconut milk.
If you ever fancied a slightly tweaked or spicier version of gourmet cuisine, a little hatke from the regular fare, the Taj Gateway Hotel at Varkala is the place to visit. The newly-joined chef Alexander specialises in fusion cuisine, giving continental delicacies a desi twist. “It’s crucial to maintain the balance while replacing dairy cream with coconut milk. If the flavour is overpowering, it will totally ruin the character of the classic English soup,” he says. The roasted pumpkin soup is a slow preparation where the pumpkin undergoes oven-roasting before pureeing to lock in the flavour and nutrients.
“Milk from all coconuts are not suitable for creaming a dish. Certain parts in Kerala like Varkala and Alappuzha are known for creamier coconuts. The quality of a coconut is dependent on the soil it grows and its distance from the ocean,” chips in Ashirbad Praharaj, general manager.
He calls it a western-recipes-meet-Indian-ingredients menu as some risottos with red-spicy prawns roll in. While making risotto, the rich creamy Italian rice dish, the chef opts for bamboo rice, another local specialty. “The short organic rice grains add a unique edge to its taste and consistency.”
We find the risottos super yummy, and the prawns fried in Syrian Christian style juicy and sharpened with the right amount of spices. “Here most of our guests are Europeans and they normally indulge in western cuisine. But the new menu I created is a blend of local and global culinary elements,” he says.
Next comes grilled fish on a bed of green peas, fennel and potato mesh. “Usually it’s sea bass, a neutral-flavored fish that’s used for the preparation. But here we are using a denser, full-bodied local fish,” he says.
The dish, that comes with fine raw papaya ribbons on top of it, is soft and moderately spiced. Another item on menu is Rack of lamb, a New Zealand dish for which the chef uses a sauce made of demy glaze and red wine. “ I do mild alterations to many original recipes without taking away the authenticity. By customising it to suit local taste, we create a little drama around the same old dish. Some call it fusion cooking, I call it personalisation,” he adds.
Choco mocha walnut brownie de milky ganache, a dessert so divine, turns out to be the perfect finale for our fusion dinner. “But this time there is no local tweak. There are some preparations that are too perfect for customisation and this one belongs to that league,” says the chef.