2 Delicate Recipes That Marry Champagne and Lychees
One can’t help but take in a deep breath and let out a satisfied sigh on entering San-Qi at Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai. The sprawling two-storey restaurant is enveloped by a distinct aura; a grandiose yet calming quality about it. Walking up a chic staircase to the upper level abounding in glass decor elements and natural wood accents, I am handed a glass of artisanal champagne by Chef Chaitanya Sharma, the chef de cuisine who manages Cafe Prato, the all-day dining restaurant at the hotel. Answering my unasked question, he explains, “It’s made by grower-producers — winemakers who create champagne from their own vineyards — and is more terroir-focused, sourced from single or closely-located vineyards around a village.” The hotel has offerings from three such growers in various parts of the Champagne Region in France. “The drink itself evokes the feeling of the rarified, of exclusivity and privilege,” he muses, as we speak of its creator, a 17th-century monk named Dom Perignon, and his exclamation upon tasting it for the first time: ‘Come quickly, I am drinking stars!’
Sharma is quite knowledgeable, owing to a rich professional background. He started his career as a commis at Trident Udaipur, soon taking on the role of chef de partie at the same property. After moving on to Oberoi Rajvilas, he joined the Four Seasons Hotel Mumbai as chef de partie, moved up to the position of restaurant chef (junior sous chef), sous chef and, eventually, chef de cuisine. The quick-witted cook is pleased with our choice of ingredients for the cook-off, serving up a luscious plate of lychees that go perfectly with the drink of the day. He’s decided to use scallops in his interpretation, while his distinguished colleague, Chef Kazuhiro Koizumi, uses his expertise to take a more Asian culinary route with teppan chicken. The quiet, staid chef’s tryst with food began with working as a cook in the Air Self Defense Force in Japan, after which he moved to the Niigata Toei Hotel as a teppanyaki chef. His passion soon took him to London, where he worked as a sushi chef, and then to Shanghai to be a part of the Hilton Group of Hotels. He worked at the hotel restaurant Da Vinci, conceptualising a modern Japanese fine-dining menu. In 2001, he moved to Mumbai as part of the opening team of the JW Marriott Hotel, Juhu, where he was instrumental in introducing Mumbai to its first sushi bar. About joining the Pan-Asian team at San-Qi, he says, “The team here is great. I am looking forward to giving the Japanese kitchen a new flavour.”
The two skilled men take to the challenge with zeal, plating up delightful offerings. Where Sharma’s dish is minimalistic and sleek, Koizumi’s plate is wholesome and organically plated. The scallops with champagne gel are accompanied by a delectable lychee salad and luscious roasted cherry tomatoes, creating a glistening, vibrant appeal. The teppan chicken and pokchoi, however, subtly draw you in only to surprise you with the most inexplicably wonderful champagne yuzu sauce. Sitting there with the two meals that share core ingredients but produce such contrasting yet delicious flavours, I can’t help but chuckle in agreement when Chef Koizumi says, “This is when the tongue tingles, no?”
Teppan Chicken with Fresh Lychee and Champagne Yuzu Sauce
Chicken thighs, 150 gm; Brocolli, 25 gm; Pokchoi, 20gm; Lychee, 25 gm; Salt, 2 gm; Butter, 5 gm; Soy sauce, 3 ml; Champagne, 20 ml; Yuzu pulp, 4 gm.
Marinate the chicken thighs in salt and pepper. Cook them on the teppan and drizzle with litchi juice. Cook the lychee on the teppan with butter. Steam the greens and arrange the chicken and greens in a lateral way. Reduce the champagne with yuzu pulp and coat the chicken with this reduction.
Scallops with Champagne Gel and Lychees
Scallops, 3 nos; Olive oil, to marinate and cook; Salt and pepper, to taste.
For the champagne gel: Champagne, 100 ml; Agar agar, 20 gm; Lime juice, 5 ml.
For the lychee salad: Lychee, 50 gm; Orange or pomelo segments, 20 gm; Orange zest, 2 gm; Cherry tomatoes, 4 to 5 nos; Green broad beans, 4 to 5 nos; Fresh herbs; Caviar, 1 tsp; Salt and pepper, to taste.
Marinate the scallops in olive oil and add salt and pepper. Cook each piece quickly on both sides. Make the gel by simply mixing the champagne, agar agar and lime juice and plate it around the scallops. Roast the cherry tomatoes over a fire and blanch the broad beans. Mix all the salad ingredients together and garnish with fresh herbs and caviar.
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