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Wine & Dine
November 04, 2017

2 Desserts That Are Perfect For Today’s Health-Conscious Gourmands

Text by Shraddha Jahagirdar-Saxena. Photographs by Anshika Varma

Chefs Ashish Ugal and Rajesh Singh show us that desserts need not always be heavy on the eye, the palate or the plate

All gourmands will agree that ‘happiness is extra dessert’, and with the onset of the festive season, sinful seduction — of the culinary kind — is increasingly on everyone’s mind. During one of my recent trips to New Delhi, at the well-appointed Taj Mahal Hotel, I am presented with two artistic plates. On one, a shining dome sits proudly in the centre of rings that move outwards concentrically towards the edge of the plate; on the other, a small cylindrical mound occupies place of pride. In both, a selection of berries adds a colourful element to the ‘structures’ that are made of chocolate and are gently infused with green tea. Pleasure on platters, I conclude, as I watch Chef Ashish Ugal, the hotel’s executive sous chef (now Bengaluru-based) and Chef Rajesh Singh, chef de cuisine at Varq, give their offerings the finishing touches.

With an experience of over 11 years in specialty kitchens across the globe, Ugal, who hails from Ranchi, has the flavours of the world in his kitchen and believes in being creative with almost every dish he masterminds. Self-motivated in pushing the envelope, he enjoys exploring challenges that enable him to stretch the boundaries of culinary imagination. On his presentation for the day — the single origin chocolate Fujiyama with a green tea creme brulee insert, accompanied by dehydrated berry meringue and some fresh forest berries — he says, “Chocolate and berries together create one of the most classic combinations one can think of. Additionally, dark chocolate goes extremely well with fruits which are acidic in nature and have a little tartness. The sensational taste of the single origin dark chocolate completely blends with mild berries like blueberries, raspberries, red currants and black berries. But this combination can be tweaked to tantalise contemporary palates.”

Ugal opines that with the changing tastes in our country — largely due to the opening of windows to the world with increased awareness — it is a great time to play with different types of foods, ingredients and flavours. He states, “As India gets increasingly ‘food-fashionable’, chefs are becoming more than willing to experiment with different cuisines and adopt ways to innovate in the kitchen and on the plate. Interesting techniques and tools are constantly reconstructing our notions of food. And, in fact, desserts are now taking on multiple forms — crunchy, salty and foamy. There’s a lot of science and chemistry involved when it comes to showcasing the range, depth and diversity of flavours.”

Singh, who hails from Hyderabad, the city of the Nawabs that has carefully preserved the culture of royal India over the years, is also known for his experimental and artistic creations. On his green tea and rabri-centred chocolate parfait with fresh berries and meringue sticks, he comments, “The unique ingredients of this preparation can be said to be the USP of the final dish. The combination of bitter dark chocolate, the sweet rabri in the centre and the hint of green tea is a blend which has never been tried before. The combination has turned out to be a super hit one, with its perfect balance of sweetness, texture and aroma even though the pairing of chocolate and berries is a time-tested one. We had to use rabri flavoured with cardamom as the stuffing to keep the dish truly Indian. And, at the same time, we stayed true to the core flavours of the chocolate and berries.”

Modern Indian cuisine, as I witness in my interaction with the chefs, is the harmonious result of the seamless merging of age-old gastronomic traditions with distinct contemporary ingredients to bring art and fine food to dining tables. And, often as is seen in these two dishes, the visual appeal of what one is going to eat adds to their sensory appeal. For as Singh opines, “Food presentation is an essential component that goes a long way in ensuring the success of a dish. It can be said to rank as high as taste and flavour do.”

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