Curry from a canister
You order a plate of salad and it comes scattered with crumbs of what looks like faux soil. You order your soup and it comes perched with what they call edible air. You move on to the main course and see aromatic smoke fill up your table as the waiter lifts the lid. You finish off with a dessert and even that is a hotchpotch of textures all popping in your mouth at the same time. Innovation, innovation and then some more – an average restaurant kitchen has become nothing less than a laboratory that is churning out dishes, all aimed at wowing the diners.
With the usage of high-end equipment, edible chemicals and ingredients that are not typical Indian staples, chefs are creating dishes that are marvel-worthy. According to Chef Zorawar Kalra, Founder & Managing Director of Massive Restaurants, “This equipment doesn’t belong in an average kitchen, but if one wants to notch up the recipes to create something off-beat altogether, they are necessary.”
At Chef Kalra’s Bandra-based restaurant, Masala Library, high-end equipment is used to create dishes such as jalebi caviar, thandai sphere, edible foam and other elements that are unique in terms of concept and texture. Take for example their mishti doi lollypop which is an ice-cream form of the classic Bengali dessert served as a palate cleanser. Here, an equipment named anti-griddle is used to create it. Unlike a regular griddle which is hot, this one flash freezes and enables the chef to quickly turn sauces, purees, crèmes, vinaigrettes and other foods into solid or semi-frozen textures.” At Masala Library, we use the actual mishti doi and treat it on this griddle. This gives us a texture which is frozen but melts quickly once you pop it in your mouth,” says Kalra.
Apart from techniques, edible chemicals such as soy letchin are also used to change the texture of ingredients and to create something else altogether. “The good part is that each of these are natural and therefore do not harm the system,” shares Kalra.
While purists wouldn’t recommended these avant-garde techniques thinking of them as unhealthy, some chefs feel that many modern cooking methods are in fact healthier. Chef Tarang Joshi from Colaba’s fine-dine restaurant Indigo feels that certain equipment like the sous vide machine helps one cook meats in a way that help a lot of its nutrients to remain intact. He says, “We make a dish called butter poached chicken which is served with a wild mushroom risotto. Here, the meat is vacuum-packed and cooked in the machine which treats it evenly, retains its juices and the nutrition. This is better than grilling or roasting where lots of liquid is lost.”
Apart from the SV machine, Indigo also uses a smoking gun to make a salad of artichokes that is smoked and shut with a lid. It emerges on the table fumy and is quite a sight for the eyes. In terms of flavour, the gun is used to add a sweet, ashy note to the crunchy vegetable and makes it stand apart from an average artichoke salad.
Besides creating drama and effects, high-end equipment like canisters help to change the texture of your preparations as well. Says Chef Joshi, “Indigo’s chocolate coral is a dessert that is made using an equipment called the canister, filled with chocolate mousse. The dessert is made in a way that it comes to you in a frozen form but quickly turns mousse-ey as it hits the mouth.”
Apart from restaurants, high-end equipment is also finding a place at bars and pastry shops in the city. Take for example Kala Ghoda-based La Folie’s Autumn/ Winter menu that uses plenty of tools to make the pastry look picture-perfect. “There is a spray gun to paint the desserts, robot coupe to grind nuts, chocolate tempering machine and spherification tools to create mock caviar,” says Sanjana Patel from the bakery. Patel uses these elements to garnish her desserts and fine tune their presentation.
Slowly and steadily high-end kitchen equipment has taken over appetisers, main courses, desserts and drinks too. While these are user-friendly and help the chef create a more polished product, not all restaurants can apply it in their kitchens. What remains to be seen is whether this is just a passing fad or if these processes can sustain themselves or evolve as a full-fledged cooking system in the next round of culinary advances.