There is a sense of space and an anticipation of drama when I walk into The Mansion at the Hyatt Regency, New Delhi. The Mansion includes the Oval Room, a space that with its wood, carpeted floors and marble halls speaks simultaneously of opulence and minimalism. And the hero in the Oval Room is the theatrical kitchen that holds a lot of potential for action. Huge panels that slide apart enclose the kitchen when the work is done. Right now, the open kitchen areas are in full view and the chefs – Chef Amit Rana, Executive Sous Chef and Chef Abdulla, Pastry Chef, are ready to conjure up some delicacies on demand.
Apart from the fennel seeds and juniper berries that are the essence of both dishes, the stars of the day are the two men who have created the dishes. Chef Amit Rana, I learn, brings with him a rich experience of many cultures. From his first assignment in the capacity of a Commi De Cuisine of the soup and sauce section in a Norwegian Cruise Liner, Miami, USA, he has sharpened his culinary skills having worked with internationally renowned chefs. With over 15 years experience under his belt, be it managing the busy operations at work or spending time with family on weekends, he likes to find a way to balance things even in the midst of a demanding day.
Chef Abdulla relies on his techniques, tradition and his intuition to invent his creations. Art, science, architecture and desserts are but a few of the multiple types of understanding that are necessary for a great chef – and Chef Abdulla manifests them all. He often uses a wide variety of flavours to achieve the look and taste he is looking for. For him, baking is a game of flavours, whether he is baking cakes, making chocolates or creating a dessert.
On cooking in full view of the guests, Chef Rana says, “The act of chefs in their respective kitchens is what builds the drama — the sounds, aroma and finally the creative presentations that originate from each of these cooking stations. Being given a chance to pursue your passion in front of connoisseurs is something that as chefs we love doing.” Chef Abdulla underlines, “A fully satisfied customer is what every chef wishes to see and here at the theatre kitchens we get to experience it live.”
The drama in the kitchen is on in full swing as the chefs – and their teams – prepare the cooking stations to create their masterpieces. Rising to the occasion, the chefs have come up with two exclusive dishes that have at their core juniper berries and fennel. Chef Rana, revelling in the mood, believes that cooking is ‘food for the soul’. He states, “I love adapting to new techniques and going with the flow. Hence I describe myself as spontaneous and innovative person.”
Often associated with the liquor made from them, juniper berries can also be found in main courses and side dishes. They have a distinctive flavour and the aroma of pine trees that makes them a unique addition to a variety of foods. Recipes normally call for whole or crushed fennel seeds and these can be used with anything from soups to salads and desserts.
On the two core ingredients, Chef Rana who is preparing the juniper cured Atlantic salmon, cauliflower carpaccio, micro greens salad and pommery hollandaise, opines, “Challenges are exciting for a chef. And here it was important to blend the texture and flavour of the ingredients to create a perfect recipe. Preparing the salmon from its curing till its final plating takes about 45 minutes.”
The dessert – bitter chocolate, juniper berries and apple cake, fennel crème – takes much longer. Chef Abdulla points out, “If the sponge cake is ready it would take about four hours. But if you wish to make the sponge cake, then the entire preparation time will be 24 hours.”
Both the chefs have worked at their respective dishes keeping the time constraints in mind and we are almost at the final stages of their creations. As we watch Chef Abdulla go through his carefully choreographed motions, he says, “I am more of a conventional, yet innovative cook. Though I may think of an out-of-the-box dish, I am very particular about my recipes and follow every step and measurement of the recipe carefully.”
On using juniper, he points out, “One has to be very particular about sticking to the absolutely right measurements especially while creating a dish with juniper as even a slight difference in proportions can mess up the dish completely. The challenge was in using the ingredient itself for a mistake can lead to drastic results.”
The plating, when it is finally done, is picture perfect. Both chefs emphasise that this is an art in itself, saying, “The first experience of food is usually how it looks, then how it smells and lastly, how it tastes. Sometimes smell comes before sight and if something smells good, but looks bad, you may have a fighting chance to get to the taste stage.”
JUNIPER CURED ATLANTIC SALMON, CAULIFLOWER CARPACCIO, MICRO GREENS SALAD AND POMMERY HOLLANDAISE
For the salmon: Atlantic salmon fillet, 850 gms; One inch thick cauliflower slices, 4 nos; Olive oil, 200 ml; Crushed black pepper, 30 gms; Pommery mustard, 45 gms; Butter, 20 gms; Maldon salt to taste.
For the cure: Maldon salt, 450 gms; Powdered sugar, 550 gms; Juniper berries (ground), 250 gms; Fennel seeds (ground), 100 gms.
For the pommery hollandaise: Pommery mustard, 30 ml; Egg yolk, 4 nos; Lemon juice, 20 ml; Unsalted butter, 120 gms; Crushed pepper, a pinch; Malden salt to taste.
For the micro greens salad: Chives, 10 gms; Dill, 10 gms; Basil, 10 gms; Mint, 10 gms; Fennel flowers, few sprigs; Mustard cress, 5 gms; Wheat cress, 5 gms; Olive oil, 20 ml; Seasoning to taste.
For the hollandaise sauce: Vigorously mix the egg yolks and lemon till a thick emulsion is formed, double boil this mixture whilst whisking continuously. Slowly pour the butter into it until the sauce thickens to nearly double its volume, stop heating and add the seasoning along with the mustard. Cover and store in a warm place, use when required.
Dry mix all the ingredients and cure each fillet of salmon with the dry rub. Season the cauliflower with salt, black pepper and olive oil while searing it on a griller from either side followed by cooking it in the oven for 6-8 minutes at 180 degrees celsius. Twenty minutes later, remove the cure, pat dry and sear with olive oil. Arrange the cauliflower slices on a warm plate, place the salmon fillet and hollandaise sauce over the top. Finally garnish with micro herbs and fennel flowers. Serve hot.
BITTER CHOCOLATE, JUNIPER BERRIES AND APPLE CAKE, FENNEL CRÈME
For the chocolate sponge: Breakfast sugar, 60 gms; Eggs, 2 nos.; Flour, 45 gms; Water, 40 ml; Cocoa powder, 15 gms.
For the poached apple: Peeled green apple, 250 gms; Water, 250 ml; Breakfast sugar, 50 gms; White wine, 50 ml; Lemon (juice), 1 no.
For the juniper berry puree: Juniper berries, 50 gms; Water, 150 ml.
For the chocolate mousse: Breakfast sugar, 40 gms; Low Fat Cream, 100 ml; Egg yolk, 25 gms; Dark chocolate (melted), 150 gms; Whipped cream, 300 gms; Juniper berry puree, 40 gms; Gelatine powder, 8 gms; Water, 15 ml.
For the chocolate ganache: Low fat cream, 70 ml; Milk, 30 ml; Dark chocolate callebaut, 100 gms.
For the fennel cream: Double cream, 100 ml; Sugar, 10 gms; Fennel powder, 10 gms; Green apple chips, 1 no; Castor sugar, 50 gms.
For the chocolate sponge: Whip the sugar and eggs till the mixture is fluffy, slowly add water while whisking to obtain a thick batter. Using cut fold methods, fold in the refined flour and cocoa powder. Grease the cake mould with butter, dust it with flour, then pour in the batter and bake it at 180 degrees Celsius for 25 minutes. Cool the cake.
For the poached apple: Peel the apple and cut it into four wedges, remove the seeds and cook it in the liquid mixture till it becomes soft. Cool and store.
For the juniper berries: Boil the berries and water in a pan, cool it down, grind it and strain using a muslin cloth. Keep the strained liquid and discard the muslin waste.
For the chocolate mousse: Cook the sugar till it caramelises, mix with cream and whip in the egg yolk. Mix the gelatine in cold water until it dissolves, add the juniper berries, finally cool and fold it in whipped cream.
For the chocolate ganache: Boil the milk and cream, add chocolate pieces to make a smooth mixture.
For the fennel cream: Whip the cream with sugar and add fennel powder.
For the apple chips: Slice the apple, cover it with sugar and place it on the silicon sheet. Put it in the oven at 120 degrees Celsius till it is crisp.
For the assembling: Cut the sponge with a nine inch cake cutter and arrange the poached apples over it. Spread the juniper mousse evenly and set it in the fridge for three hours. Take the cake out of the mould and while the ganache is still warm spread it evenly on all sides. Put it back into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. Cut it into 10 pieces and place on a dessert plate, garnish with fresh fennel flowers, fennel crème and the green apple crisp before serving.