When a dessert dressed with boring chocolate shafts shows up on your dinner table, what do you do? You pull out the barks, fling them to the side of your plate and get down to business. Minutes later when the last crumbs of the pastry have been polished off, you return to that piece of chocolate and masticate it only because you miss the dessert. The same thing happens when a salad or soup is pointlessly dressed with a sprig of herb or a sliver of cheese. It fails to leave a mark.
To change that and give diners something to look forward to, chefs are putting a lot of emphasis on their garnishes. According to Chef Guan Uyew Tham from Bandra-based Yauatcha that has its outposts in London and Soho, garnishing is one of the key factors for a dish across any cuisine. He says, “The extent to which today’s diner is culinary qualified, simply serving a good dish isn’t enough. It’s important to get other elements such as the plating and garnishing perfect as well.” Keeping this in mind Tham’s restaurant dresses up pretty platters with glacéd orange segments, gold leaf imprinted shafts, fried enoki mushrooms, crispy tuile and other elements that take hours to make but spark up a dish instantly.
Chef Nitin Kulkarni from Indigo emphasises on his garnishes too. He feels that inventive garnishes push the dish to another level. At his Colaba-based fine dine, they churn up a number of off-beat elements that are used to perch dishes and give them a strong character. Says Kulkarni, “When chosen rightly, a garnish will help enhance the dish’s appeal, a visual play is created because of the colour combinations and sometimes it even adds to the overall flavour profile.” Kulkarni’s experiments include fried mayonnaise, flavoured oils, edible flowers, molecular foam, spheres and engineered caviar.
Like Indigo, restaurants such as Nariman Point-based Vetro and Sassy Spoon, Colaba’s Table and Bandra-based Nido too push the envelope in terms of their dressings. We found things such as fried kohlrabi chips, faux soil, crispy meringue, pickled vegetables, meat jus and citrus whip scattered across their platters.
Chef Pipat Niyomsin from Lower Parel-based Thai restaurant O:h Cha adds that amplifying looks is not the garnish’s sole purpose. It should add to the taste or the feel of the dish as well. “While it’s common to use herbs, we flash-fry our holy basil leaves to garnish the sweet and sour pomfret. This creates a textual contrast when you eat it all in one bite. Similarly, the thin curry has dollops of slow-cooked coconut milk cream that floats on top to give depth to the otherwise plain liquid,” says Niyomsin.
Chef Himanshu Saini from Bandra’s Masala Library agrees with Niyomsin. That’s why in his kitchen we found elaborate garnishes such as dehydrated tomato skin to perch on steamed fish, dosai tuile to dress rasam, egg fritter for egg bhaja and carrot foam that garnishes gajar ka halwa.
While still being practiced at only a select few restaurants in the country, gourmet garnishing is definitely an emerging trend. But until the rest catch on, we are only too happy to be savouring our soup, salad, entrée and dessert from start to finish for you never know where creativity hides.
Chef Dinesh Lal from The Leela Kovalam shares with us some garnishes that can be stocked to quickly jazz up dishes
Candied fruit peel: Wash and cut citrus peel lengthwise and dry it for a day or two. Dip it in melted chocolate and allow it to set in the fridge for a few hours. You can crush it or use it as it is. Use this to garnish cakes, panacotta, puddings and even salads.
Preserved lemon slices: Rub lemons with sea salt and put them in a brine solution (sugar, water and salt). Leave the jar in a cool, dark place for a week. Slice the preserved lemons into thin pieces and use it as a garnish for grilled lamb.
Fruit jelly dices: Make jelly cubes and chop them into fine dices. Use them to float on cold soups for an interesting texture variation. Alternatively, you can use it with salads like for instance, smoked salmon with cranberry jelly.
Flavoured mayo dip: From tamarind, chipotle, harrisa to saffron, the world is your oyster when it comes to flavouring your mayo. The dip comes handy to dress up burgers, sandwiches and other bread-based dishes.
Crumbles: In a bowl, mix butter, sugar and your choice of flavouring (chocolate powder, pistachio powder, saffron). Dry the mixture by placing it on a hot oven for an hour or so. Once dry, crush it coarsely and use it to accentuate the taste and texture of steaks, salads, parfaits.