Spears And Orbs
Walking into the institution that is The Oberoi at Dr Zakir Hussain Marg in New Delhi, one is greeted by a calm that is almost surreal for a hotel in the centre of the city. We are quickly whisked through for a tour of Travertino, the Italian fine dining venue that offers traditional Italian food in a setting of the fine marble from which it gets its name, and then Taipan, the award-winning restaurant that serves up Schezwan and Cantonese cuisine against a breathtaking view of the city. Just as quickly, we are escorted back to the purpose-built show kitchen at Threesixty° – the all-day dining venue that is constantly buzzing with Delhi’s most influential and well-heeled.
We first meet Chef Davide Rebeccato as he bustles in after a day spent house-hunting in the Delhi heat. A veritable globetrotter, he has worked outside Italy before, at hotels and restaurants in London, Spain, Antigua, Bermuda, but India was a culture shock from the minute he set foot here. Having trained at Rome’s esteemed Hassler Foundation, Chef Davide leapt at the chance to experience something different. “It’s an opportunity for me to show what kind of Italian food we do – authentic Italian food in a modern style and presentation,” he says.
As he is talking, his eyes wander to a spot behind my shoulder. I turn to find that Chef NG Siew Choy has just joined us. A diminutive tornado, Chef Choy couldn’t be more different from his calm colleague. The energy of the room shifts immediately as he greets us and sets himself to gently ribbing Chef Davide. Born and raised in Malaysia, Chef Choy began his career in Singapore in 1996. “I would work two shifts in the coffee house in the morning, serving guests breakfast, after which I worked in the dim sum kitchen,” he says, of his beginnings. Five years assisting making dim sum at a Singapore hotel led him to open his own restaurant, after which he decamped to Russia for a while before returning to Singapore. A friend told him about a vacancy at The Oberoi for a dim sum chef and now he satisfies the cravings of Delhi’s oligarchs and Bollywood starlets alike.
As the chefs get to work on creating the tender romance between fresh white asparagus and tart pomelo, the banter flows easily. Chef Davide isn’t too familiar with the fruit but is willing to take a chance while the pomelo is a specialty of Tambun in Malaysia. The largest fruit of the citrus genus, it is popular in South and South-East Asia, urban lore going so far as to suggest that children in Assam use it as a football. But Chef Choy tells us that he hasn’t really worked with it before as he has worked in a traditionally Chinese cuisine where it isn’t quite so popular. The white asparagus is even less familiar to him. “The asparagus har gau is new for me. I’ve only made prawn har gau before.Working with the Oberoi has helped upgrade my dim sum – I have been experimenting more with high quality ingredients,” he says. Grown in a light-deprived environment, white asparagus is simply green asparagus that hasn’t been through photosynthesis. Its mellow flavour makes it popular with European chefs who prefer to serve it simply.
After Chef Choy pops his exciting new har gau in the steamer, it is time to attack the onerous task of peeling the pomelo. Standing on a crate, the wicked pixie that he is, he just can’t resist pretending to spear Chef Davide with his knife. It’s a good thing his colleague is so affable – a more mercurial temperament could lead to a fix. Chef Choy admits to being somewhat temperamental himself. “You must make food from your heart. If you don’t feel good while cooking, the flavour goes missing. If you’re happy, the flavour is perfect.” When he isn’t serving up fantastic dim sum, to Delhi’s Industrialists he is out and about, indulging in spicy food and exploring the markets.
As Chef Choy has been monopolising the conversation, Chef Davide has been quietly preparing and plating up his salad of pomelo and white Peruvian asparagus. As he arranges the delicately cooked spears on the dish, we strike up a dialogue about his favourite foods. At Travertino, he serves the caramelised onion and chilli grissini that has been developed over 83 years of practice in his family’s bakery. Chef Davide prefers to eat fish while working, but things are very different at home. “My wife does most of the cooking at home, but she cooks Peruvian food – I like it because the ingredients are rich. I love trying different kinds of food. It’s good for my knowledge and I also try and mix some ingredients,” he explains. And what, pray tell, would Chef Davide prepare after a long day like today? “Spaghetti with tomato sauce and basil. It’s a simple dish but very nice.” Just shows, you can take the man out of Italy….
SALAD OF POMELO AND WHITE PERUVIAN ASPARAGUS
Ingredients: White asparagus (peeled and blanched), 3 stems; Pomelo (peeled in segments), 60 gms; Red and yellow bell peppers (fine juliennes),10 gms; Micro sprouts, 2-3 gms; Rocket lettuce (washed), 20 gms; Boiled beetroot, 1 no; Balsamic vinaigrette, 3 ml; Risotto rice , 30 gms; Saffron, 4-5 strands; Grated parmesan cheese, 5 gms; Unsalted butter, 2 gms.
Method: Prepare the rice crisp first by cooking the risotto rice till it reaches a porridge-like consistency, then add the saffron, butter and parmesan. Puree the mixture without adding any liquid or water. Spread the paste on a flat steel tray and leave to dry for at least three hours in a warm, dry place. When semi-dry, mark incisions on the sheet to create the desired shape, and cut out when dry. Puree the boiled beetroot and season with salt. Mix the rocket leaves, bell peppers and pomello. Split each asparagus stem, season and grill. Place the asparagus on a bed of betroot puree, top with the pomelo and rice crisps. Serve immediately.
PRAWN AND WHITE ASPARAGUS HAR GAU WITH POMELO SALAD
Prawn and white asparagus har gau
Ingredients for 20 pieces:
Pork with fat (diced) 600 gms; Prawns (peeled and deveined), 200 gms; Cornflour, 85 gms and a pinch; White asparagus (diced), 100 gms; Salt; Sugar; White pepper powder; Sesame oil; Wheat starch flour (Dung meen fun), 65 gms; Hot water, 150 ml.
Method: Prepare prawns by peeling and deveining them and then place them in a colander and rub with a good amount of salt and a pinch of cornflour. Rinse with water while rubbing gently to remove skins. When the cornflour and salt are fully rinsed out, transfer the prawns to a bowl and immerse them in running water for 10 minutes. The prawns will take on a ‘glassy’ appearance and be crunchy when cooked. Drain well and dice the prawns.
Scald pork briefly in boiling water. Drain well and cool. Mix with the prawn meat and asparagus and season to taste. Stir in some cornflour to bind lightly and set aside.
Prepare har gau dough by combining wheat starch and 20 gms of the cornflour with hot water and mix well. Add remaining cornflour and mix well to create a smooth dough. Quickly roll dough into a cylinder and divide into 20 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into a thin, round skin. Use immediately.
Place a heaped teaspoonful of filling onto the centre of a dumpling skin and fold in half. Pinch both ends of the dumpling to seal, leaving the top exposed. Place a green pea on top. Repeat to make more dumplings. Arrange on an oiled steaming plate and steam immediately over rapidly boiling water for 3 1/2 to 4 minutes, maintaining high heat throughout steaming. Serve immediately.
Ingredients: Pomelo (deskinned segments), 100 gms; Ground Sichuan pepper, 1 tsp; Coriander stems, 50 gms; Birds eye chilli, 20 gms; Light soya, ½ tsp; Sugar, ½ tsp.
Method: Mix all ingredients except the pomelo, then pour over pomelo and mix well. Serve with the har gau.
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