Indian chefs use French techniques to serve ‘desi’ flavours – Livemint

By on April 3, 2021

Take the chicken ghee roast—Nayak says his diners may be put off by the floating ghee. So he serves it under a dosa which is perceived as a crepe, and the dish is loved. “Even if you deconstruct a dish, the knowledge of techniques to bring the right flavours into it is necessary, and a standardised recipe helps anyone in the kitchen achieve this,” he says. Applying the same principle, Nayak has used the familiar to introduce something new.


For non-Indian diners, the sight of something familiar can be comforting, says chef Kumar Mahadevan, regarded as the ambassador of Indian food in Australia. He helms Abhi’s and Aki’s in New South Wales, showcasing his modern interpretation of Indian food. Take his braised lamb shoulder with a marinade of turmeric, Kashmiri red chillies, cockscomb flower and cassia bark, spiced thinai (foxtail millet), with seasonal vegetables and lotus chips—the dish blends Indian flavours and spices with local produce.

Mahadevan explains that the approach to meat varies. Where the soft texture of a shami kebab is lauded in north India, an Australian likes the meatiness and bite of a lamb cutlet. Understanding such differences helps create newer dishes using varied produce, flavours and techniques. “I might indulge in a French technique but I want to be honest with the flavour of the dish. The question is—are you making French food with Indian flavours or Indian food with French techniques? There are audiences for both.”

Also Read: Freedom from the curry tag

Taneja too pairs quality British ingredients with authentic Indian spices and techniques. Take his Murgh Makhani Roast, which is described as Tandoori Poussin, and has a classic butter chicken sauce and a “lassi” dressing. He has simply broken down the ingredients. With the juices from the yogurt-marinated meat, which he feels are lassi-like, he makes a dressing for the chicken. “This is not deconstructing, rather, it’s putting things in a way that would appeal to a guest. I still serve it with sirkewali pyaaz (vinegared onions). I cook in an oven instead of a tandoor, where I play with temperature and coal smoke—all the elements of the classic recipe, right down to the spices, but approached differently,” he explains.

Like all the chefs I spoke with, Thevar too believes no one knows and uses spices as Indians do. “In people’s minds, Indian food is marked as spicy, whereas it is spiced!” he says.

At Thevar, he has created around 10 spice blends for his Indian food, some using French techniques: “Our cloves, we sous vide to extract its aroma. Mustard, we roast at a controlled 48 degrees to prevent it from going bitter. Cinnamon is roasted at around 100 degrees because of its inherent smokiness. And in our Rajasthani lal maas, we ensure that you taste the sweetness of the Kashmiri chilli.”

While we may slurp a rasam, Thevar has piped a rasam granita over American oysters; a thali may seem indulgent, but Bhatia brings the flavours of around 28 Indian dishes across his multi-course tasting menu. And while Nayak may love his Mangalorean fish curry rice in a bowl, for his diners, he makes a velvety smooth coconut curry over which he places a piece of masala fried fish—applying French approaches to structuring an infinitely intricate cuisine like ours.

“The integrity of the dish is a tight line that one must walk,” says Mahadevan.

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu is a features journalist based in Bengaluru.

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Indian chefs use French techniques to serve ‘desi’ flavours – Livemint
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