• 30th July 2012 - By Indian Accent Restaurant

    30th July, The Economic Times

    A fillet of skate fish dish

    A fillet of skate fish dish

    Cuisine is obviously an evolving phenomenon; if it wasn’t, we would still have the rudimentary diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. That we reached molecular gastronomy – which takes almost ghoulish delight in duping the senses – and clawed our way back to ‘real’ food, shows the culinary world’s state of permanent flux.

    At one level, this undermines the very authority of the term ‘authentic’, for that word is applicable only within a particular time frame. For, as New World ingredients – like potatoes, tomatoes and chilies – conquered old palates, cuisines changed forever. So much so that what went down gullets before them, were lost in the mists of time.

    The Bolognese must have always eaten some minced meat sauce, for instance, but what did it comprise before tomatoes arrived? Which version would be ‘authentic’ then? What did we have before dum aloo? What was stuffed in masala dosas before that ubiquitous tuber? What accompanied the very British banger and covered Shepherd’s Pie?

    At another level, the state of flux also helps identify what are the perennials, the basics, the favourites, the non-negotiables. We Indians love flavour overloads: hot, sweet, tangy. We also love spice, the more aromatic the better. We adore rich gravies – and carbohydrates to mop it up with. That’s what unites Indian vegetarians and carnivores.

    Success lies, therefore, in keeping those things in mind while experimenting with other things. It also helps to remember the changing context of the Indian diner: we are more well travelled than ever before and we have tasted the best the world has to offer. So, we now have definite ideas of what we like and what we don’t.

    The meal fashioned by Manish Mehrotra for the inaugural dinner of the social networking-instigated gourmet club I wrote about last week, has strengthened my belief in this truism. Happily, his menu at Indian Accent also ventured into a little-explored culinary area: national fusion instead of international (con)fusion.

    Melding two cuisines together can be exciting, no doubt, like Nobu’s fusing Japanese and South American, or even Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Thai-French adventures. The trick is not to get carried away, or randomly merge flavours and styles, using expensive or exotic ingredients that flatter wallets more than palates.

    I can understand why western chefs (or Japanese ones) look abroad for the je ne sais quoi that will set their plates apart. But in India, chefs can find diversity of flavours, ingredients and styles without stepping abroad – culinarily speaking. Yet so few of them do so; instead they look to France, the Levant or South-east Asia.

    Chef Manish’s imaginative menu took into account matured Indian palates – which, however, were not willing to be browbeaten into accepting forced pairings. We were ready to appreciate anything within reason. Especially if, as my co-diner Keya Chatterjee exclaimed, “I can make these at home too!”
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