Marrying chocolate with wine and Thai food at The Park


Thai food paired with chocolate...the voice at the other end of the line was inviting me to a tasting session and I was thinking...Thai food, chocolate and wine? What's the connection...whatever next?

Highly sceptical but so terribly curious, I found myself agreeing to meet up with the chocolate taster and his colleagues at Lotus, The Park's Thai restaurant.

Chocolate Pairing Week was happening in Chennai; four restaurants in Chennai are showcasing it. At each restaurant, a different menu incorporating chocolate has been drawn up and the meal is accompanied by different wines. I was told this is the first time it's being done in India and in the world. A quick search on Google revealed chocolate paired with tea and wine but nope, no Thai as yet so this was going to be truly a path breaker.

At the restaurant, I met up with L. Nitin Chordia, India's only certified Chocolate Taster and who is responsible for the chocolate, Praveen Krishnamurthy, a fine wine consultant who has done the wine pairing, and Mohamed Ali, founder of Chennai Food Guide. The Park's F&B Director and Area Director welcomed us and explained the unique concept of pairing food, wine and chocolate.

Callebaut, a brand of fine chocolate from Belgium was the chocolate of choice.

A menu was placed on each table setting which revealed our meal would consist of five courses with two pairing wines.

A delightful amuse bouche was served and we were asked to guess the ingredients. And we did -there was chocolate, of course, a potato wafer, ginger, betel leaf, kaffir lime and lemongrass. A beautifully presented bite, each of the flavours was distinct yet combined so beautifully.

The chocolate cocktail served with it had a subtle melon flavour. The non alcoholic version was a pleasant sea green with a chocolate rim.

What's a Thai meal without a salad?

This one had green mango shreds and the dressing was tangy, sweet and creamy. Cashew nuts contributed to the crunch factor and the chocolate toned down the spice level. My reservations on using chocolate in Thai food were gradually fading away too.

While the vegetarian appetiser was a dish of interesting looking lotus stems, the non vegetarian plate had tempura prawns coated with chocolate sauce served on  a bed of sweet potato mash and a red curry sauce. In my mind I expected to taste a honey glazed coating as that was what it looked like, the first mouthful itself had me hooked - the limpid taste of chocolate, the creamy mash and the robust spice notes from the curry sauce. Such beautiful flavours and though the tempura batter had lost its characteristic crispness by the time it reached the table, the flavour of the prawn had locked in. It was paired with a Chilean Chardonnay, an excellent accompaniment.

The main courses were served, the vegetarians had silken tofu with a dark sauce.

The non vegetarian offering was barbequed chicken with palm hearts, burnt garlic fried rice and stir fried Asian greens. Hard to believe that chocolate was infused in the components? Trust me, it was there. The marriage of flavours was smooth on the palate and pleasing to the eye as well. The pairing wine was a Merlot from France, a beautiful berry red wine that is dry yet smooth and pleasant.

Conversation centered around what else, but wine and chocolate and the discreet service staff soon cleared away our plates. There was a bit of palpable excitement, a bit of magic and when the smoke cleared, an assiette of desserts was revealed. Dark and white chocolate were the core ingredients and let me not spoil the surprise by revealing the names. Suffice to say that all three were brilliant and the presentation dramatic.

Each of the dishes at the meal was beautifully crafted. To call the pairing 'fusion' is an injustice. The skill of the chef in maintaining the integrity of the Thai flavours shone through, at the same time, the use of chocolate was evident yet restrained. It was remarkable that with just 2 kinds of chocolate - dark and white, layers of flavour notes had been created The whole meal was light on the stomach and there was no death by chocolate!!

Lotus is one of four venues where Chocolate Pairing Week is taking place and the only one where chocolate stars with Thai food. It's on November 30th. Priced at 2600/, it includes 2 glasses of wine. Interestingly, the wine that is paired with the vegetarian meal is different from the one served with the meat dishes.

A truly unique event that should put Chennai 's tryst with chocolate on the world's plate. That's food for thought, right?

Cheers to that!!

Chocolate and cocktails at the Park Hyatt Chennai


The flower is tiny but the fruit that grows from it is one that is in great demand throughout the world. Theobroma cacao - the food of the gods - was so loved by Aztec king Montezuma that it seems he used to drink 50 goblets of it a day. In those days, chocolate, known as xocolatl (bitter water), was consumed in a rudimentary processed form.

The chocolate cooking workshop conducted at The Flying Elephant at Park Hyatt Chennai would have made king Montezuma crave for even more of it. Nibbling on the best of Belgian or French or Swiss chocolates is one thing but to use it to create a decadent dessert is taking chocolate to a whole new level.

Pastry chef Selvaraj had a few interesting recipes up his sleeve. On the counter beside him were bags of Callebaut buttons. A quick lesson on how to melt chocolate and then we started on the recipe for "Half cooked Chocolate Cake'. It's essentially chocolate sabayon baked in the tiniest and cutest of ceramic pots. Eight minutes later, we were all tucking into our samples. Lightly dusted with icing sugar, it had a deep chocolate flavour and a slight bitterness but was delicious with just the right amount of sweetness considering no sugar was used in the recipe.

 This was followed by the making of Grand Marnier truffles.

The ingredients for the truffle centres were quickly combined and spread out on parchment. After they had set, they were scooped up with a spoon, rolled in crispy flakes of feuilletine and then dipped in  milk chocolate. Oh those truffles...delectable bites of crunchiness with all those bumps that characterise hand rolled confections. Yum...yum...yummy!!

Next was the making of whiskey chocolate marquise. We learnt to make sablés - delicious little French shortbread biscuits. Also a chocolate marquise boozed up with some whisky that was piped like little sentinels over the top of each sablé.

The final dessert was Chocolate Excess Cake. A flourless recipe, it had eggs, sugar and lots of chocolate of course. It was then baked, chilled and topped with a layer of ganache.

Several options of plating it and pairings with fruit were then discussed.

Abhishek Shukla, beverage manager of The Dining Room had a couple of vodka based cocktails to show us. The first had apple juice as one of the ingredients and the combination of apple and chocolate was smooth, a perfect marriage between the two flavours.

The second was the unbeatable combination of chocolate and orange. He showed us how to flame the peel so as to get the essential oils to perfume the creamy drink. The non alcohol version of both cocktails were also demonstrated.

The session was thoroughly enjoyable and the talented chef gave us plenty of tips and tricks using chocolate. Park Hyatt Chennai will be conducting more such classes in the future too.

Cooking up a storm at the Hyatt Culinary Challenge


Ever since Masterchef  Australia happened, culinary challenges have grown in popularity as the one that took place last Friday at Hyatt Regency Chennai amply demonstrated. But this was a challenge with a difference - the cooks were CEOs and MDs from the corporate sector and children from the SMILE Foundation, Hyatt's partner NGO in India. That's not all - this challenge was being conducted simultaneously at 8 other Hyatt properties across India.

Titled "People cooking for People", this was the inaugural challenge that from now on will be an annual event. Jointly organised by Park Hyatt and Hyatt Regency Chennai, it was a fun event from the word go. Each corporate head was paired with a child from SMILE and with the assistance of a chef, the teams were to produce a dish of their choosing within 75 minutes. Of course, the dishes were decided beforehand but all the preparation and cooking had to be done within the given time frame.

The ballroom foyer at Hyatt Regency was set up with 9 cooking stations. Ingredients and equipment were neatly laid out.

At the sound of the gong, the teams, with aprons and toques on, rushed to their respective tables and for the next several minutes, there was a frenzy of cutting, chopping, sauteing and sizzling. Chefs from the Hyatt kitchens were the sous chefs for the evening. As for the head honchos of the different companies, they must have surely felt the heat from the kitchen - pressure of a different kind!!

A happy junior chef at work

The Korean team was making bibimbap, vegetables of all colours were being neatly sliced into even batons by the junior chef.

At the lone dessert station, chocolate was melted carefully, egg whites and cream were whipped to soft peaks before being combined. Oh, it was delicious dessert alright and well named too - Chef's deepest darkest chocolaty secret!!

Participants at another table were making a fragrant kori gassi...

At another one, there were fillets of fish marinated in secret spices, potatoes were diced and sauteed to make fusion fish and chips.

At the Russian table, chunks of lamb were cooked with spices, carrots and whole garlic bulbs.

At yet another table, ground pumpkin seeds were steamed and made into a curry. Very soon, tantalising aromas from various cooking pots and skillets filled the room and well wishers egged the participants on.

Tasty leftovers from the shepherd's pie!!
Some of the ingredients for Anglo Indian roast chicken

Other contesting teams were neck deep in the making of shepherd's pie, poached fish and even Anglo Indian style roast chicken.

Marinated fish all ready to be cooked

As the challenge wound down, portions were plated, deft finishing touches were given and the countdown began. The dishes were then ceremoniously carried to the panelist's table by the cooks.

And this is how the dishes looked at the end of the challenge:

Chef's deepest darkest chocolaty secret; kori gassi & neitha nuppu; poached fish with apple subzi

Anglo Indian roast dinner; pumpkin seeds curry; fusion fish & chips

Shepherd's pie; plov; bibimbap

Participants were called on stage to  describe what they had made and then the judges tasted the dish.

Soon enough, the decision was made and the first prize was awarded to plov- the meat and rice dish from Russia.

The second prize was for the unusual pumpkin seed curry.

Panelists - Christian Wurm, GM Park Hyatt, Geeta Doctor, Chef Gregory Odolak, Exec Chef Park Hyatt
Pic courtesy Park Hyatt Chennai

The winners - Mikhail Gorbatov & Vani Raju
Pic courtesy Park Hyatt Chennai

The winners were felicitated but for them, I'm sure there is no resting on their laurels. On November 22nd, they will be at Delhi to cook off against the winners from the other Hyatt hotels.

Hyatt's F&B directors and chefs 

Cheering the teams and encouraging them on was indeed very hard work for us the audience, hence we were served delectable canapes and a scrumptious dinner.

And the most delicious of desserts...

Mango parfait, fruit skewers for fondue, baked yoghurt, gulab jamuns, carrot halwa

Flying Elephant's chocolate cake, macarons, rose petal creme brulee, truffles

The SMILE Foundation is a pan India development organisation whose welfare projects benefit hundreds of thousands of children in villages around India. It provides them with education, healthcare and a livelihood. This organisation is supported by civil society which is also involved in all their welfare enterprises.

Top picture courtesy Park Hyatt Chennai.

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