Masterchef molecular thali at Design Hotel, Phoenix Market City

Watermelon and feta salad for starters. Pretty passé you say?  Vibrant greens arranged on an artsy white spoon and two watermelon pink shimmery globs with a cube of feta in the middle of each. With a flourish, the Watermelon Ande with Desi Herb Salad Herb Salad was presented.

FoodFood Maha Challenge winner Saransh Goila and Style Chef Shailendra were in Chennai to show a group of us some molecular gastronomy. In addition, Chef Saransh was going to launch his new book “India on My Platter”. The setting was the uber chic Design Hotel at Phoenix Market City where a lift whisked us up to the 3rd floor. Walking into the improvised cooking studio, my eyes were drawn to the beautiful light fixtures on the ceiling. At first glance, they looked like a series of lanterns and then realisation dawned that they were representative of Indian musical instruments.

It’s said when the culinary arts and food collide, molecular gastronomy is the result. Molecular gastronomy is all about food textures.  Also known as experimental cuisine, we were going to be shown 3 techniques – caviar, air and foam. What was interesting was that these techniques were going to be used in the making of a 4 course meal - a South Indian thali, comprising of an appetiser, salad, main course and dessert. Very molecular, very Indian!

The making of Chocolate Gulkand Air

The chefs got down to chopping dark chocolate and cocoa butter. Quickly melted in a double boiler, the mix was cooled to room temperature and then mixed with soy lecithin and whipped. The technique of airing gave the chocolate a light texture.  It was poured into silicon pots and left to set.

Ingredients for Beetroot Sol Kadi, coconut foam over the top

While that was going on, a whole lot of beetroot cubes, ginger, garlic, coriander leaves, ice and coconut milk was blended into juice. The juice was then strained into shot glasses amidst oohs and aahs from the very appreciative audience who admired the almost fuschia colour. More coconut milk was transformed into foam with a whipper and layered over the pink juice and over it, coriander leaf air. Samples were sent around for us to taste. It was a beautiful amalgamation of flavours. The unusual marriage of ginger, beet and coconut was perfect, the sharpness and heat of the ginger mellowed by the sweetness of coconut milk. The inspiration for this was sol kadi, a kokum based digestive. This then was Beetroot Sol Kadi, the appetiser of the evening. 

Parmesan paneer patties

The chefs got to work roasting condiments and spices to make a Madras curry powder mix. They grated paneer and Parmesan cheese and mixed it with fresh thyme and orange zest and shaped them into patties. 

Madras curry powder mix, fried sea bass and tomato concasse before being foamed

For the non-vegetarians, a chiffonade of curry leaves, salt, pepper and chopped garlic were sprinkled over fresh fillets of sea bass and dispatched to the kitchen to be fried. While the foaming and airing and marinating were going on,  Chef Saransh kept throwing culinary questions at us and correct answers were rewarded with the promise of an autographed copy of his book.

Chiffonade of  romaine lettuce, desi salad ingredients, alginate in watermelon juice, feta cubes and watermelon caviar

Chef Shailander was busy making a chiffonade of romaine lettuce.  His wickedly sharp knife was a blur of motion on the chopping board and soon, the lettuce was reduced to a pile of thin strips. Mint, fenugreek, baby spinach and coriander leaves were tossed with French dressing and the desi herb salad was ready for the watermelon caviar.

Plate art - beetroot sol kadi, watermelon with desi herb salad, paneer patty with  Madras curry spiced tomato foam

A tomato concasse was made and into it, some of the Madras curry powder was mixed and the resultant aroma was absolutely tantalizing. It was put into a whipper and converted into foam. The plating was again simple – the cottage cheese patty sitting on the tomato foam. Both the fish and the cottage cheese patties had minimal seasoning but the tomato foam with its South Indian flavours lifted both fish and cheese to sublimity.

How many chefs does it take to work a whipper?

 No South Indian meal is complete without paan. Going back to the Chocolate Gulkand Air, a vibrant green betel leaf was placed on a white plate. A pot of chocolate was unmoulded and placed on the leaf. Biscuit crumb “soil” was sprinkled over and a tiny sprig of mint was planted in it. A line of soil decorated the plate, a chiffonade of betel leaf and strands of gulkand finished the look with dots of rooh afza. The chocolate had set beautifully and it was an airy dessert though I think a better brand of chocolate would not have gone amiss. 

Surprisingly, this session did not need many of the special equipment and ingredients molecular gastronomy demands and whatever was used should be easy to source in Chennai. 

Well, in the end, all of us got an autographed copy of "India on My Platter" and a surprise goody bag from Phoenix Market City.


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