Chefs on Tour and a cooking class


Imagine Carlos Santana teaching you to play the guitar. Or having Lewis Hamilton as your driving instructor! Awesome? That's what we felt when Chef Saulo taught us to make pasta from scratch and Chef Lars a typical German meal. Can you get a better teacher than a true blue Italian chef? Is anything better than a masterclass by a German chef?

Executive Chefs Greg, Saulo and Lars

Masters of Food and Wine ( is a popular series of programmes organised by Park Hyatt hotels in India. Chefs on Tour is one of the events where two executive chefs travel to a third Hyatt location on a rotational basis to host unique culinary experiences. In the present series, Executive Chef Saulo Bacchilega of Park Hyatt Goa and Executive Chef Lars Windfuhr, Park Hyatt Hyderabad along with Executive Chef Grzegorz Odolak of Park Hyatt Chennai presented interactive culinary experiences which included a Wine Dinner and a family-style Sunday Brunch. There was also a cooking class where we were going to learn to make pasta and a German meal of braised meat and potato dumplings. As it was a larger group this time around, the class was held at the Flying Elephant, PHC's multi-level restaurant.

Mashing potatoes in a food mill

The making of gnocchi

Gnocchi tossed through sage butter

We were a serious group of students watching Chef Saulo put boiled potatoes through a food mill to make gnocchi. But we couldn't stay serious for long as the chef started cracking jokes and that cracked us all up. He told us his mother knew exactly 5 recipes and he had learnt them all. The potatoes were mixed with flour and eggs yolks and kneaded into a smooth dough. He showed us how to form them into gnocchi and then let us loose amongst the carefully divided bits of dough. When they were all shaped somewhat like the ones he made, he showed us how to cook them and later, made sage butter and tossed the pretty little dumplings through it. Before serving, Parmesan cheese was grated over the top. Delizioso! All that was needed was an aria by Puccini.

And that wasn't all. To make pasta fresca, a mound of flour, semolina and eggs were kneaded by hand into pasta dough. It was then wrapped in cling film and left to rest for a while.

The making of beef rolls

At the next station, Chef Lars had organised the ingredients for rindsroularden or beef roll, sweet and sour red cabbage and potato dumplings. A little mustard was spread on the thin slices of beef, bacon and pickle placed atop and then it was rolled and a toothpick pushed through to keep it all in place. The meat was seared in a hot pan and then mirepoix added, along with stock. When it came to a boil, a lid was placed on it and it was dispatched into the oven for a long, slow cook. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait too long as the chef had made a potful ahead.


Next, he showed us how to make rotkhol - braised red cabbage. There were just a few ingredients - cabbage, apple and onions along with seasonings and that pot too went into the oven. Out came one he had done earlier - the cabbage had cooked down and smelt divine!


Germans love potatoes and we were in for a treat when Chef Lars showed us how to make kartofelkloesse - potato dumplings. Flour, mashed potato, semolina and eggs were mixed into a dough, shaped into dumplings with a crouton in the centre and then cooked in boiling water.

Cold cucumber soup with smoked salmon

But what's a meal without soup? Chef Lars' kalte gurkensuppe mit räucherlachsstreifen - chilled cucumber soup with smoked salmon - is one that is extremely popular in Germany during the summer months when temperatures soar to around 30°C. Which should make it perfect for Chennai's 40°C+ summer temperatures! Lots of cucumber, yoghurt and buttermilk were blended into a pale greenish mixture and then topped with smoked salmon and cress. It tasted just as it looked - light and delicious! 

Pasta fresca!

Back at Chef Saulo's station, we watched him roll out pasta. He gave the eager beavers among us a rolling pin and a piece of dough to roll while he used a pasta machine to do the same job. We learnt that it was the Italians introduced ravioli and stuffed pastas to the world but noodles were probably invented by the Chinese and introduced to Italy by Marco Polo. After rolling them out, the sheets of dough were cut and passed through a pasta cutter to make fettuccine and left to dry a few minutes before cooking. Then all it needed was a toss through some fresh tomato sauce.

Rotkhol; beef roll; potato dumpling; pasta

It was a three hour masterclass that sped by with patient chefs who answered all our questions. They gave us plenty of tips on using fresh ingredients, healthy cooking methods and for the need to cut down on salt. All the dishes that were made in class were served in the lunch that followed and the table was a riot of colour and flavour. Both the gnocchi and pasta were delightful but what stole the show was the combination of beef roll, braised red cabbage and potato dumpling.

Cake; basil and orange frozen yoghurt; tiramisu

Three desserts to end the meal - a slice of cake, a scoop of ultra refreshing basil and orange frozen yoghurt and a mean tiramisu. It was an excellent pairing of strong espresso and mascarpone-y zabalione, a perfect pick-me-up.

Italian Fair at Focaccia, HRC


Wholewheat penne with tuna puttanesca, gorgeous chunks of lobster and fresh tomato sauce tossed through perfectly cooked linguine - a full-bodied Italian meal with nary a pizza nor cheesy sauce in sight!

Chef Alessandro Persico, chef-de-cuisine at Celini Restaurant, Grand Hyatt Mumbai is at Hyatt Regency Chennai to present his signature specialties at the Italian Fair hosted by Focaccia. To recreate the atmosphere of a busy Italian marketplace, there are baskets of fresh colourful produce, portobello mushrooms as big as saucers, a selection of wines, cheese, olives, cold cuts and chocolates that line the counters at Focaccia, HRC's award winning Italian restaurant. In the open kitchen, chefs bustle about stirring pots of risotto, sauteing vegetables and plating up delightful main courses. Mamma mia...!

Sparkling white wine

Invited to the Chef's table for a four course authentic Italian meal, I reach late and by the time I enter the restaurant, the group has already feasted on the appetisers of beetroot ravioli, duck and salmon rotolini. Sommelier Sachin Shetty, who has worked at Michelin-starred La Trompette in London knows exactly what to do and pours out a glass of cool, crisp Prosecco by Luna Argenta.

Chicken and sweet potato soup

Crema di pollo patate dolci is cream of chicken and sweet potato soup. One spoonful and I'm on my way to chicken soup heaven. It has chunks of chicken, loads of flavour and the sweet potato adds body and a mild sweetness to the soup. Like Oliver Twist, I wanted to ask for some more...

Sommelier Sachin selects Piccini Bianco Toscana, a blend of Trebbiano, Vermentino and Chardonnay grapes to accompany the pasta course. It's a slightly dry white with citrusy notes, a perfect pairing with the dishes that follow.

The risottos - asparagus and smoked scamorza; smoked salmon and saffron

Do Italians make good risotto? Risotto con asparagi e scamorza affumicata - asparagus and smoked scamorza risotto should put all doubts to rest. Creamy arborio rice that bursts with flavour and is served on a bed of lightly sauteed asparagus. The smoked scamorza cheese that it is topped with gives it a slightly smoky caramel note. The second one has salmon, saffron and lemon - risotto con salmone affumicato, zafferano e limone. Dusted with crunchy roe, it is very, very difficult to decide which of the two is better.

Aubergine rotolini

Chef Alessandro plates up the vegetarian version of a rotolini - thin, rolled up slices of aubergine stuffed with a medley of vegetables and topped with tomato and pepper sauce. Most of us dislike aubergine but gobble it up when it comes like this! Ahh...the paradox of life!

Wholewheat pasta with tuna
Penne integrali con tonno in salsa puttanesca is whole wheat pasta in a simple sauce of garlic and olives - puttanesca or peasant style. Bits of tuna form a crunchy crumble that is sprinkled over the top. It's delicious, the flavour of the fish is mild but it lends a certain robustness to the pasta. Even if you don't like tuna, you'll love this one.

Ruby red Chianti is the pairing wine for main courses

Baked spinach and ricotta cannelloni

Cannelloni di spinaci al forno - baked cannelloni stuffed with spinach and ricotta served on a bed of tomato sauce was simplicity itself but the flavours are stunning.

Mashed potatoes with forest mushrooms and goat's cheese

Tortino di patate e funghi con fonduta di caprino translates into mashed potato pie with forest mushrooms and goat cheese. Topped with frizzled leeks, the mushrooms are juicy, the cheese paired brilliantly with it but for me, the mashed potato was acidic and that was the only discordant note of the evening.

Fillet of snapper with taggiasca sauce

Filetto di dentice in salsa taggiasca had fillets of snapper kissed by a thread of heat. But that was enough to cook the the fish to translucent. Red salsa, taggiasca olives, asparagus spears, cherry tomatoes and sauteed onions added their individual flavours to round off the whole into a symphony of texture, taste and colour.

Busy chefs...but they weren't spoiling the broth!

Linguini con aragosta e rucola - a delicious dish of pasta, where the sweetness of the lobster was tempered by peppery rucola. This was truly a standout dish.

Medley of root vegetables with mashed potatoes

Another for the vegetarians was this dish of mashed potato with a medley of root vegetables. The flavour of thyme was subtle and added to the deliciousness of the vegetables.

Scallops of chicken with lemon caper sauce

Perfect little discs of chicken - scaloppine di pollo piccata, coated in egg, cooked and served with a lemon caper sauce was another winner of a dish. Salty little caperberries provided perfect contrast to the tender meat and the frizzled leeks not only were an interesting garnish but also added a delicateness to the meat. 

Champagne sabayon; chocolate brawny

We had a choice of two desserts - zabbaione con composta di fragole e meringa soffice - strawberry compote with champagne sabayon and topped with meringue and coppa caprese - chocolate brawny with vanilla ice-cream and creamy chocolate ganache. I have absolutely no idea what a brawny is but the textures of silky smooth chocolate combined with vanilla ice-cream was simply sublime.

At the end of the meal, Chef Alessandro joined us for a glass of wine. We learnt he is from the port city of Genoa, studied at culinary school in Italy and trained at Grand Hotel, Monaco and has worked in hotels in the US. No wonder every dish he presented had a masterly touch to it! 

Italian Fair at Focaccia with Chef Alessandro Persico is on till March 20th, 2016, both for lunch and dinner. Lunch is from 12.30 pm -3 pm, dinner from 7 pm - 11.30 pm. A meal for two without alcohol would be around 3500++.

For more information or reservations, do call +91 44 61001234.

Kailash Kitchen - momos and all things Tibetan


If you live in Chennai, chances are that you've heard of Kailash Kitchen which serves Tibetan food. You would also have heard that it's really tough to get a seat in the restaurant and there are queues even for the takeaways.
True, all true!

The patient queue

Fortunately, I knew someone who knew someone who could get us into the restaurant, the only condition was that we had to be there pretty early. So we were. But first, finding it wasn't easy. The instruction was that it was located beside a bakery and opposite a block of apartments. We found both, but not the restaurant. Finally my friend had to come out and there it was - the signboard reading 'Kailash Kitchen' under a staircase - a blink-and-you'll-miss-it entrance! There are corridors on two sides where lines of people wait either to be seated or for their takeaway orders. On the dot of 12.30 pm, the door to the teeny tiny restaurant is opened and in the space of half a minute, all 4 tables were occupied while the queue outside grew longer.

The restaurant is dimly lit, prayer flags hang over the doorway. On the wall is a picture of the Dalai Lama. Other than the four tables and sixteen chairs, there are a few plastic stools that can seat a handful more. Up in front, there is a table on which cutlery and napkins are arranged. People just go and help themselves to whatever they want.

Food passing through the Judas window

Most of the patrons are students from nearby colleges. They are obviously regulars, an orderly lot. There's no pushing or shoving and they don't even need to look at the menu. They write down their orders on the order form and pass it over to the single waiter who takes it into the kitchen. Two of them sat at our table and while chatting with them, we learnt that they eat at Kailash Kitchen five times a week! And that the food tastes consistently the same.

Bowls and plates of food start coming out - not through the door but through the Judas window set on the wall between the kitchen and dining area. Whoever is passing out the food is really quick, as is the waiter who deftly grabs it and the window shuts. It all happens so fast that we just can't click a clear picture.

Steamed beef momos

The menu is entirely Tibetan with mothuks, momos, thupka... noodles and noodle based mains. Momos are the Tibetan version of dumplings, the skin is different from the Chinese dumpling pastry. Tibetan momos are made of plain flour and have a more robust flavour. We order steamed and fried beef momos which are served with chilli sauce and are really tasty. There's lots of filling and the wrapper is quite thin.

Fried momos

I love the fried ones as the skins have a beautiful crisp texture. The chilli sauce is spicy and perfect with it. They have chicken and vegetable variations apart from beef.

Tso-tse mien

Tso-tse mien is soft white noodles in a thin broth, topped with chopped capsicum and minced beef. The taste of capsicum is quite strong, the broth, flavoured with soya sauce, is hearty. They have a chicken version too.

Dhangthuk with chicken

My friend recommends the chicken dhangthuk. It's described as spicy cold noodle salad tossed in sesame oil. There's spring onion, cabbage, carrot, chicken and noodles and the combination is absolutely divine. The sesame oil gives the dish a lovely toasted fragrance and I love the simplicity of the flavours though it is a tad oily. A glass of cold lime juice is perfect to wash it all down with.

There's also a plate of shapta - slices of stir fried beef with capsicum. The meat is a little tough but the flavour is deliciously spicy.

The bill for the three of us came to just shy of 600/ and that included a takeaway of a plate each of momos and chow mien. No wonder they run out of food by about 5 in the afternoon. And when that happens, the kitchen closes for the day.

Kailash Kitchen serves food that is simple and homely. Obviously it's a winning formula. Their weekly off is on Monday.

Kailash Kitchen
2/247, Perinbavilas Complex
Opp Chitra Apartments
Choolaimedu High Road
Chennai 600094.
98402 61399

Basha Halwawala - a halwawala at Triplicane


Triplicane is one of the oldest residential areas of Chennai city. As a matter of fact, it's older than the city of Madras (Chennai) itself. It bustles with all kinds of businesses, from second hand pavement bookshops to roadside vegetable stores to tiny restaurants to glitzy stores. It's a congested area but if you love biryani and kebabs, that's where you need to go.

Well, we were there for other reasons. A friend had been raving about a sweet store in the area where the dum ka roat is supposed to be very popular. Dum ka roat? I vaguely remember having tried it at a friend's place and remember it being made with eggs, sugar and almonds, a very rich sweet.

So that's what found the three of us driving down the narrow, busy streets of Triplicane. GPS sort of guided us to the general area and from there, we walked over a road that was awaiting a coat of bitumen.

Bottle gourd halwa

We found the shop, and ordered a tasting portion of bottle-gourd hawla. Studded with melon seeds, it was delicious, the richness of khoya adding a milky aftertaste. Heck... a vegetable that actually tastes good! Munching on it, we looked around and saw the store we were supposed to head to across the road. Oh well.. sweet mistakes happen I guess.

Basha Halwawala is the name. The owner was sitting in the store and we asked for a tasting portion of the famous dum ka roat. I chatted with him in my broken Tamil and from the corner of my eye, saw my friends suppressing giggles. He first thought I was asking him for the recipe but when he realised we were only interested in the contents of his store and were going to write about it and buy some of the sweets, he was only too happy to let us in to take a few photographs. It's an 80 year old business and he's the 4th generation owner.

So the sweets sit in large trays and he has a couple of assistants to serve customers. All the while we are there, he has a steady stream of customers coming in to buy his sweets. Popular stall!

These are gulab jamuns that sit in a bath of sugar syrup. They are juicy and delicious, quite different from the usual round ones. They cost 20/ each.

Another kind is the dry jamun. These are much more delicious I think; crystallised sugar syrup forms a coat over them, adding to the visual appeal. The crust is thin and the syrup is concentrated in the centre making it even more juicy. These too are priced at 20/ each.

Carrot and beetroot halwa

Then we spot the halwas. There's carrot and beetroot. Melon seeds seem to the the preferred topping, but they add a nice textural contrast to the smooth halwa. The halwa itself is very moist, you need to scoop it with a spoon to eat it.  Both kinds are priced at 320/kilo. Here too they have the bottle-gourd halwa at the same price. It's amazing that these vegetables are popular as sweetmeats as well.


Dum ka roat

So what goes into the dum ka roat? Eggs, flour, almond flour, sugar and khoya (thickened milk). And also semolina. And ghee! It's cooked over a flame and then baked in a covered dish with embers on top, giving it the characteristic overbaked topping. And when they serve it too, it's with a little of the dark brown top. This also is sold at 320/kg and it's moist, rich and glides down the throat effortlessly. And no, you can't taste the egg.

Dum ka roat to taste

There are lots of  laddus and other kinds of milk sweets in the store, also pickles and special ingredients for making kheer. Quite a find!

Basha Halwawala
Shop 9, Fakir Sahib Street, Triplicane
Chennai 600005.
044 28412277.

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