An Italian Masterclass with Chef Alessandro


Chef Alessandro Persico was stirring up some burrida di pesce piccante; the most wonderful aromas emanated from his cooking pot. His worktop was a riot of Mediterranean ingredients and colours.

Chef Alessandro Persico

The Flying Elephant at Park Hyatt Chennai has a new kitchen, The Italian. Chef Alessandro Persico, Chef de Cuisine from the Grand Hyatt Mumbai has come with his favourite recipes to give Chennai diners a taste of his treasured specialities. And we were the lucky ones who were going to learn how to make some of those fabulous dishes. Of course, all these dishes will now be on the restaurant's menu.

The Flying Elephant has undergone a makeover of sorts, The Italian now has its own entrance in the spiral restaurant. Wall sketches take you through the evolution of Italian food and I swear there's even a recipe for tiramisu if you look closely enough!

Mixed spicy seafood soup with red chilli, capers and olives

Burrida di pesce piccante, a spicy seafood soup had the marvellous flavour of roasted lobster shells, garlic and was chock full of prawns, squid, octopus and fish. The baguette slice it was served with was colourful, zesty and unabashedly garlicky.

Making salsa verde; filling beetroot ravioli
Goat's cheese and truffle oil beetroot ravioli

Beetroot ravioli stuffed with goat's cheese - ravioli di barbabietola e caprino al profumo di tartufo was next on the agenda. Who would imagine that the humble beetroot could be made into ravioli. And the colour - the deepest red that only Mother Nature can produce. Chef Alessandro had boiled the beetroot earlier, he showed us how to slice it and fill it with a goat cheese-truffle oil stuffing. He also made salsa verde, telling us that he does not measure any of the ingredients for the salsa, rather he checks the taste and colour and knows if it's ok (that's experience for you)! He showed us his quick version of plating it and in a couple of minutes, with salsa verde and capers acting as bookends, a rustic yet elegant presentation of beetroot ravioli was ready. It tasted stunning!

Making pan-fried scaloppini

Scaloppine di pollp alla francese - pan-fried chicken scaloppini with caper sauce and root vegetables was the main course. Chef Vamsi, who is now heading The Italian, sliced the chicken breasts thinly, dredged them with flour and pan fried them. In another pot, cream was added to mashed potatoes and in a third pan, root vegetables were being sauteed. Multitasking or what?

Pan-seared chicken scaloppini with lemon caper sauce and root vegetables

Small plates were sent around for us to taste. The chicken was deliciously tender and sat on a pillow-soft bed of mashed potatoes. A gorgeous sauce made with capers, herbs and clarified butter was drizzled over and a dried vine leaf provided the finishing master-touch.

How to make deep-fried cheesecake

Any good Italian meal ends with dolci. We learnt to make a tongue-twisting torta al formaggio dorata con salsa al sottobosco - deep-fried cheesecake with berry compote and ice cream. The cheesecake mix was piped on phyllo pastry sheets, rolled up and deep-fried. The dessert tasted spectacular, the berry compote cut through the sweetness and all our resolve and we indulged in that spectacular dessert. Calories? What calories??

Deep-fried cheesecake with berry compote and ice cream

If you would like to be informed of these workshops, do call and register at 044 4991 9965/044 49919961.

Waffling about at the Chocolate Waffle Festival


Belgium is a tiny European country well-known for chocolates, loveable animated characters like the Smufs and Tintin, beer and of course waffles.

There's a bit of Belgium in Chennai, at Waf O'Bel at Harrington Road. The building the café is located in looks deserted but there is a piece of paper stuck beside the lift with Waf O'Bel printed on it and an arrow pointing up. It's on the 2nd floor but once inside, we make the connection. The smell of waffles is a magnet, figurines of the Smurfs and characters in the Tintin series are lined up against the open kitchen counter. The menu is written on a chalk board and it's all cheery. And hot, thanks to a malfunctioning air conditioning system. Fortunately, things get set right soon.

If fine chocolate is on any menu, you can be sure that Nitin Chordia, Chief Tasting Officer of Cocoatrait and a certified chocolate taster can't be too far behind. Cocoatrait and Waf O'Bel have joined forces to launch The Chocolate Waffle Festival where Indian non-alkalised cocoa and chocolate chips are incorporated into Belgian waffle batter. The highlight of this collaboration are 5 waffles that are in low calories, low in sugar and fat and vegan, just the thing to indulge in during the summer.

We were invited for a chocolate waffle tasting session and this is how I rated them:

Cocoa nib & almond waffle

Cocoa nib and almond waffle was the one I liked the best. Almonds are my favourite kind of nut; this batter had plenty of chopped nuts and cocoa nibs and the chocolate component was not as dominant as in the other batters. Plenty of chocolate sauce and vegan chocolate cream on the top ensured that every forkful of waffle could be twirled around the mounds of cream and sauce.

Fudgy chocolate waffle

Fudgy chocolate waffle was equally good. Semi-sweet chocolate chips gave the waffles a bit more sweetness and resulted in the waffle becoming more crisp as it cooled while the chocolate cream and sauce contributed to even more fudginess.

Nib & chips!

Nib and chips had cocoa nibs and chocolate chips in the batter. The chocolate flavour was rather intense thanks to the nibs. Dusted with confectioner's sugar, some of the wells were filled with chocolate sauce which helped to tone down the intensity of the chocolate.

Nib & coffee waffle

Nib and coffee waffle was a perfect blend of chocolate and Arabica coffee. The waffle wells had chocolate sauce and the generous dusting of confectioner's sugar increased the overall sweetness a tad more, resulting in a lovely mocha flavour. I found the quantity of cacao and coffee nibs a bit too much for the amount of batter.

Peanut butter and choco waffle

Peanut butter and choco waffle is a banana-covered waffle with a mound of peanut cream. Chocolate, PB and banana is  a classic combination; although peanut butter had been incorporated into the waffle batter, it was the cream that dominated everything else. Some of my co-tasters loved this one.

Classic waffle

It's tough to taste 5 kinds of chocolate waffles so to relieve the monotony, we tasted Waf O'Bel's classic waffle -a light dusting of confectioner's sugar all over, crisp on the outside, soft inside and a tad under-cooked in the centre. Maybe the waffle iron was not hot enough.

All the waffles are vegan and only a minimum quantity of sugar has been used in the batter. Each plate of waffle that came to the tasting table had a pretty design done with cocoa powder. At the end of the session, we had a look at the waffle irons. No wonder Waf O'Bel is serious about its quality.

The Chocolate Waffle Festival will be on till the end of May 2017.

Cocoa & roasted nibs

Smokin' Burgers and Iced Tea at HRC



Are you wilting in the Chennai heat? The Lobby Lounge at Hyatt Regency Chennai must be one of the coolest places in the city right now because you can chill out at their smokin' burger - burger and iced tea promotion. If that sounds cheesy, it's because I've been looking at burger patties draped with cheese slices all afternoon!

Chef de cuisine Senthil

There are 5 veg  and 5 non-veg options for the burgers and 8 iced tea flavours. The veg fillings sounded quite unusual, at least to me - dabeli chat burger where pomegranate arils and sev would add a wonderful crunch to the potato patty. Even the Lucknowi style tomato and potato galouti with Pringles and Brie would have been my choice if I were still on Lent. Chef de cuisine Senthil's burger menu definitely has some stars on it.

My mango and basil iced tea came in a huge glass with plenty of ice and a lone slice of mango. The ice cubes diluted the drink considerably that it flattened out both mango and basil flavours. The addition of a little more mango puree and sugar syrup was all it needed though a sprig of  basil and a few basil seeds floating on the top would have been a treat for the eyes. The tea component was of good strength and brewed just right.

Nargisi kofta burger

I opted for a non-veg combo. While waiting for it, Chef Senthil brought out the Nargisi kofta burger. A whole boiled egg covered with lamb galouti and fried, served with jalapeño, cheese and mint mayo. Sounds awesome, right?

Crispy fried chicken burger with streaks of siracha mayo 

Crispy fish slider

I love a good fish burger and the fish burger slider did not disappoint. A fresh fillet of snapper crumb fried to crisp perfection, a slice of cheese and gherkin halves and anointed with a tangy tartar sauce. Simple flavours and done right.

Quarter Pounder with mango salsa, red cabbage slaw & fries

I wasn't asked how I wanted the meat in the quarter pounder done - it was well done but still moist and not cardboard-y though I would have liked the bacon to have been grilled a little less! A slice of cheese, tomato, gherkins, caramelised onions (yummy), sauteed mushrooms, lettuce and mayo filled the bun. The bun was soft and held on without disintegrating till the last bite. The burgers came with a red cabbage slaw, fries (or wedges) and a delish mango salsa along with jars of ketchup, mayo and mustard.

Vegetarian burgers start from 640/++, non veg from 690/++ and I did think that the burgers could have been a little bigger in size.

The promotion is on at the Lobby Lounge till the end of April.

Dawat-e-Lucknow - a Lucknowi masterclass @ Park Hyatt Chennai


Galawati kebabs are a speciality of Lucknow. If you want to know the secret of making this melt-in-the-mouth kebab, you need to go to Lucknow, or better still, learn from a Masterchef!

Masterchef Bhaskar

As part of the Dawat-e-Lucknow food festival, Park Hyatt Chennai brought in Masterchef India 1 runner-up, Chef Jayanandan Bhaskar from Hyatt Regency Gurgaon, to curate this fest. Chef Bhaskar was also going teach us, a group of cooking enthusiasts, a 3 course meal with shuruwaat (starter), madhyanter (main course) and mithas ka ehsas (dessert). It's Chef Bhaskar's love and passion for Lucknowi food that shines through as he took us through the making of these dishes. Now here's a man not afraid to use the 'g' word - ghee ...what did you think it was??

Cubed yam for jimikhand galawati kebab
Smoking the kebab mix; grilling kebabs   

The vegetarian version of a galawati kebab is made from yam, otherwise very finely ground lamb is used. Spice powders, onion, ginger and garlic pastes are added and the kebab mix is smoked before shaping and grilling on a hot griddle. Some of the minced lamb was mixed with a pineapple puree, and when cooked, it was melt-in-the-mouth tender, almost like pâté and barely able to hold its shape.

Jimikhand galawati kebab aur ulte tawe ka paratha

The kebabs were served with triangles of ulte tawe ka parathas. Kneaded with desi ghee and other ingredients, the breads cooked into a crisp, almost shortbread-like texture. Accompaniments were sliced onions and mint chutney.

Kneading dough for parathas; rolling out ulte tawe ka paratha; warqi paratha with its many layers

Slicing parathas
Kareli cut

The main course was gosht kareli korma, a cut of lamb shank which looks like a karela (bittergourd). Lots of onions, onion paste, nut pastes and spices were cooked in a large pot along with the boneless meat.
Gosht kareli korma

Long, slow cooking is the key to making a delicious korma and when it was done, the meat was tender and the gravy had thickened. Topped with crisp fried onions, warqi parathas were just the thing to eat it with.

Lamb galawati kebab, korma and paratha
Munkka phirni

It was munkka phirni for dessert, a rice pudding with large sultanas where the rice is ground into a paste and cooked with milk, ghee and sugar. It is served in mud pots, the serveware adds rustic charm to the contents. A single rose petal was all it needed for adornment, a beautiful end to a masterclass.

Mud pots for the phirni. Munkka line their bases 

Lucknowi food is not just about ingredients but also the proportions they are used in. Nut pastes, saffron and rosewater and ghee(!) are among the ingredients but none of them dominate the final taste. It's all about balance.

Dawat-e-Lucknow is on till 16th April 2017, from 7 pm - 11 pm at The Dining Room. The buffet is priced at 1600/- ++ per head.

If you would like to be informed of these workshops, do call and register at 044 4991 9965/044 49919961.

Munkka phirni

Bloggers' meet at Cafe G, Holiday Inn Chennai OMR


Holiday Inn Chennai OMR IT Expressway is a property most folks travelling on the OMR would have seen at the SRP Tools junction. One end of the property resembles the bow of a ship, as if in whimsical tribute to the Buckingham Canal, once known for inland transportation between Madras and Andhra Pradesh, that flows [sic] right behind.

Pitbull's rap, "We at the hotel, motel, Holiday Inn..." was playing through my headphones (I know...I know...old song but somehow appropriate in that situation) as I walked into the lobby. To greet me were 2 small, cute carved elephants, the lobby store just behind has more such handicrafts.

Cafe G

The hotel is 9 stories high, has 202 rooms and the entire 3rd floor is where the 3 restaurants are located - The Lounge which includes a deli and patisserie, open till 2 am, Score, the sports-themed bar and our destination, Cafe G, the all-day diner, open till 11 pm.

Dessert station

What catches the eye lies at the other end of the room. It's an unusual light fixture with panels depicting Bharatanatyam dance poses. Under it, on a circular table is the entire dessert section!

Live stations

Make your own salad station; the rasam pot

The view out of the large, long windows is that of non-stop traffic and lights of the OMR and unless you strain your ears, you can't hear any sound from outside.The layout is spacious and luxurious; the buffet section has its own alcove, a rather large one too. To one side is the live wrap station and an Asian counter. There's also a salad station where you can make your own salads.

Breads & dips; wild mushroom soup

We started our multi-cuisine meal with a selection of soft breads and 2 house dips. The tomato-red pepper dip is particularly nice, loved its mellow taste. The wild mushroom soup was fabulous, the sprinkling of porcini dust and truffle oil heightened the savoury notes of that mix of mushrooms.

Tuna niçoise; caprese; crudité Caesar salad

Cafe G's interpretations of 3 salads arrived next - tuna niçoise, caprese and Caesar crudité. Fresh ingredients are the mainstay of any salad and none of the ingredients disappointed. Neither the niçoise nor the Caesar had anchovies in the dressing (for some reason, I thought there would be) and I liked the presentation of the Caesar salad - strips of toasted bread, shavings of Parmesan, pulled chicken, romaine and dressing, all in a glass. Easy to eat too.

Sandwiched paneer; murgh tikka mirza hasnu; buffalo wings

The vegetarians had an interesting cottage cheese sandwich with prunes in between and baked in the tandoor. Murgh tikka mirza hasnu was a dish with amazingly tender cubes of chicken. Buffalo wings with Gorgonzola cheese are the result of Executive Chef Satej's stint in the US and the sticky glaze on the wings, along with the dabs of cheese, positively hummed with flavour and aroma.

Black pepper prawns; kung pao chicken; mutton sukka; yeral melagu

Other starters were Chinese-style black pepper prawn and kung pao chicken, mutton sukka (dry cooked lamb) and yeral melagu (prawns in pepper). Nothing really to write home about though the meats had been treated with the respect they deserved.

Cartoccio sea viral; penne Mamma Rosa

Main courses included cartoccio sea viral - fillet of fish and vegetables cooked in parchment. A beautiful idea but I would have liked the fish to have been more zesty. Penne Mamma Rossa with its tangy creamy sauce and briny bursts of capers more than made up for the fish.

Lamb osso buco with risotto Milanese

Murgh Punjabi biryani with raita

Lamb osso buco with risotto Milanese was impressive; the shank, sprinkled with gremolata was super tender, the long slow braising had condensed and caramelised the flavours into a beautiful claret-coloured sauce but I missed the creamy mouth-feel of the rice. We asked for the smallest portion of Murgh Punjabi biryani - if we were not that stuffed, each of us could have finished one portion each of that light, deliciously fragrant and flavoursome biryani. 

Textures of Chocolate

Dessert was an overindulgence called Textures of Chocolate with the attendant theatrics - chocolate brownie, cold chocolate orb, hot chocolate sauce and a filling of mascarpone and white chocolate. The raspberry coulis was not there just for show - how beautifully it cut through that sweetness. Every element of this dessert was worth every extra calorie.

Holiday Inn Chennai OMR has introductory offers on their buffets - breakfast @ 550/- ++, lunch @ 950/- ++ and dinner @ 1100/- ++.
For reservations, do call +91 44 6604 6604.

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