Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Wine from a prestigious estate in the heart of Bordeaux and a three Michelin-starred chef come with very high expectations and of course, a very high price tag. I signed up for a dinner at the Leela Palace Hotel in Bengaluru recently and expected to be blown away that evening. I have to remind you all that Alain Passard owns and operates the restaurant Arpege in Paris which has three Michelin stars and is VEGETARIAN!

The reception at the Leela was regal and warm. We were offered Champagne and vegetarian Hors d'oeuvres at the Lobby bar where we had the opportunity to meet and greet the other guests for the evening. A little while later, we were led across the porch of Leela to the Banquet hall with rose petals strewn over us.

We were seated in predetermined tables and given some time to say hello to the other occupants of the table and get to know each other before we moved on to the five course dinner.

We were greeted by Mr.Sanjay Menon who is a successful wine importer and educator from Mumbai, followed by the CEO of Chateau Margaux. We were to taste 5 different wines from different years along with the five courses of our dinner.

White Arlequin in Himalayan honey and candied lemon
*Pavillon blanc 2009

Tomato and Blackberry "a la fourchette"
*Pavillon rouge 2004

Red roasted Onion in hibiscus sauce, red carrot Orange mousseline
*Chateau Margaux 1999

This dish was undoubtedly the star of the evening. It tasted amazingly good and went to show how a Michelin starred chef can turn a humble onion into a hero. No wonder I licked my plate clean! All you Onion-haters out there, you are missing out on something BIG!!!

Celerisotto with black Perigord Truffle
*Chateau Margaux 1989

Unlike what we expected from the name of the dish, this course did not have any rice in the risotto. It was a risotto made with finely chopped celeriac in a creamy sauce and shaved truffle on top. I have to admit that the flavour of the truffle was very mild and disappointing. A good drizzle of truffle oil would have done a much better job in adding flavour to the dish instead of the fresh truffle on top.

Avocado souffle with chocolate and pistachio
*Chateau Margaux 2003

The final and least impressive of the courses was the dessert. The organisers did mention that they were having trouble with getting the 70 odd souffles set on time to be served to the guests at the same time. But that does not justify serving a dessert that was not completely set. Also the flavour of the pistachio was over-powering and left me rather disappointed.

Overall, the food and wine at the dinner did not meet my expectations. But the evening on its own, was a wonderful experience. I had the privilege of sitting next to a famous and award-winning chef and also a talented writer was seated in our table along with some of my dear friends. Would I sign up for another evening like this? Yes, I would.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Hidden Kitchen

I had the opportunity to dine in one of the private supper clubs in Paris during my visit in September - October 2011. I had read about the concept in various food blogs and was very curious to dine in one of them. I had read about the Hidden kitchen which is run by two Americans who are restaurant consultants by profession but open out their lovely apartment in Paris to a few guests (16 at a time) for a 10 course dinner along with wine pairing for each of the courses.

I was advised to book at least 2 months or more ahead in order to get a reservation at the Hidden Kitchen. I promptly did so but did not manage to get a reservation as they were either closed or full on the dates I requested. But I took a chance and wrote to them after I arrived in Paris and they happened to have a cancellation on the day I wrote. And that is how I managed to find myself a seat in the Hidden Kitchen.

We were a group of 16 that evening, all seated around their large dining table. I was at the dinner on my own. Among the other 15, 2 were Australian and the rest were American. No French!!!

My dinner at the Hidden Kitchen:
Friday, September 22nd.

*Amuse Bouche - Pumpkin Soup with Muscat grape, pumpkin seed oil and Parsley

*Charred Onion with Wine Poached Medjul, Cerely root and Orange

*Grilled Buckwheat Pizzetta, Anchovy, Fig and Taleggio

*House Smoked Salmon, Egg, White Bean Hummus and Broccoli

*Palate Cleanser - Bourbon Jelly with lime sorbet and Mint Leaf

*Crispy Pork Belly with Beet, Wild Rice, Endive and Olives

*Braised Beef Cheeks, Ricotta Dumplings and Chanterelles

*Apple Tart with Marscapone, Pear & Fig Sorbet and Plum Caramel

*Chocolate Ganache with Candied Fennel and Pomegranate

*Finally some Mignardises and more wine........

It was amazing to see the kind of the food churned out of a small kitchen in their apartment. The Chef and Sous Chef did a splendid job plating up and serving our large group in a fine manner. The wines paired with our food was also chosen well and over all, it was a very fine dinner and a memorable experience.

But I do regret to inform that this special private dining experience in not available at the Hidden Kitchen any longer. They have moved on to open their wine bar and restaurant which is not far from where they operated their private dinners. All the reviews I have read so far are very good and I would definitely recommend a visit to their wine bar and restaurant since this couple know and understand food and are highly capable of producing stunning and delectable food.

Restaurant Verjus
52, rue Richelieu
75001 Paris

Verjus Bar à vin
47, rue Montpensier
75001 Paris

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Le Cordon Bleu Experience

One of the first things on my Things to do in Paris list was to sign up for a cooking class or two. I had been researching on different cooking schools in Paris and their class schedules for over 6 months. I finally decided to sign up at the Cordon Bleu and the Ritz Cooking School out of shear reputation. More about the Ritz Cooking School in a later post.

There are two kinds of classes one can sign up for at the Le Cordon Bleu, if you are looking to do something on a short holiday. They have cooking classes that involve hands-on cooking in a kitchen and then there are the demonstrations where you sit in a classroom with the other regular students of Cordon Bleu and just watch a Chef demonstrate the recipes. I had signed up for one cooking class that was named "Desserts in a glass" and one cooking demonstration named "Petit Fours and Meringues".

The Desserts in a glass was a fun class. There were 6 American women, a French woman and me in the class. The chef spoke only French hence we had a translator who did translate every little detail of the recipe for us. In fact, we were only given the list of ingredients. We had to write down the method on our own. The two desserts we made were West Indian style coconut-pineapple served in a glass and Strawberry, pistachio and Speculos served in a glass.

The methods were relatively simple. The chef made most of the items. I wish it had been a little more hands-on. At the end of the class, we were given boxes and bags to carry home the fruits of our labour.

The cooking demonstration was another interesting session. Other than the regular students at the Cordon Bleu (there were about 30 who had signed up for this class) we were just 2 other participants at this class. We sat right at the back of the class but we could hear and see everything the chef demonstrated since they had mirrors on top of the cooking counter and tv monitors. The entire demonstration was translated in English since Cordon Bleu is a bi-lingual school and many of its students don't speak any French.

At the demonstration, the Chef demonstrated the recipes for Marshal's Batons, Raisin biscuits, Macaroons and Cigarettes. At the end of the class we were allowed to taste the end products. It was a very interesting experience.

I would definitely recommend a class or two to any one interested in food and cooking at the Cordon Bleu on your next visit to Paris. They also have schools in other countries and have a very detailed website. Take a look at the website for more ideas.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


Ok, this is how it all began. On a Saturday night, at a party, a fellow foodie told me about the new hypermarket in town which boasted a fabulous seafood counter. Buying good seafood in Coimbatore has often been a grueling experience for many. The sights and smells at the old fish market in Ukkadam was enough to make many people quit eating seafood. The new market now is a much better place and I see very enthusiastic seafood lovers over the weekends buying fish and other seafood without having to cover their faces for fear of fainting from the bad stench!!! But the new market still calls for a good scrub and shampoo wash after a visit.

On Sunday morning I decided to check out the hypermarket at an early hour since the mall its located in tends to get very crowded on Sundays. I was there bright and early at 9.45am standing before the store entrance which has its shutters down. Yes, they open at 10! Once the store opened I had to walk through the maze of toys, household items and provisions to finally arrive at the fresh food section which comprised of a vegetable and fruit area, seafood and meat counters, cold cut counter and a dairy counter.

The chicken and mutton counter had a few interesting cuts. If you are looking to buy only chicken thigh pieces, chicken mince or mutton rib pieces, its probably good place to go to. The cold cuts section also had beef by the side and might interest a few.

Finally, the seafood counter! Yes, it did look impressive at first sight. It was all that my friend had told me about and more. There were neat piles of fish arranged on ice with labeled cards next to them and a row of lettuce planted in front of them for decoration. The prawns did not look impressive. There was a variety of fishes including Sear, Indian Salmon, different kinds of Pomfret, Karimeen, Grouper, Snapper, Shark and Mullet. What really caught my eye was the bowls of Squid, Octopus and Cuttlefish. I was very tempted to buy some Octopus but I changed my mind once I saw the Seafood Manager open a basket full of mud crabs that were live and fresh. I decided to buy a kilo of the crabs and cook up something for lunch or dinner.

I could select the crabs I wanted and I went for the ones with the largest pincers. The crabs were about 400gms each. I ended up buying 3 which was a just a little more than a kilo. The crabs were cut and cleaned right in front of my eyes behind a glass counter. The glass counter is a good idea since nothing really splashes on you while they are cutting and it saves you the shampoo wash which is otherwise mandatory after a visit to the new fish market.

On my way home I was trying to decide if I should cook the Singapore Black Pepper Crab or a Mangalorean recipe from a Sanjeev Kapoor cook book. Since I did not get to eat the Crab Masala Fry at the Kudla Restaurant in Bangalore on a recent visit, I decided to satisfy my craving for a good Mangalorean crab masala and decided to go for the Crab Sukhe.

Although the crab masala I cooked was not as mind-blowing as the one from the one at Kudla, it would come a close second in a competition. I loved the taste of the masala but I must admit that the texture of the crab meat as such was a little disappointing given that the crab was really fresh. I need to figure out if there is a particular season to buy these crabs or alter the cooking technique to get a better texture of the crab meat.


1 kg, Crabs cut in to about 4 pieces each
3 tbsp, Oil
3 large Onions, sliced thinly
1" piece Ginger, sliced thinly
12 cloves of Garlic, sliced thinly
4 red Chillies (I used 10 Bedgi red chillies, they are less hot and give a rich colour)
1 cup, grated Coconut
1/2 tsp, Mustard seeds
2 sprigs, Curry leaves
1/2 tsp, Turmeric powder
1 tsp, Malvani Masala powder
1 lime sized Tamarind ball soaked in 1/3 cup water and starined
1 cup Water
Salt to taste
1/4 cup, Coriander leaves chopped


In a pan heat about 1 tbsp of oil and add the sliced onions, ginger, garlic and grated coconut and saute on medium flame until it turns a light golden brown. This will take about 12 to 15 minutes. Add the red chillies and saute for about 2 minutes before it turns light golden brown. Grind this mixture to a fine paste. The consistency should be as thick as possible and save the wash water from grinding.

Heat the remaining oil in a pan and the mustard seeds. Once the mustard seeds crackle, add a sprig of the curry leaves followed by the ground masala paste. Saute this mixture for about minutes adding the wash water in intervals. Now add the turmeric powder, Malvani masala powder and the tamarind puree and saute for a further 2 minutes. Add the crab pieces along with the water and salt and let it simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes. The gravy will thicken in the cooking process. Once the crabs are cooked and the gravy has reached the desired consistency, remove from flame and garnish with the remaining curry leaves and shopped coriander leaves. Serve hot with appams or plain rice.

It can be a messy affair eating this dish but its worth all the effort and the mess!!!!!!

Friday, May 27, 2011

What is in our milk????

Have you ever wondered what is in our milk? Apparently, different additives are added depending on the source. Milk was something I hardly cared about until I had my children. Once I weaned my older son off formula and switched him to regular cow's milk, I started to wonder if it was really safe for him.

A friend of mine once mentioned that her milk (out of a packet from a common well-known source) did not spoil for over 2 days. Yes, she did store it in a fridge but this will not be the case for natural cow's milk bought directly from a farm or any other source.The process of sterilisation and pasteurisation destroys all living cells from the milk including the good bacteria that is meant to be beneficial. There is nothing left in the milk to make it go bad. It becomes a liquid that contains certain minerals that are beneficial to humans.

Also from all the rumours I have heard so far, other additives are added to packaged milk to make it more attractive to market and sell. One of the rumours says additives are added to make the milk look very white. Another one says additives are added to make the curds set faster and thicker. Most packaged milk products do not advertise as they are additive-free. I would seriously like to see someone come up with a product that says its additive-free. As long as questions are not asked, the milk companies don't feel the need to reveal the procedures they follow.

So what is the best source of milk? I personally feel that its best to buy from a source with whom you can establish a connection and clear all your doubts. If there is a milkman in your neighbourhood who has his own cows, he would be your best bet. He may be diluting the milk with water but he may not have the resources to add other harmful additives to the milk.

If you have access to a source who feeds the cows with organic feed and advocates less vaccines and hormones, then that is the best possible milk available. An organic milk source is one I wish I had and I would be the first one to support an endeavour like that in my neighbourhood.

Sunday, May 15, 2011


Foodie is a term used to describe someone who has a special interest in food and drink. The word was coined for the first time in 1984 by Paul Levy and Ann Barr who used it in the title of their book - The Official Foodie Handbook. Foodie represents someone who shows a lot of interest in all things that revolve around food.

A great cook may not be a foodie. Also foodie is different from a Gourmet. A gourmet's tastes are very refined and they may not be interested in ordinary food. But for a foodie any good food is something of interest. A foodie will go through a lot of effort and trouble to find that one little joint that sells the best pani poori in Kolkatta, for example. Or the best Vada pav in Mumbai, or the best sundal on the beaches of Chennai.

I am a certified FOODIE. I love to cook, experiment with new food combinations, eat in good restaurants, shop for specific ingredients, scout local markets for food inspirations, watch cooking shows, flip through cook books in a book store, browse the net for authentic recipes and dream about food. I take pleasure in meeting other foodies and in sharing valuable information on where to buy what and where to eat in my town and when I travel.

For instance, I have travelled many kilometers from the confines of a resort in Kumarakom to a popular toddy shop that I once read about to try their local speciality - Karimeen Polichathu. I have travelled many a times in rickshaws in Kolkatta to savor the different chaats in different locales. I have made many trips to find places where they serve delicious non-fussy organic meals in lovely little spaces. Every quest to find good food has been an adventure. The food may be disappointing at times but the journey has always been satisfying.

There are many ways to find information on good food. There are food guides for most big cities these days. Trip advisor and other websites help in narrowing down your search based on reviews. Also food blogs give a good picture of the food scenario in many cities. It also helps when you talk to friends who travel and to the natives while traveling.

Food ingredient shopping is another fabulous experience. I love to visit local markets and ethinic food stores to source ingredients that are not available in regular departmental stores. Sometimes I discover new and fascinating ingredients which I try to incorporate in appropriate dishes. I remember how chatting with a fellow cooking class student once led me to finding an ingredient - Kaachum puli (coorgi) - I had been searching for many months. There was also a time during a market tour in Paris, we stepped into a grain store and found Celery salt which comes in handy while making bloody marys.

Any foodie will have many memorable stories to share with a fellow foodie. It was fun sharing some of my food adventures with you. I hope it inspires you to set out on your own food adventures.