Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

New Generation of "Foodies"


Suvir Saran
 Share

Recommended Posts

In the last several years I have seen books from new and upcoming foodies from India.

Maya Kaimal, Monica Bhardwaj, Raghavan Iyer and now our very own Monica Bhide (spicegirldc with her cookbook, Spice is Right) have added their voices and words into the world of Indian cooking.

How does this change the world of Indian cooking?

Where does this leave Mrs. Balbir Singh, Tarla Dalal, Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni?

Are these people competing with them? Are they adding new life into a cuisine that has gained tremendously from the efforts of the ones before them? Are they different from these pioneers? Is Pioneer a correct word to use to describe Mrs. Singh and Madhur?

How are this new group of food writers and Indian food personalities different from the group before them? Should they be different?

What would be the logical outcome of all of this?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Love your questions Suvir, I have had the distinct honor of working with and learning from many new young voices in Indian cooking -- to call them inspiring would be an understatement!

I think the Grande Dames of Indian cooking have certainly raised awareness of Indian food abroad and I feel they are the true pioneers.

A small revolution is taking place, this is my humble opinion. Young voices are starting to take stage, they not only can cook, they provide global context to the food. Raisin chutney with Brie, Pumpkin Halwa with Crepes, your own recipes of Tandoori Cornish Hens....

I feel like we are on the verge of a huge change. There is such a demand for more spohisticated Indian cuisine, Indian inspired cuisine -- we have only yet touched the tip of the iceberg. I have talked to numerous food editors and writers who are bored with the same old Indian menu, people are demanding change.. Diwan, Tabla, Tamarind are responding and with such wonderous success

Of course I am not passionate about this at all

:wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am concerned by many of the newer books.

invention is one thing, but so many of the new breed of Indian Chefs are "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" in an attempt to be modern.

This has led to places that IMHO are a disgrace to the genre, TABLA being the main culprit.

Where Indian Chefs such as Rajeev Mohammed, the rather camp chef who present Dheli Belly on the UK Food Network, are concerned, I am much more sanguine. He has a real passion for the food and its roots and is concerned to learn the basics before working with them for a modern audience ( making them lighter etc )

I am also less fond of MJ as a root of all things. She is held up as almost the Escoffier of indian food and while she has achieved much in the promulgation of the wonders of Indian Food, she IMO does it without any dexterity or authenticity

S

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am concerned by many of the newer books.

invention is one thing, but so many of the new breed of Indian Chefs are "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" in an attempt to be modern.

This has led to places that IMHO are a disgrace to the genre, TABLA being the main culprit.

Where Indian Chefs such as  Rajeev Mohammed, the rather camp chef who present Dheli Belly on the UK Food Network, are concerned, I am much more sanguine.  He has a real passion for the food and its roots and is concerned to learn the basics before working with them for a modern audience ( making them lighter etc )

I am also less fond of MJ as a root of all things.  She is held up as almost the Escoffier of indian food and while she has achieved much in the promulgation of the wonders of Indian Food, she IMO does it without any dexterity or authenticity

S

I agree with you on some aspects. My personal opinion is that to "modernize" any cuisine or change it or present it in a new format, one must have an indepth understanding of the cuisine. There will always be poor writers and poor books, some of the new ones however are really making a difference. I see passion, skill and the drive to really show off the versatility of Indian cuisine. I dont write quite as well as you do, but i hope you will know what i mean

:smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think that as with many other cuisines, the Indian cuisine will also be affected by the infusion of ideas and influences of other countries. There is a very respected place in the culinary world for the classic and intricate form of Indian cooking that people like Madhur J are known for. However, Indian cuisine covers so many different states and types of food and many of that has had very little exposure in the West. In addition to this, what is known as "fusion" in the outside world is very often what is considered homestyle cooking for some of us, where you put together what you know and like best to create things that are usually not found in menus. On the other hand, I think places like Tabla with chef Cardoz ( I may be biased since I worked there for a year) are trying their best to experiment and show people how the amazing spices and tastes of Indian cooking need not be limited to the ubiquitous chicken tikka. Granted this may not please the palate of everyone, especially those who are expecting a traditional Indian meal, but I think that with people like him, Raji Jallepalli and others in India, it is possible to show the culinary world that there are endless ways of incorporating Indian spices and influence to create a "modern" Indian cusine.

As you can see, I tend to get very passionate about the subject. My dream is to one day open an "Indian-French" restaurant...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

This has led to places that IMHO are a disgrace to the genre, TABLA being the main culprit.

I am also less fond of MJ as a root of all things.  She is held up as almost the Escoffier of indian food and while she has achieved much in the promulgation of the wonders of Indian Food, she IMO does it without any dexterity or authenticity

I agree wholeheartedly. There are many ways to modernize and improvise on the classical themes and concepts (e.g. what Cyrus Todiwala does in London, what Tamarind does in New York), but what tabla does (as any other establishment under the same ownership I dined in) is certainly not the way to go.

As for MJ, I think much of her writing was done when access (and openness) to indian spices, flours and other ingredients was much more limited than it is today. I can tell you that when I wanted to cook indian food in Israel, her book made it feasible, while I would probably have given up if I tried to find all the ingredients for a meal out of Todiwala's book.

M
Link to comment
Share on other sites

My dream is to one day open an "Indian-French" restaurant...

For my selfish benefit, I wish your dream came true very soon.

I am sure you will bring us a restaurant that takes from Tabla what Indian restaurants ought to know, and with some more care and thought, you can take it yet further and give us a restaurant that pushes the envelope even further and takes Indian food and restaurant scene into a next logical step.

I think we cannot forget the Mrs. Singh's, Madhur Jaffrey's and Julie Sahnis of Indian cooking, but we also need to move on. It is finding a perfect balance that maintains a link between the two that is at once strong and yet unique is what one is looking for.

I wish Raji had lived her life as one would have hoped for another person. Her sad and sudden demise took away a chef that was only now going back to the discovery of her roots. Her understanding of Indian food was far less evolved than her understanding of French technique. I did a long story about her and Tamarind in Food Arts. In doing so, I understood how little she knew and yet how much she knew. Indian food was a stranger to her even though she was Indian. And at Tamarind, with the knowledge that came to her from Hemant Mathur and Peter, she found a new meaning in Indian cooking. One she never knew. I was excitedly awaiting a next venture where she would have shown us what could happen when French and India meet. But she was rudely taken away even before her dream (and mine as well) could find any shape at all.

But yes we have many new players with great talent and much promise. The horizon is wide open and awaiting the future that is certain for tomorrow, but not for us to yet know.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The good people who own the Blue Elephant, a very famous, but not that great Thai place in London, also own ( I think it is them anyway ) a French/Indian place near Marble Arch called Les Portes Des Indes.

The food is quite good although the costs are prohibitive and the atmosphere a little stilted.

I am fascinated by the origins of this hybrid.

S

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doesn't Les Portes Des Indes claim that its cuisine derives from Pondicherry? Was that an old French colonial enclave in India?

No matter, I honestly believe that French and Indian cuisines have far,far less than more in common and that any hybrid will end up as at best totally pointless and at worst an abomination.

For example the French have no idea whatsoever about the role of spices in cooking (with the exception of black pepper). Since spice is the basis for all Indian cooking it is hard to see where any meeting of the two could take place without one grabbing the larger share of identity over the other.And since the French inherently assume superiority in all matters culinary what will emerge is French food "indianized " by the injuducious use of a few spices.

This is exactly what is served up at The Cinnamon Club in London and I suspect at other very expensive modern Indian restaurants in London. A genuinely authentic classical Indian or Pakistani restaurant would never get a Michelin star in a month of Tuesdays so to attain this status they have to Frenchify.

Believe you me,you won't ever find a French restaurant Indiafying (a touch of curry powder in the scallops doesn't count) so all we'll end up with is a new form of culinary imperialism and the gradual loss of South Asia's marvellous culinary identity.

To some opening a FRench? Indian restaurant may be a dream-to me,I'm afraid,it sounds like a nightmare.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The good people who own the Blue Elephant, a very famous, but not that great Thai place in London, also own ( I think it is them anyway ) a French/Indian place near Marble Arch called Les Portes Des Indes.

The food is quite good although the costs are prohibitive and the atmosphere a little stilted.

I am fascinated by the origins of this hybrid.

S

I went to Les Portes des Indes recently, because my wife's a great fan of the Blue Elephant and I thought she'd like it. It is indeed run by the "Blue Elephant Group".

Apparently the food that they serve there is from the former French colonies of India, which explains the French connection (so to speak). The chef was on Good Food Live a few weeks ago and he described it as "a cuisine that's evolved in the French colonies" when asked by the presenters (many times, if I recall) about its origins. I quite liked his style.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

No matter, I honestly believe that French and Indian cuisines have far,far less than more in common and that any hybrid will end up as at best totally pointless and at worst an abomination.

For example the French have no idea whatsoever about the role of spices in cooking (with the exception of black pepper). Since spice is the basis for all Indian cooking it is hard to see where any meeting of the two could take place without one grabbing the larger share of identity over the other.And since the French inherently assume superiority in all matters culinary what will emerge is French food "indianized " by the injuducious use of a few spices.

Tony, I think that was the idea that the chef of Les Porte des Indes was trying to dispel when I saw him on Good Food Live. It's not an intentional "fusion" of the two types of cooking, it's something that's evolved over time. The most important part of that being that it was probably done mostly by Indian people who were influenced by the French, rather than the other way round. From what I ate at Les Porte des Indes, the Indian influence was by far the greater, resulting in Indian food with a bit of a difference rather than the unholy, apocalyptic union you foresee :wink:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Stephen, I defer to your experience at Les Portes Des Indes and as you say they may be serving a naturally evolved cuisine, but my general point remains.

The fact is that Indian food in the UK has been targeted at a downmarket restaurant clientele for decades now. These restaurants do not receive the stars,the rosettes the ten out of tens etc.,or if they do it is within the confines of an "ethnic" category.

I can see why some ambitious restaurateurs may wish to take the cuisine upmarket because no matter what anyone says at its best Indian food is as brilliant as any cuisine in the world. In fact if I had to choose to eat one cuisine only for the rest of my life it would be Indian cuisine.

But what I fear is that these people,in their lust for Michelin recognition,see the way forward as Frenchifying. As if somehow authenticity and a deep exploration of the cuisine's myriad possibilities are to be sacrificed on the alter of pweety pictures on a plate,food served in towering stacks,puddles of reduced sauce, the dumbing down of assertive spicing ,the matching of food to wine and all the rest of the clutter that surrounds French food and mostly suits it well but which is alien to the world of Indian food and which in my opinion hinders rather than extends its possibilities and potential.

I would like to see much more regionalisation of Indian cuisine,where restaurants specialise in a particular area in depth. There are few in London already but they are a tiny minority compared to the number of generic "Indian " restaurants that exist,and are there any outside of London?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would like to see much more regionalisation of Indian cuisine,where restaurants specialise in a particular area in depth. There are few in London already but they are a tiny minority compared to the number of generic "Indian " restaurants that exist,and are there any outside of London?

This is true most everywhere.

Exactly what we need.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I would like to see much more regionalisation of Indian cuisine,where restaurants specialise in a particular area in depth. There are few in London already but they are a tiny minority compared to the number of generic "Indian " restaurants that exist,and are there any outside of London?

This is true most everywhere.

Exactly what we need.

i agree

Link to comment
Share on other sites

......and are there any outside of London?

There are many now scattered through Bombay and Delhi... But not of the type that one goes to for glorious meals that are remembered in conversations that are awe inspiring. Rather these holes in the walls are sating the urges for good food.

Now all we need are attractive restaurants, with professional service, wine and beer programs that are as well thought out as the food.. and then, Indian food will not have to be lost to mere cheap tricks played by it's own chefs and those that borrow from it.

But, instead, we will see Indian food as we see in many of the finer homes. It can happen, but only if we have hope and are encouraging of those small steps that some are making. Too often, the bigger names simply playing tricks in using stuff from India get all the media and the players making very humble and certainly not the most media worthy (in their attractive quotient) achievements are left in the dark.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To some opening a FRench? Indian restaurant may be a dream-to me,I'm afraid,it sounds like a nightmare.

They have been nothing but nightmares till now. Each of the ones mentioned above and also those not mentioned. Like Pondicherry in NYC. I was an owner in it towards the end. I came into it thinking I would do something magical that would take Indian fusion to the next logical step. The media was all waiting... I had nothing I could create that would be any better or different in its real soul from what Pondicherry had already done and later Tabla had followed and done at a grander scale. In fact, very quickly, I was the one that was responsible for the closing of that restaurant.

It is with that knowledge that I say I await the opening of a restaurant that may follow Tabla's footsteps but make the food become something that will be remembered with awe generations after. That has not happened yet, and I am hoping some chef doing what Pondicherry and Tabla did, can make it finally work.

I am sure it can happen. But I hope it happens in a way that does not erase what has happened before, it only becomes another great cuisine.

I believe things can happen. But I do not live in fantasy land. Even though I have been called Pollyanna, I live in a world acutely aware of the failures and handicaps of my own and those I share my world with. No fragile illusions in my part.

But do I hope? Yes.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

A genuinely authentic classical Indian or Pakistani restaurant would never get a Michelin star in a month of Tuesdays so to attain this status they have to Frenchify.

Believe you me,you won't ever find a French restaurant Indiafying (a touch of curry powder in the scallops doesn't count) so all we'll end up with is a new form of culinary imperialism and the gradual loss of South Asia's marvellous culinary identity.

You raise some very poignant and important questions. You may have hit the nail in the head.

What is also important to know though is that it is not sheer bias that will keep it (authentic sub-continental restaurant getting Michelin stars) from happening, but also bad management and a lack of vision in the part of owners and managers.

But you are so right. :sad:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The fact is that Indian food in the UK has been targeted at a downmarket restaurant clientele for decades now. These restaurants do not receive the stars,the rosettes the ten out of tens etc.,or if they do it is within the confines of an "ethnic" category.

I can see why some ambitious restaurateurs may wish to take the cuisine upmarket  because no matter what anyone says at its best Indian food is as brilliant as any cuisine in the world. In fact if I had to choose to eat one cuisine only for the rest of my life it would be Indian cuisine.

But what I fear is that these people,in their lust for Michelin recognition,see the way forward as Frenchifying. As if somehow authenticity and a deep exploration of the cuisine's myriad  possibilities are to be sacrificed on the alter of pweety pictures on a plate,food served in towering stacks,puddles of reduced sauce, the dumbing down of assertive spicing ,the matching of food to wine and all the rest of the clutter that surrounds French food and mostly suits it well but which is alien to the world of Indian food and which in my opinion hinders rather than extends its possibilities and potential.

Tony you have said all that needs to be said. Thanks! :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The good people who own the Blue Elephant, a very famous, but not that great Thai place in London, also own ( I think it is them anyway ) a French/Indian place near Marble Arch called Les Portes Des Indes.

The food is quite good although the costs are prohibitive and the atmosphere a little stilted.

I am fascinated by the origins of this hybrid.

S

I went to Les Portes des Indes recently, because my wife's a great fan of the Blue Elephant and I thought she'd like it. It is indeed run by the "Blue Elephant Group".

Apparently the food that they serve there is from the former French colonies of India, which explains the French connection (so to speak). The chef was on Good Food Live a few weeks ago and he described it as "a cuisine that's evolved in the French colonies" when asked by the presenters (many times, if I recall) about its origins. I quite liked his style.

I have not eaten food like what these Fusion restaurants serve in any visit to Pondicherry. Not sure where the chefs are getting their inspiration.

Yes the French colonized that part of India... But they actually enjoyed the local foods. They also ate their own dishes. Sometimes tables were set with foods from both cultures. At other times dishes that had some accent of both in each other. But rarely the kind of mediocrity that many have displayed in the name of French-Indian fusion found its way into the world of natives of that region (or for that matter even the world of the colonizers). They had far better food served, cooked, sold and found locally to have to bother about such affectation. I would question the research that has gone into words uttered by many of these chefs.

I was a owner at Pondicherry ( a French-Indian fusion restaurant in NYC ). It went even farther and said it was simply foods of the French Colonies. Little if any of the food was made to be authentic to what may have been cooked in that time. Between the owners, chefs, publicists and celebrity partners, most of this was sheer drama for publicity that is easy to get if you build such shallow stories. And yes they got media. Even a following. It was only Gael Green that had the guts or vision to say "Fusion Confusion". The rest were too meek to question what had seemed a logical step. How sad! :sad:

In fact the chef at Pondicherry was guided mostly by Indian owner/management/ and friends of owners about what the food could or should have been in that time. And the French born and trained chef simply added spices to his repertoire and created dishes that could pass of as Fusion.. and with the blessings of the owners. No great effort was put into trying to study what really may have been served in those rare homes where perhaps this kind of fusion may really have taken place. I doubt it that such homes existed then. I fear Tonyfinch is correct in what he says... The two cuisine's have little in common at their very soul. And yet they also have much in common in terms of cultural and social roots. But for fusion to become meaningful, each cuisine would have had to lose some of its ego and take from another more generously. Like Tony, I cannot believe the French would have considered losing much of their ego.. and do understand that for those "goree chamree ke aashiq" (those that love white skin) losing their Indian makeup is the easiest thing to do. They feel if they become "Western", they become special.

And then there is the world of uninspired restaurant owners and managers that have little if any vision, and are most to blame for the sad state of Indian restaurants outside of India.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Doesn't Les Portes Des Indes claim that its cuisine derives from Pondicherry? Was that an old French colonial enclave in India?

No matter, I honestly believe that French and Indian cuisines have far,far less than more in common and that any hybrid will end up as at best totally pointless and at worst an abomination.

For example the French have no idea whatsoever about the role of spices in cooking (with the exception of black pepper). Since spice is the basis for all Indian cooking it is hard to see where any meeting of the two could take place without one grabbing the larger share of identity over the other.And since the French inherently assume superiority in all matters culinary what will emerge is French food "indianized " by the injuducious use of a few spices.

.......

Pondi was in fact a french colony. It was considered an independent territory.

My recollection are based on one summer I spent in my youth putzing around.

1. The language of the region being redminantly tamil, the influences or confluences of South Indian and french were mostly in the usage of sauces derived from dairy.

Much of South Indian (or Tamilians) do not use much of milk in their base cooking.

2. In Pondicherri , dosas and crepes pretty merged to satisfy neither of the traditionalists.

Generally in Pondicherri, the traditional south indian dishes were adapted to the tastes of the masters - An interestingly concoction was rasam with mild hint of tamrind but cream and pumpkin puree, more black-pepper - lack of sauteed mustard seeds (rye ) On th other hand the french in the Asharam were totally food agnostic since their mission was to carry on the "Mother's" work.....

anil

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The language of the region being redminantly tamil, the influences or confluences of South Indian and french were mostly in the usage of sauces derived from dairy.

Much of South Indian (or Tamilians) do not use much of milk in their base cooking.

That's another area where the cuisines are virtually incompatible. I have French cookbooks at home, especially those describing top restaurant and top chef cooking,where it is hard to spot a recipe which doesn't use dairy or alcohol in some form.

I don't know of ANY Indian dishes which use alcohol, and although yogurt and ghee and milky desserts are used in some areas of Indian cooking I think it's fair to say that dairy plays a very minor role if you take the sub continent as a whole.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The language of the region being redminantly tamil, the influences or confluences of South Indian and french were mostly in the usage of sauces derived from dairy.

Much of South Indian (or Tamilians) do not use much of milk in their base cooking.

That's another area where the cuisines are virtually incompatible. I have French cookbooks at home, especially those describing top restaurant and top chef cooking,where it is hard to spot a recipe which doesn't use dairy or alcohol in some form.

I don't know of ANY Indian dishes which use alcohol, and although yogurt and ghee and milky desserts are used in some areas of Indian cooking I think it's fair to say that dairy plays a very minor role if you take the sub continent as a whole.

Dairy is far less prevalent in Indian cooking than one would imagine after eating at Indian restaurants across the US. Cream and Yogurt are ways in which so-called Indian chefs think they make sad dishes come alive. It is shocking to see how they have added dairy into so many recipes. And for no reason other than now knowing how to cook.

I am guilty of using alcohol in Indian cooking. :shock: In fact Tonyfinch, you will never even know I used any. I use it to add a depth of acidity that I would have induced by the addition of several souring agents... But yes it is not a traditional thing to do.

And I must say reading your posts (Tonyfinch) I have been taken back to the magic that happens in the most humble of all Indian kitchens. With almost nothing in their kitchen that would be termed "fancy", the poorest of poor of humanity in India, prepare foods that would inspire favorable thoughts from anyone that eats them without bias. It is about a balance of spices and also a freshness of ingredients. Most of these poor cannot afford dairy, ghee and certainly no alcohol. I am always amazed when eating in the poorest of homes that I find some of the most simple and yet satisfying dishes in these. They rely on the taste of the ingredients and a few simple spices to give their meal all the many nuances of cuisine that make up Indian cooking.

Where the rich may achieve this balance by serving a dozen or so dishes, the poor can do it by serving one. And that is a further testament to all you have said. :smile:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

"......Kabir fixed a plate of poriyal, dam aloos, ragda chaat, adding a heaping of rice, then covered it with Saran Wrap and stuck it in the microwave, on low. As he waited, he thought about his first sweetheart, Will, and a trip they’d taken together to India.

As aristocratic as an American could be, Will had wanted to see Kabir’s “real” native land and had talked him into giving up their First Class Reserved air-conditioned seats to ride Second Class Unreserved. They took their places among the poor farmers, their wives and children, soot and ash flying through the open windows. Chaat vendors moved in and out of the corridors at every station. Normally, Kabir would’ve bought something but, to his dismay and delight, the families in their car offered them whatever they had. They couldn’t say no: it would’ve been taken as the utmost snobbery. And Kabir, knowing this, finally conceded to try his first bite of a stranger’s food, something in his life he’d never done.

By the end of their journey, their laps held all sorts of simple delicacies: sookhe aloos, pooris, each family’s signature pickles, some with mango, others with chilis, sesame brittle, jaggery, nuggets of sugar in its most pristine, unadulterated form, sweeter than anything either man had ever eaten. Kabir, who prided himself on his taste and experience as a chef, couldn’t quite get over the brazen hospitality shown them. They gave willingly to these two men, obviously gay and in love. It was their lack of registration, the smiles they held on their faces even after Kabir and Will had kissed, that let Kabir know that these people, illiterate, uneducated, India’s lowliest class of struggling poor, had made no judgements about them, less against them. By offering them food, these strangers had given the very best of themselves. The way Kabir had always thought of India: without ego, yet full of substance. ..........."

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...