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Indian Cuisine as Haute Cuisine


Schielke
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I have been eating a fair amount of Indian food lately and have noticed that the cuisine in my neck of the woods is all served in the same style.

The menu is ala carte and for the most part either family style or one entree per person with rice as a side.

Are there any instances where Indian cuiside breaks this mold? I would be very interested to try out a multi-course affair that highlights Indian cuisine and shows it off with inspired plating and service. I think that the cuisine would easily lend itself to this style of presentation/preperation due to the basis of spicing.

Thoughts everybody?

Thanks,

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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  • 2 weeks later...

I recently spoke with somebody who used to live in new york and they told me that the indian scene in Seattle is somewhat dismal. He said he had been to a place that served an indian tasting menu that was fantastic.

I would love to try this so much!!! I wish Seattle had a better population of Indian establishments.

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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This is an interesting question you ask.

I think one of the wonderful things about Indian cuisine is how it slowly developes individual flavors,textures,aromas and colores leaving the final composition to the one eating the meal.

Some heat to blend with something a little sweet to offset the sourness of something else. Rice being the vehicle that transports everything.

I would love to sit at an authentic Indian meal just to expereance how it was meant to be savored.

Haute indian sounds a bit funny to me, but whatever one might call it,perfectly executed food is indeed of a "higher"place.

Turnip Greens are Better than Nothing. Ask the people who have tried both.

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This is an interesting question you ask.

I think one of the wonderful things about Indian cuisine is how it slowly developes individual flavors,textures,aromas and colores leaving the final composition to the one eating the meal.

Some heat to blend with something a little sweet to offset the sourness of something else. Rice being the vehicle that transports everything.

I would love to sit at an authentic Indian meal just to expereance how it was meant to be savored.

Haute indian sounds a bit funny to me, but whatever one might call it,perfectly executed food is indeed of a "higher"place.

Wow! What a beautiful post. You have said a lot in that small post.

And as you so correctly say, nothing can match a meal that was perfectly executed. After all, even if every little detail is "haute" and "fancy" and "chic" and the food still is no where near tasty, the meal leaves much to be desired.

But I do feel we need to see Indian food find a home where it can be itself and yet be showcased at least in the West in settings where those that crave a more formal setting for refined cuisines, can better understand it's finer nuances.

If it takes some sharpness in presentation, prettier locales for restaurants, and better service, I think Indian restaurant owners should strive to provide all of these and still serve authentic food. It will change things into moving in a direction which they should.

There are restaurants like Tabla which have given us an impetus and now Indian food is poised for its next big journey. Where that is? Only time can tell. But if it wants to be accepted and understood by those that have not seen its magic as found when eating it in homes (rich and poor, southern and northern, eastern and western, hindu/moslem/jewish/sikh/buddist/jain/radha swami/or whatever), it really ought to find a way of breaking the barriers that keep it from defining cuisine as it should be understood. Till that happens, I am afraid, Indian food will remain a myth for all those billions that have not lived with it, understading it, eating it, smelling it, tasting it, touching it, feeling it and absorbing it like the billion that eat it every day.

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Are there any instances where Indian cuiside breaks this mold?  I would be very interested to try out a multi-course affair that highlights Indian cuisine and shows it off with inspired plating and service.  I think that the cuisine would easily lend itself to this style of presentation/preperation due to the basis of spicing.

I have not yet eaten even one such meal in the US. This last spring, when I was in India, I had a multi-course meal at Khyber in Bombay. Phenomenal at worst, ethereal in reality. Every little detail was magical, every nuance of the food, the service, the china, the cutlery, the music wafting through the air, the art on the walls of the restaurant and of course in the midst of my favorite friends from around the globe.

In the US, I am still to eat even one such meal that is inspiring. I think we are getting to a point where Indian food will have to come to accepting this concept or realizing that it may be left behind in the rat race.

Indian food can keep its virtues and glory and yet find a way of moving to its next journey. A phase in its life where it can re-discover itself and come to its new own. It seems hard to step from what is comfortable and old into another that seems cold and new, but the time is ripe for Indian food to make this new journey.

Tabla in Manhattan has made the first step towards that new path. Now it will take more daring and visionary businessmen, with confidence in creative and talented chefs and a commitment to these artists’ craft to place it in a setting where it deserves to be.

There are chefs out there that have tried and found resistance from people within the business. It is so easy to not let go of old notions and stereotypes. It is easy to not embrace new challenged. But I think the time is now ripe for Indian food to find a new shape and form even in the US.

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But I do feel we need to see Indian food find a home where it can be itself and yet be showcased at least in the West in settings where those that crave a more formal setting for refined cuisines, can better understand it's finer nuances.

If it takes some sharpness in presentation, prettier locales for restaurants, and better service, I think Indian restaurant owners should strive to provide all of these and still serve authentic food.  It will change things into moving in a direction which they should.

This is exactly what I would love to see. Thank you for putting it into words Suvir.

From the limited experience I have with Indian cuisine, it seems as if the sheer diversity of it all is more than enough to work with for a lifetime. I am suprised that we have not seen many attempts to bring this fantastic cuisine to a more elevated position in the Western world.

Does this have anything to do with how cooking is taught in India? Are there many young chefs or is cooking mostly a family taught institution?

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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Providing one has found a good restaurant, the manner of service in an Indian restaurant makes a tasting menu entirely possible if you can get a few people together for a shared meal. Since the dishes come to the table in bowls to be shared rather than on plates which go to single diners, you can make it up yourself.

In fact, it's like a traditional European banquet before "Russian" service became the norm. Basque restaurants in the US used to follow a similar fashion, with two sittings an evening and everyone seated at long banquet tables to which the food came in big bowls. I wish that modern European tasting menus would sometimes operate in this fashion.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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From the limited experience I have with Indian cuisine, it seems as if the sheer diversity of it all is more than enough to work with for a lifetime.  I am suprised that we have not seen many attempts to bring this fantastic cuisine to a more elevated position in the Western world.

There will be no end to how many dishes one could serve up in an Indian restaurant. There are thousands of recipes... and so many variations and so many regional differences. But there has to be a need and a desire to start serving it in a fashion that it has not yet been served in.

In fact, when you go back into time... even in India, food was plated at meals. It was not plated in the kitchen, but cooks brought dishes to the diner, as they sat on the floor, often with banana leaves in front of t hem, and gradually plated every diners leaf with the many dishes that had been made for that particular meal.

In India, there is little if any structure given to social situations. We thrive in the freedom of our existence and guard it closely at least in our most private affairs. Cooking and religion are two very private matters. Thus it is not common for Indians to make too much of a fuss about their religion or proselytize and also it may be the reason why Indians have enjoyed eating communally and building closer bonds of relations and friendships as they eat intimately and sharing with one another.

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This is a fascinating thread. I've been wondering what the menu would be like at the kind of restaurant being discussed, both a la carte and tasting menus. Could someone come up with a menu? I've enjoyed reading ngatti's and basildog's menus, as well as Suvir's menus for meals he's cooked. Indian cuisine is so rich and varies so much regionally; I know so little about it. I can't even imagine the permutations of a menu for an "haute" Indian restaurant.

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Does this have anything to do with how cooking is taught in India?  Are there many young chefs or is cooking mostly a family taught institution?

Ben

It may have a lot to do with how cooking is taught in India. And it may have a lot to do with how bullies in the west, with power over the minds that have power in the east, make their vested interests get more acceptance in these foreign lands.

Indian culinary schools (and there are many around the country), and students from all segments of society and from all religious backgrounds attend these schools, unfortunately get trained to cook "French" style food. They learn Continental cuisine, Chinese cuisine, Mexican cuisine, Italian, Thai etc... Even before being taught Indian. It is almost as if they are ashamed of their own cuisine.

So, for the most part, our professional chefs learn more about Western style foods and other Eastern cuisines in their formal training. Those that elect to learn Indian cooking are taught in kitchens of restaurants where they apprentice.

Indian cooking thus has been relegated to a family taught tradition for the most part. There is a renaissance happening in India of food. Maybe that will make Indian professional chefs more proud of Indian food as well.

And mind you, certainly there are those schools and chefs that have great respect for Indian cooking, but they are not the norm.

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I would love to go to a "fancy" place where I would feel comfortable eating with my hands/bread.

I keep getting images of delicately spiced meats with incredible sauces as well as little dishes of curries and such. It would really help educate people about spices and their uses.

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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I would love to go to a "fancy" place where I would feel comfortable eating with my hands/bread.

I keep getting images of delicately spiced meats with incredible sauces as well as little dishes of curries and such.  It would really help educate people about spices and their uses.

Ben

When and if you are in NYC, come to my home for a meal. Or I can arrange for us to be at an Indian restaurant where we can get a meal such as we desire. In that restaurant, I will encourage you to eat with your hands. You may find even the Indians present in that restaurant look at you strangely. As if you are a heathen. They have been conditioned into believing that which was their prized custom is nothing more than one of barbarians.

But you are also liable to be in the midst of august and refined company if you play your cards right. There are some of those, amongst the world’s top dozen power brokers, political elite, diplomats and scholars that find it easy to come together and break bread in most curious of settings. Wearing Hermes, Prada, Gucci, Zegna, Fab India or just a loin cloth, but being so proud to be together, that for that meal they are enjoying together, these most powerful of this worlds elite forget their qualms and social stigmas and eat and speak and share in ways they have never known before and will not witness for a long time till they come into a similar social setting.

It has happened before and will happen again, but to see it happen, is rare but not unreal.

There are not many amongst us (myself included) that are not comfortable enough about ourselves to let go of what we are trained from a very young age into believing as hard facts about life. It is thus that we are easily conditioned into accepting those labels that are own nuclear lives find acceptable and find barbaric and not so elegant or haute or chic what another may understand as very haute.

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I have more than once been in a formal French restaurant where a bone simply demanded to be picked up and directly chewed. On two occasions, without any fuss, I was quietly brought a finger bowl as if I'd been eating crab or lobster. Now, that's savoir-vivre!

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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I have more than once been in a formal French restaurant where a bone simply demanded to be picked up and directly chewed. On two occasions, without any fuss, I was quietly brought a finger bowl as if I'd been eating crab or lobster. Now, that's savoir-vivre!

Ha! funny you brought that up. My meal last night require me to pick up a piece of meat on the bone and nosh on it.

so good.

I do enjoy eating sushi with my hands too.

As of now, I find the bread cumbersome, but I am learning! :biggrin:

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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I have more than once been in a formal French restaurant where a bone simply demanded to be picked up and directly chewed. On two occasions, without any fuss, I was quietly brought a finger bowl as if I'd been eating crab or lobster. Now, that's savoir-vivre!

And instead of having that savoir-vivre, we would rather lose our old traditions.

In the homes of India tastemakers, even today, one can be sitting next to royalty, premiers of countries, cabinet level officials from different countries, artists, housewives and young kids (yes kids are hardly ever left out from formal dinners). Guests are encouraged to simply be themselves. I have often found the Indians eating with cutlery and the western socialites and artists and some not all diplomats and politicians eating with their hands. How strange it is.

But what is most dignified is the natural and most genteel service given through the meal. The careful and timely arrival of finger bowls with perfectly lukewarm water and lemon wedges.

But those are lives and settings we cannot fathom living here far west. It would take way too much money and effort to orchestrate such fine nuances. And also we have at least in theory liberated ourselves from having help in our homes.

As a caterer, I see awful similarities between the rich of India and the rich the world over. They each have hired help and the abuse that is extended to these men and women. But for some reason, in the Eastern world, they are still able to continue the traditions left behind by the Brits such as that of a finger bowl, but here, we could not think of that as a possibility that comes naturally with each meal.

Each setting has its own baggage and its own skeletons. So ultimately it just goes back to what is comfortable and haute to one would maybe not be the same to another.

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But for some reason, in the Eastern world, they are still able to continue the traditions left behind by the Brits such as that of a finger bowl, but here, we could not think of that as a possibility that comes naturally with each meal.
And then there is that wonderful French custom "a spoon with every course", which Mirabel Osler used as the title of her wonderful book about her culinary journey around France. To leave the last remnants of a great sauce behind is criminal, and one should not be required to eat unnecessary extra bread in order to finish it.

John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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But for some reason, in the Eastern world, they are still able to continue the traditions left behind by the Brits such as that of a finger bowl, but here, we could not think of that as a possibility that comes naturally with each meal.
And then there is that wonderful French custom "a spoon with every course", which Mirabel Osler used as the title of her wonderful book about her culinary journey around France. To leave the last remnants of a great sauce behind is criminal, and one should not be required to eat unnecessary extra bread in order to finish it.

John, I am a cutlery kind of person. I am embarrassed and sad. But that is true. Every time I see an Indian friend eat with their hands and I see the utter bliss on their person, the joy in their eyes, the happiness in their presence, I feel I have been robbed of this happiness as a child. I see these friends enjoy something so simple, and yet something so foreign to me. For I am trying to learn it as an adult and seem to not understand how they do it so naturally, what comes to me with such effort, and even then, after much labor.

Spoons, forks and knives for me any day. My hands are dexterous and tactile, but when it comes to eating with them, I fail miserably. For even with the Indian blood, I seem to have lost the art in having now had it as a child.

There are some messy eaters in India. I have a friend in Geneva, who enjoys eating with his hands and will only eat, wish his hands when eating Indian food. But to watch him is to watch perhaps a two year old trying to eat himself. But then there is a vast majority that eats with their hands as elegantly as a deer grazing in the silent forest.

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As of now, I find the bread cumbersome, but I am learning!  :biggrin:

Ben

Are you not cooking tonight? Matar Paneer???

Eat that with rice.. and try eating it with your hands... It would taste delicious if you can master how to eat it without messing up your palms.

Do tell us in the Matar Paneer thread how your dinner goes tonight. All the best. :smile:

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This is a fascinating thread.  I've been wondering what the menu would be like at the kind of restaurant being discussed, both a la carte and tasting menus.  Could someone come up with a menu?  I've enjoyed reading ngatti's and basildog's menus, as well as Suvir's menus for meals he's cooked.  Indian cuisine is so rich and varies so much regionally; I know so little about it.  I can't even imagine the permutations of a menu for an "haute" Indian restaurant.

Menu for the Music Festival of India

1) Kashmiri Shorva

(Creamy vegetable broth flavored by aromatic spices and a Tabla of lentils)

2) Shrimp Malabar

(Shrimp stuffed tomato salad: shrimp, potatoes, onions and green chilies tossed with sizzling mustard seeds, beans and curry leaves)

3) Lucknowi Chaat

(Crispy whole wheat wafers combined in a cool and tangy spiced yogurt sauce, tamarind-date chutney topped with chickpeas and ginger)

4) Bahaar-e-Chaman

(Tropical fruit refreshment with a base of pineapple juice, flavored with toasted cumin {a palate cleanser and digestive})

5) Murgh Khoobani

Whole Grilled Chicken breasts braised in a fragrant apricot sauce (a mellow poultry flavor complemented by a sweetly tart flavor of fruit)

Paalak Paneer - vegetarian option

(Indian cheese and capsicum in a velvety spinach, mustard and fenugreek green sauce)

Zaffrani Pullao - served with both the above dishes

(Basmati rice imbued with aromatic saffron and a mix of the sweet whole spices cinnamon and cardmom, enhanced with raisins, cashews and pistachios)

6) Orange & Mango Soufflé

(Fresh orange and mango soufflé, frozen in an orange shell, then topped with candied mango zest and fresh pomegranate seeds)

7) Passed Cookies and Spiced Candies

(Crisp almond wafers, cardamon pistachio cookies, cashewnut macaroons, candied ginger and candied mint leaves)

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1) Kashmiri Shorva

(Creamy vegetable broth flavored by aromatic spices and a Tabla of lentils)

The lentil (mix of 3 lentils) soup with Kashmiri garam masala was served French style by the servers after the guests had been seated. The tables were set with beautiful white bowls that had a set of tablas in them. Tabla is an Indian percussion instrument. These were made using cooked, spiced lentils that had been filled by Chef Steven Heinzerling into aquarium filter pipes of two sizes and frozen. They were then shaped to look like Tablas which were going to be used for the performance that night. The top of the tablas were dotted with black nigella seeds to mirror how the top of the Tablas would look.

After the guests were seated, the servers poured the soup onto the bowls and the tablas began to float.

The musicians and the guests at the private room at Carnegie Hall were aware then that the meal that night would be something else.

The soup was cooked over a low flame for hours. And was spiced as it would have been in the cold months in Kashmir. The heat of the garam masala is slow to affect the palate but steady after a few tastes.

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Shrimp Malabar

Shrimp stuffed tomato salad: shrimp, potatoes, onions and green chilies tossed with sizzling mustard seeds, beans and curry leaves

The chef had ordered beautiful evenly shaped vine ripened, stem intact tomatoes for the evening. These were a beautiful red that was reminiscent of the Indian temple red stone.

The tomatoes were artfully carved to create hollow limoge boxes which were then stuffed with a Chilled-Southern Indian style shrimp salad. Once stuffed, the tomatoes were topped with their stem tops and looked like limoge boxes with hidden treasures. We created a handle for each tomato with a jumbo shrimp that was grilled. It gave the effect of a handled limoge box.

The tomato and whole grilled shrimp sat on a bed of dressed lola rosa lettuce and black pepper papadum.

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Lucknowi Chaat

Crispy whole wheat wafers combined in a cool and tangy spiced yogurt sauce, tamarind-date chutney topped with chickpeas and ginger

This is a street food dish which we adapted for serving at this fine location for this very important night. It was recieved very well.

The chickpea, potato salad was made with the two chutneys. It was shaped into a round in the center of the plates. Long diamond shape wafers were placed onto the plate like a floret grounded into the salad. The entire plate was drizzled with spiced yogurt and more of the chutneys and finally with juliennes of ginger.

In fact this became somewhat of a signature dish of mine since that evening and when I became a partner at Pondicherry, it very quickly became an appetizer on the menu at the restaurant and was soon the best seller.

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Bahaar-e-Chaman

Tropical fruit refreshment with a base of pineapple juice, flavored with toasted cumin (a palate cleanser and digestive)

The inspiration for this palate cleansing drink came to me from going back to my days as a student of art history and my research on Mughal Miniature Paintings.

One of these miniatures had a banquet painted and in arabic was scribbled notes about the drink being served that night. While I did not remember what that drink was, I created this one from thinking of what might have been lavish in those days.

This drink was served chilled and almost icy. It came out in shot glasses that the servers held above their heads and other servers placed onto each setting with white-gloved hands. There were enough servers working that night that every person was served all courses at the exact time. People asked for seconds of this.

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