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Indian Cuisine as Haute Cuisine


Schielke
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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)

The chicken breasts were marinated whole in a creamy ginger and cilantro stem marinade. These were grilled to perfect temperature, plated onto one side of the plates, the apricot sauce poured over them on an angle so as to not cover them totally. In fact most of the white of the breast was left exposed. And it was quite a beautiful and rich white, thanks to the hung yogurt and mostly all white spice marinade.

The saag paneer was cooked perfectly so as to ensure that the sauce was a vibrant rich green reminiscent of the Indian flags color. Not the almost black gloppy sauce we have grown accustomed to being called saag in Indian restaurants.

It was my idea to have the colors of the Indian flag on each plate.

For the vegetarians we also served a side of guchi karahi. Again the sauce was an orange that played perfectly with the flag theme. The rice was mostly white with some hints of saffron and certainly had its aroma.

The raisins, cashews and pistachios were used to remind those in the know of the decadence associated with the India of the Mughal era.

The center of each table had a bread basket with several Indian flat breads. Also at the center of each table were several chutneys, achaars (pickles) and murrabas (preserves).

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Orange & Mango Soufflé

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

Pomegranates signify life and longevity in our culture. It was very important to me that the menu somehow bring out the hope that we must have for a long and prosperous future for India.

The Orange and Mango Souffle was created by the Steven Heinzerling to bring two of Indias native fruits to the table. Mango and Orange.

The meal could not have come to a closing point with a more oppulent and beautiful display. Between the shimmer of the candied emerald green mango zest, the ruby colored fresh pomegranate seeds and the bright orange of the citrus and the yellow diamond of the mango souffle, the eyes could not have been treated in a richer way in jewel tones.

I posted a pic of the dessert above. It is not exactly how we served it that night. Just a picture I had at home from another night when I made the same dessert. It will give you a rough idea.

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Passed Cookies and Spiced Candies

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

The almond cookes were shaped to mirror the instruments that were going to be used that night. They were decorated with chocolate to fill in details of the instruments.

The candied ginger and mint were served alongside these for those that may have been allergic to flour. And certainly also to make an impact.

The cookie trays were placed at the center of each table.

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Every time I cater or plan an event, it is my hope that every guest and also the hosts go back home taking a part of the evening or event with them.

For this special occasion, India’s 50th year of Independence and also the first time an Indian meal was served at Carnegie Hall, I tried hard to come up with something that would be circumspect and special.

I was inspired one night in my dreams to get old brocade-silk pouches hand made in India as they would have been made for the royal women. Ogaan (New Delhi’s own Bergdorf Goodman) was called upon and the owner personally went and bought some old textiles and got beautiful batwas (silk-brocade pouches) made in neutral yet very Indian tones and colors. These were stuffed inside with a Ziploc bag that was again made to order, which contained "Mukhwas" (mouth fresheners). I had selected cloves, cardamom, and fennel seeds, rose petals, candied ginger and dried jasmine florets. The spices were dipped in silver and gold dust.

These pouches were handed out just before the guests were ready to retreat into their private boxes. I joined some friends in one of the boxes and our friend David Karp had carried one for me. It was exciting to see all the VIP's opening their pouches and chewing on their own special mouth fresheners over the duration of the concert. Many of them have kept these pouches as memorabilia.

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Thank you, Suvir. The menu was mouthwatering and the whole evening sounds so magical. Other threads have made comparisons between restaurant meals and theater; it seems as if Indian haute cuisine can provide both the imaginative food and the charm and well-being that we look for in fine dining.

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This was a 7 course dinner I did for a birthday dinner that a society client of mine was throwing for herself. The dinner was a seated dinner at her home. Dean Willis then the chef at Pondicherry and I came up with the menu for this evening. The hostess wanted the food plated in antique china and I had taken antique textiles and serving platters.

It was a sensational evening. I left behind an antique paisley from the 17th century for the hostess. Actually it was left behind as a mistake. But the next morning, when I realized I had left my shawl behind, I thought maybe it was just meant to be that way.

Passed Appetizers

Samosas

Potatoes spiced with coriander and cumin and filled into whole wheat pastry

Salmon Raita

Tartare of salmon with yogurt, mint, cilantro, egg yolk mimosa and spices served on lentil crisps

Crab Cakes

Bite sized, lightly spiced lump crab meat cakes served with green papaya chutney

First Course

Coastal Shrimp Soup

Malabar spices tempered in a light shrimp soup and garnished with Tandoori grilled shrimps

(vegetarian option - Lentils and Vegetable soup, served with toasted cashews)

Second Course

Chaat papri

Whole wheat crisps with chickpea salad tossed in tangy yogurt and tamarind-date sauces and fruity spices.

Palate Cleanser

Bahaar - e - chaman

Tropical fruit juices with digestive and cleansing spices and fresh mint leaves and ginger.

Fourth Course

Chicken Biryani

Basmati rice layered with chicken cooked in spices and with saffron and screw pine essence

Fifth Course

Dorade Royale

Fillets of dorade cooked in a banana leaf with a mint-cilantro chutney and served with tehari rice

Sixth Course

Citric Fruit Salad

Pineapples and citric bites seasoned with spices and served with a coconut sorbet

Seventh Course

Candied ginger, candied mint, assorted cookies

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Thank you, Suvir.  The menu was mouthwatering and the whole evening sounds so magical.  Other threads have made comparisons between restaurant meals and theater; it seems as if Indian haute cuisine can provide both the imaginative food and the charm and well-being that we look for in fine dining.

You are kind to be so flattering.

But yes-Indian food has the same magic any cuisine can present one that is willing to see the magic unfurl. I wish any one cuisine could take credit for alone being magical. Magic only happens when it finds freedom and can breathe in its own glory. When forced, it loses the spark that makes magic ethereal.

Too many chefs and restaurants and caterers forget what magic really is. Magic cannot be bought, magic cannot be duplicated and magic cannot be branded. It is not ours to buy or sell. It exists only in a moment and evaporates even before that moment turns to the next.

It takes a creative mind to come up with the menu, but even a more creative and visionary mind to give that creative mind a chance.

I was lucky to have been chosen to cater that even at Carnegie Hall. Also as luck would have it, Chef Steven Heinzerling of Carnegie Hall was a great fan of Indian cooking and also of Ravi Shankar.

It was thus easy to find magic in the kitchen as we prepared such a meal for 250 plus of the worlds most powerful and savvy diners that night.

The dinner had cost each guest a fortune and so, the organizers had wanted to make sure the evening would be remembered decades later for being magical in all aspects.

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Thank you, Suvir.  The menu was mouthwatering and the whole evening sounds so magical.

Toby in some ways I was really charged and inspired that night for I have been a fan and student of Indian classical music for many years. Several years in fact. And I also performed as a young man.

I would not have found the magic if the event was just another boring political fund raiser, but the fact that it was an evening of musical and dance performances from India and with almost every top name of the country performing at one stage on the same day, I could not have asked for a better place to serve my masters.

It also helped that all day, as the musicians practiced and did their sound checks, the sound was shared with us in the kitchen. Chef Heinzerling and his team were encouraging me to sing as I cooked and the evening seemed to have gone by like a breeze.

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The Foundry Theater

(A Conversation On Hope and Food For The Soul)

The Menu

Act 1

Head table conversation

Grilled red onions, aubergine, apples, pineapples, green-red-and yellow bell peppers, mushrooms and creamy marinated breasts of chicken and tofu grilled in the tandoor and served with a mint, cilantro and beans dipping sauce.

Act 2

Conversation continues at the Head Table, and you may be called upon

Red and green grapes, kumquats, pears, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, strawberries, cantaloupes, honey dew melon, raspberries and pistachios and raisins tossed in a tomatillo-tangerine-lemon and charred red onion vinaigrette, and served over lettuce and endive greens and garnished with okra crisps.

Act 3

Conversation continues at your own table

Vegetarian chili made with beans , black eyed peas and garbanzos and served with an assorted array of condiments including a minced lamb and pea keema, grated mixed cheeses, sour cream, peppers, onions and nuts.

Act 4

Pose your questions to the floor

Creme Brulee and strawberries dipped in chocolate provided by Marions

Act 5

The Epilogue

cocktails and coffee...

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The above menu was for an evening that was planned as a conversation on hope. The participants were 300 or so artists, thinkers, performers and writers from around the country. Coming together before the turn of the century to speak on what hope meant to them.

The food was meant to be food for the soul. Food that would provide impetus for conversations and also create as little fuss as possible.

Another aspect that the organizers had wanted to pay attention to was the need for the menu to be planned so that people would have to share, speak about it and touch it.

So, the menu was planned with that in mind. Simple and tactile.

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The Foundry Theatre's Conversation On Hope was not a traditional theatre piece but it was definitely theatrical. Not the least of its dramatic elements was the opening night event, Food For The Soul, a four course meal designed by Suvir Saran. Saran conceived each course as another means to provoke imaginative conversations between participants at the tables and the results were stunning; with each course these conversations deepened.

It has been said of the Foundry's productions that they "linger on in audiences long after they've left the theatre" (WNYC); the remarkable originality of Saran's menu continues to be talked about, even now, as among the most memorable aspects of A Conversation On Hope.

Melanie Joseph

Artistic Director

Foundry Theatre

NYC

 

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I was blessed to eat the delicious and soulful food of Suvir Saran at a conference on hope in New York this past March. How I wish more people could revel in this culinary experience!

Cornel West

I post the above two to share with you the real magic food has. Even simple very basic food can inspire and inspirit people.

If you know Cornel West, you would know how inspiring he is to so many people. It was an honor for me to work with Melanie Joseph and Dr. West to make their event a success.

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For the Conversation On Hope, Melanie Joseph the Artistic Director of the Foundry Theater, asked me if I could sing as the guests arrived for the evening. My music teacher, Marina Alam gave me a cooking lesson in the kitchen that was mic'ed into the dining hall and reception area. So as guests arrived they could hear me getting a music lesson in the kitchen and also hear the sounds of the kitchen as we prepared passed appetizers for them and were getting the dinner all ready.

For 45 minutes I cooked and sang and the music was slowly amplified to higher levels till it came to a certain volume where it became clearly audible. At that point, I came out of the kitchen, singing with a microphone on my collar and a brass gong and a mallet, I was supposed to touch each table as I made my way to the head table where I would meet with all the guests on that table and then hit the gong for the evening to begin.

My song ended exactly as I reached the head table. I hit the gong and at that very moment the First Act of the evening began. Melanie welcomed people to the Conversation On Hope and the servers all came out in unison with platters for the center of each table.

I had chosen to sing a Bengali song of Rabindra Nath Tagore called Jodi Tore Dakshyoneko Naa Ashe, Tobe Aiklaa Cholo Re (loosely translated into english it says that when you make a call and no one comes, you must walk alone).

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Food Arts Magazine

December 1997

Front Burner

INDIAN TRANSPORTS

New York City-It was one of those rare nights, bursting with anticipation, served up with all of the excitement New York had to offer. As the evening sunset blazed in reds and clouds of gold, so too did the streets around Carnegie Hall. Saris in exquisite and mysterious swirls of luminous colors swept through the doors. It was the celebration of India's 50th year of independence, September 13, 1997.

A traffic snarl and an alarming smell led to the realization that we were in the elephantine presence of "The Largest Animal in Captivity," the media flashbulbing away at Old King Tusk.

As the evening progressed, the excitement hardly abated. Guests at the Music Festival of India knew it was a historymaking moment. They were about to experience the genius of India's most venerated musicians gathered together for the first time. They would not be disappointed. In India it is believed that both music and food are equally necessary for the health of body and spirit. Event planner and chef Suvir Saran worked with Carnegie Hall executive chef Stephen Heinzerling to orchestrate a dazzling Indian feast that launched the celebration with food rarely experienced outside the private homes of India.

As the staff in the Carnegie Hall kitchen prepared for the gala, music from the onstage rehearsal was piped in. Saran, who is also a musician, said that hearing it was wonderful inspiration. In a room done up in magenta, gold, and blue, 250 guests who had been invited to the pre-concert party were served a seamless presentation of excitingly delicious food. The meal built in complexity and unexpected turns, not unlike Indian music.

First came the deep, warm flavors of kashmiri shorva, a spiced lentil soup, played against the next two cool and spicy courses: lucknowi chaat, a fresh, tangy yogurt served over crisp wafers, sparked with ginger and chutney, and a chicken breast mantled in a fragrant apricot sauce. The latter was presented with paalak paneer, fresh Indian cheese in a velvety green spinach sauce.

An orange and mango souffle, a refreshing finale, was served with delightful almond and ginger wafers bearing the image of Indian musical instruments. And each guest took away a brocade pouch of mukhwas, Indian digestive condiments to nibble through the concert. Altogether, it was a momentous evening filled with passions and presented with breathtaking flair.

--Julia Van Nutt

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The Foundry Theatre had planned the Conversation On Hope and Food For The Soul evening as a theatrical event all the way through. From the moment the guests came to the time they left. Every thing was planned with that in mind. In fact as they met the next morning with Youth from around t he city at Cooper Union, they had me come back to play the Buddhist meditation cymbals to bring they day to a start. They felt it necessary to bring me in to have the connection from the night before. I was happy doing this small thing as I got to see Dr. Cornel West do his magical stuff of inspiring the young. He was great. It was amazing to see how he can make teenagers that would care little to be sitting in an auditorium participate with great interest in his talks.

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The Foundry had hired me and also a group of event planners to make this event the best theatrical meal these great minds coming together could ever have experienced.

The tables had no numbers on them for identification. And yet there was a plan in place for seating. Each table had a different herb or spice place in it center. Guests were given a card, which told them the name of their tables’ herb or spice. And this card had information on that herb/spice's history, use etc.

The tables were all decorated with a plateau of rice, lentils or beans. In the center of which was created a well filled with the herb or spice for that table. It served three purposes.

1) As the guests came in, this would be how each guest would have to identify their table.

2) As the hot platters and bowls of food sat atop these spices, they would exude their aroma.

3) It also provided the attendees with an education on herbs and spices and thus something to speak about as they began this conversation around food.

I had the servers telling me and later friends that attended as guests, that as people came in, many of them had no clue what rosemary looked like, or what cilantro looked lie or what lemon verbena looked like... What was amazing was that in this need to find their tables, and thus having to ask each others assistance in location a specific herb or spice, relative strangers (though most all of them had heard of each other and read about each other, or seen each other perform or sing or dance, or be reviewed) had to converse with one another and share stories and also be humble in their not being able to identify a spice or herb. It was perfect, just what Melanie and the entire board of the Foundry wanted. Nothing could have broken the ice better. Nothing could have created more energy in a room just getting ready for an evening of much discussion.

The Playbill for the evening had all the necessary information for the evening and about the Foundry and also had in it the menu for the evening and its last page carried the recipe for the Chili I had prepared for that night. It was our hope that people would want to go back home and perhaps remember this evening and cook thinking about it.

As the evening came to a close, servers presented each guest with zip loc bags that each contained a package of seeds for some plant, annual or perennial. Also they suggested that each guest take some of the rice/lentils/beans and their own tables spice or herb with them and also take some from the other tables as they wished.

The seeds were symbolic of hope and life and the beans/rice/lentils and the herbs presented them an opportunity to recreate in their own homes some of this evening’s magic.

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I can only hope that the rest of us can partake in the ritual that Suvir described above in the various posts.

Now if I could only get such meals regularly with some "sangeet" (music) afterward....(we can dream, can't we...)

vivin

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What amazing menus! It was a delight to read them and imagine how everything must taste. I now know that I must seek out a meal of this style and caliber.

I am glad to hear that there are instances in western culture where we can experience something as grand as this.

Thank you Suvir,

Ben

Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

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

-Mario

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………He was mystified by the way light transformed ordinary objects into aesthetic treasures and then returned them to banality. He was sure the Indian sun had a lot to do with Hindu philosophy and reincarnation. Fire and brimstone; gems and blood and ashes. Something is nothing is something. Rivers reflect India’s setting sun and drink its bloody waters red. Hot, boiling veins stream into the black vapors of night. The white liquid substances of passion create life and blood. Dehydration. Then, Disintegration. Dried powdered blood.

…………………The table setting was tasteful; the display of South Indian food, sumptuous and bountiful. Stainless steel serving bowls of dal, parathas, sambhaar, poriyal, chapattis made at home, pachadi and vegetables adorned the table. The tablecloth was a woven textile; its dark spruce color reminded him of de Heem’s LE DESSERT and the richness and abundance that the table setting must have had before de Heem started to paint. The colors of the spiced rices and multihued vegetables tantalized him, and like a hummingbird, he searched the dishes for the exotic nectar that he had never uncovered in either the United States or Europe.

Only in India did he look at the colored powders of the Bhendi street vendors and imagine them edible. Cow horns painted cobalt blue. Billowing saffron saris that rippled and danced on the camel-brown deserts of Rajasthan, where sand and sky blend into monotonous whirlwind of blinding grainy brown speckles. Iridescent cloths that seemed hand-painted onto the dusty sepia scenes; they dotted his vision like marigolds and poppies protruding from the brown earth. Amid the suspended, heavy backdrop of dust and dirt, he found life in color. He saw fabrics that made him salivate and whose textures he assured himself could not be appreciated entirely by sight alone. He tasted the delicious colors and textures with his eyes refusing to close them, savoring their flavors in a climate where objects often evaporate or disintegrate before maturity.

……………………..In New York, London, and Paris, he had dined in some of the fanciest homes, in the most fashionable areas, with some of the world’s most reputed hosts and hostesses. Even in the most modest of circumstances in India he found that the generosity seemed to surpass that of the west. Was it because people had less they gave more? Was it a sort of over-compensation for the poverty of the majority of its people? He would never forget the ease with which a couple had given a seated dinner for forty people in the heart of the jungle in Madhya Pradesh. Every article including the food and cutlery had been transported several hundred miles by jeep from their home, specifically for the dinner. The hunting lodge had been freshly painted for the party. The neighboring villagers had come to decorate the compound with strands of flowers and handmade cloth banners. Special native dances were performed like unseen ancient rites. There was joy in simplicity, and yet it was no simple feat. By the end of the festivities, three hundred people had been hosted and Noel watched, in amazement, as the hosts effortlessly regarded even their guests’ smallest concerns. Elaborate, sophisticated Indian dishes were prepared on open fires. Homemade nan, chapattis, and parathas came straight from the heated flames to the tables. It was a royal dinner and Noel was sure that all the other guests had retreated into an endless maze of rooms at the hunting lodge, thinking they had all participated in something unique and wonderful…….

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  • 1 month later...

Suvir, Your dishes sound great...and deifnety would be considered "haute cuisine" by many people. In terms of Indian haute cuisine, I've noticed that there seem to be alot more restaurants in England that could be called "gourmet" Indian...that surprises me since most people in England associate Indian food with curry and New York is usually on the forefront of trends in the food industry. What do you think that potential is in New York for more restaurants like Tabla to open? I've heard that Raga is great...and its a shame that Pondicherry closed down...

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