Friday, 17 November 2017

Breaking Bread with Chef Zarmig Halladjian at Novotel Aerocity

Chef Zarmig Ohaness Halladjian

Born and brought up in an Armenian Lebanese family, Chef Zarmig Halladjian considers herself to be an ambassador of her native cuisines and the art of hospitality that is inherent within her people. With 24 cookbooks and various TV shows to her credit, she is quite the celebrity chef! She runs an 800-seater restaurant in Doha, Mamig, which serves Armenian and Lebanese cuisine. She employs a staff of 164 and caters to more than 2000 guests daily and has won several awards as well. Her first visit to India was two months ago during the IFCA's 7th International Conference 2017 at Hotel Pullman, New Delhi. After taking an immediate liking to the country (whatever little she saw of it then) and to its people she is now back to share her cuisine over a nine-day extravaganza at Food Exchange, the signature restaurant at Novotel Aerocity.

Cold Appetisers

Lebanese Fare
Lebanese food has been very popular in India with its array of kebabs, assortment of dips, refreshing salads and flatbreads. One finds many restaurants across Delhi serving mezze platters that are ideal for sharing with a bunch of friends, peers or family. The cuisine gives equal importance to vegetables and flavourful meats and uses plenty of dried fruits and nuts as well. “The gorgeous weather and quality of our soil is highly conducive to growing wonderful vegetables,” shares Chef Zarmig who is carrying a variety of delicious greens and aromatic herbs to lend an authenticity to the food that she plans to serve here.

Our table is laden with cold appetisers such as hummus, moutabel, mouhammara, fattoush and tabbouleh. A range of hot appetisers and succulent BBQ follows. While vegetarian options include cheesy rekakat (spring rolls), and boereg filled with three types of cheese, non-vegetarians are treated to lamb kebbe made with bulgur, minced onions, and finely ground lamb and sambousek that is vaguely similar to our samosa, filled with juicy minced lamb. BBQ includes skewered chicken and lamb marinated in tomato paste, chilli paste, lemon juice, olive oil and yoghurt. Spices are kept minimal so that the flavour of the meats shines through.

Armenian Specialties
Top: Ghapama
Bottom: Fishne Kebab

Armenian Specialties
The mezze includes eech, an Armenian salad made with bulgur wheat. But it is the mains that truly stand out for me. Ghapama is a celebratory dish that comprises rice cooked with honey and dried fruits and baked inside a pumpkin. It is cut open with a lot of fanfare and fruits such as apricots, plums, raisins and toasted pine nuts and almonds compliment the rice and fleshy pumpkin slices. Although it is sweet (also cooked without any salt) it is part of the main course. Fishne kebab is essentially lamb patties topped with fishne or wild cherries that are found at the border of Armenia. The cherries are tart and sweetened with sugar lending a delicious sweet and sour richness to the meat. Another specialty is the Ishkana fish that has specially been flown in from Armenia. This variety of fish is found only in Lake Sevan, the largest body of water in Armenia, and one of the largest freshwater high-altitude lakes in Eurasia. It is typically eaten simply boiled, but Chef Zarmig serves it with a tahini-based sauce to make it suitable to an international palate. Finally, as pomegranate is the symbol of Armenia one finds it sprinkled liberally on various dishes.

The menu will vary over the nine days so you may get to sample many other delicious dishes as well. Besides her culinary talents, Chef Zarmig is also an artist and you will find a collection of her paintings displayed at Food Exchange during this promotion which promises to a feast for the eyes as well as the palate.

Food Exchange, Novotel Aerocity, New Delhi
Timings: 7 pm on 17th - 26th November 2017
Price: Dinner buffet at Rs. 1950++
Phone: 9643100670

Monday, 13 November 2017

Sushi Rolling Masterclass at Wasabi by Morimoto

Left: Vedika proud of her sushi platter, with Chef Amit.
Right: Nirvaan with his prawn tempura roll. 

Frequent travel overseas, availability of international ingredients in India, streaming of international food-based shows and of course the proliferation of diverse restaurants in major cities are just some of the factors responsible for the evolving palates and eating preferences of Indians. Interestingly, this is not limited to adults. Even children are widely exposed to international cuisines due the same reasons. Last year, Chef Manish Mehrotra had talked about the focus on Kids’ Menus for my article on food trends for the coming year. I was reminded of Chef Manish’s comment when I recently visited Wasabi by Morimoto with my kids, aged 11 and 8 years.

Ready for Action

Not only does this fine-dining Japanese restaurant have a special kids’ menu they even conduct Junior Masterclasses. Nirvaan and Vedika (my kids) participated in a fun-filled sushi rolling class on the weekend preceding Children's Day. These masterclasses are conducted regularly and are limited to 8 participants to facilitate interaction between the chef and the kids. Our masterclass started with an introduction by Chef Amit to commonly used ingredients like kombu, nori, sushi rice, sushi vinegar, different garnishes, wasabi and fish roe. While he encouraged the kids to taste some of the ingredients it was interesting to note that most kids were familiar with quite a few of them. The kids’ enthusiasm was palpable as they shared their memories of their first-ever wasabi kick, showing off knowing the difference between salmon roe and flying fish roe and so on.

Creating culinary memories and making new friends. 

The kids then moved to a table that was set with individual counters. Each of them got a bowl of readied sushi rice, a platter with nori, prawn tempura and salmon slices, and a bowl of ice water. As the demo started, the kids dipped their hands in ice water and got started with picking up the rice, rolling it into a ball and spreading it onto the sheet of seaweed. The process was fun, messy, and fairly easy with ample assistance by supervising chefs. Each of them made prawn tempura uramaki (rice outside) and salmon hosomaki (seaweed outside). The chefs did the slicing of the rolls since the knives are too sharp to be handled by kids. Finally the kids proudly placed the sushi made by them on platters decorated with orchid flowers.

Four of the five courses.

The menu is presented as a customized ‘Certificate Of Appreciation For Exploring And Learning The Art Of Rolling Sushi At Wasabi by Morimoto’. The two rolls of sushi made by the Junior Masterchef is the first course followed by chicken tacos, tuna pizza, teppanyaki chicken and fried rice or soba noodles and vanilla ice cream. Each item is delicious and appropriate for kids, and all together it is more than sufficient for even someone with a big appetite.

Moi with my Junior Masterchefs. 

This experience including the lunch costs Rs 3,000++ per child. Accompanying adults get a three-course lunch including shira ae, chef’s special sushi and teppanyaki chicken at Rs 2,000++. Memories created in the process are priceless!