Monday, 30 July 2018

Ain't No Mountain High Enough For Chef Vineet Bhatia

Chef Vineet Bhatia

“I had never trekked before in my life”, says Chef Vineet Bhatia. Yet, this Michelin starred chef climbed up till the Everest Base Camp where he and his team set up the most memorable dining experience at 17,600 feet! The 3-day pop-up was held from 3rd-5th June, 2018. On the first two days the team fed fellow trekkers. The third day saw a lavish meal laid out for diners who had specially flown in for the event. Since it was a charity event, the meal itself was priced at USD 1500 per person, while the logistics of reaching there constituted an additional cost.

 How It All Began
Chef Vineet confesses that the original idea came from an Australian chef who wanted to set a world record of hosting the highest pop-up restaurant at the Everest Base Camp (EBC). Since he couldn’t get the requisite funding (it requires USD 15,000 to apply for a world record plus many more expenses involved) he approached Chef Vineet Bhatia for the same. Being an internationally recognized chef, Chef Vineet started getting all the media attention for this project. The Australian chef got miffed and pulled out of the project. It was then that the idea of cooking for charity, instead of a world record, took shape.  

The Right Cause
While we closely follow this jetsetting chef’s journey all over the world through his active social media accounts it is evident that he spends a chunk of his time cooking for charity events. One of the charities that he supports ardently is the Heart For India Foundation that works actively in Chennai, to help provide education to underprivileged children from 3 to 18 years and vocational training diplomas and job recruitments for young women. Although he himself spent a significant amount of money on this trek, the entire proceeds have gone to Heart for India Foundation. The earnings from the documentary that was filmed during the entire trek and pop-up will also follow suit.

The Training and Actual Trek
“Although I have travelled extensively, I had never trekked in my life,” says Chef Vineet. Eight weeks prior to the trek he started working on increasing his stamina and doing cardio-training for almost two hours every day. “I walked on the highest incline on the treadmill, with a 15kg backpack,” he says. This was important because after landing at Lukla, the gateway to Mount Everest, the 12-day trek began. While they were initially hiking 10km a day, as the incline increased and oxygen decreased, there were times when they covered a stretch of mere 400m in four and a half hours! “The extreme conditions really tire you out. Imagine, even at temperatures as low as -8/-9 degrees Celsius, we were sweating,” shares Chef Vineet. But he feels extremely lucky that he and his team could achieve the goal and complete the task without falling sick. “Discipline was key,” he states, which meant getting adequate sleep and abstaining from alcohol, smoking and carbonated drinks throughout the trek.

The Right Team
“It was very important to have people who got along well. Plus, I needed experienced chefs for the actual cooking,” says Chef Vineet. The core team comprised of six people along with two sherpas. The first to come on board was Chef Vineet’s son, 19 year old Varaul. Then there was Chef Tej Bahadur Thapa, chef de cuisine, Rasoi by Vineet, Gulf Hotel Bahrain, Chef Irshad Irshad Qureshi from Grosvenor House Dubai who have both worked for almost 15 years with Chef Vineet, who was thus familiar with their “steely determination”. And finally, there were two camerapersons from Delhi filming the entire experience.

The Menu and Actual Cooking
At an altitude where trekkers survive mostly on packaged foods or some very basic cooked food, this special pop-up ‘restaurant’ served some mouth-watering fare. The multi-course menu included vegetable momos, dal shorba spiced with locally procured wild juniper berries and jimbu (an herb belonging to the onion family, used extensively in some regions of Nepal), grilled chicken, yak butter rice, stir-fried beans with jeera, potatoes, fish masala (again, a local river fish), chicken masala and saffron sooji halwa with gold leaf, masala tea and chocolate. 

The Actual Cooking
All this was dished out from just a pressure cooker, kadhai, handi and a pan and everything had to be cooked on a gas stove since charcoal fire is not allowed in this region. Hence the team had to think out of the box and devised various hacks to ensure that they could serve a fine meal to fellow trekkers as well as the diners who were flying in for this once-in-a-lifetime experience. “Even Gul Bahadur Sherpa gave some valuable tips since he had been a chef for summiteers multiple times.” The chicken was cut into thin slices, as were the potatoes; ginger and garlic were chopped extremely fine so that flavour profiles of the dishes could be maintained while cooking time could be reduced; and so on.

The Most Memorable Moment
On hindsight, Chef Vineet feels that this entire experience has left an inimitable lesson in humility. “Having seen the extreme hardships of the land, I appreciate everything in life even more,” he shares. Needless to say, despite all the hardships, the natural beauty that they were surrounded with was absolutely “stunning”. The most memorable moment for Chef Vineet was when he, along with two of his teammates, trekked up to Kala Patthar. “We started the three and a half hour trek to Kala Patthar at 2 am catch the sunrise,” he reminisces. “I remember sitting there with a cup of chai and a peanut cookie that we had bought from Namche Bazaar; there was complete silence, with not even a bird in the sky, surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the world, and of course, the beautiful Mount Everest. All that I could feel was ‘how small I am ’, all my achievements just shrank away, leaving this most amazing moment etched in my mind forever.” 

A version of this article first appeared in The New Indian Express, Indulge - Coimbatore on July 20, 2018. 

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Bo Tai: Zorawar Kalra's Latest Restaurant in New Delhi

On our second visit to Bo Tai, the restaurant has only been open for five days, yet even on a Monday evening it is buzzing with happy diners. Zorawar and Dildeep Kalra have proven their mettle as successful restaurateurs time and again. This time they have added a Modern Thai restaurant and bar to the Capital’s gourmet dining scene. Bo Tai is thus a playful pun on ‘Bow Tie’, and ‘Tai’ is also a colloquial pronunciation of ‘Thai’. With two terraces overlooking the lush Mehrauli greenery surrounding the iconic Qutub Minar, we can safely say that Bo Tai offers the best ambience in this neighborhood.

Top: Massaman Curry.
Bottom L-R: Scallop Carpaccio; Butterfly Prawns.

The fare on offer is an array of Thai dishes that reflect the experience and creativity of Chef Sahil Singh, whose motto is to ensure that “at least ninety percent of the guests should go home happy”. While he has stuck to the traditional curries, there are many dishes that celebrate Thai flavours albeit with refreshing new twists: Singh prefers to grill the crab cakes instead of deep frying them; along with curried Ching Mai pork sausages, the menu also features duck sausages; and, an entire section is dedicated to European style grills, (again, with Thai ingredients). Each portion of the grills includes a protein, starch and some crunch. The grilled fresh water prawns, for instance, are served with a mildly sweet kafir lime biscotti. Vegetarians will enjoy grilled Portobello mushrooms that are stuffed with a chickpea mash. There is also a hearty Thai style vegetarian gumbo. All the curries – red, green, Massaman, Penang and yellow – have the option of vegetables, chicken, lamb, prawn and duck.

The very cool cocktails.

Enough thought has also been given to the presentation. Not only is the plating Instagrammable, but also practical in keeping with the cuisine on offer and the Delhi weather. The scallop carpaccio and seabass ceviche are served on semi-frozen platters to ensure that the right temperature of the raw seafood is maintained optimally. For our next visit, we already have our eyes on the king oysters with mignonette sauce.

The cocktails are as fab as the food. London-based DARE Hospitality consultants, have lent their signature style for a stellar bar menu and cocktails. Some are even inspired by ancient folklore of Thailand. We tried the Full Moon Festival, an ode to Loi Krathong, a festival celebrated under the full moon of the 12th month, when village folk flock to the rivers with colourful, handmade baskets filled with herbs and flowers and set them afloat with a candle light. In keeping with the name, this gin-based cocktail is served in a glass sphere filled with bright-coloured flowers. The aromatic drink opens a plethora of flavours with strawberry and rose syrup, housemade spiced vermouth, grapefruit, spiced orange syrup, lime and pandan tincture. Of course, there are many more to choose from, including the Pom-tam Cola made with Indian pomegranate and tamarind and a sophisticated and complex Bo Tonic using Seedlip Garden from the UK (a new zero alcohol distillate imported to Delhi especially for Bo Tai).

Chef Shail sums up the ‘concept’ of Bo Tai in a nutshell: “great Thai food and fantastic cocktails”. While we agree whole-heartedly, we’d also add ‘fabulous music and a fun vibe’ for a perfect night out.

Top: Crab cakes
Bottom: Duck Sausages.

Three Must-Have Dishes:
-       Crab cakes with sago wafers. They balance the sweet meat of blue crab with lemon grass, kafir lime and Thai chilli. But instead of the usual deep fried version, this one is grilled.
-       Torched lamb chops smeared with a finger-licking sauce made with jaggery and tamarind.
-       Duck sausages with silken butternut squash and a rich potato dauphinoise.

Bo Tai, 6/4, Kalka Das Marg, Mehrauli Road, Near Qutub Minar, New Delhi-110030.
Phone: 011-20860051/2, +91 9870587770/1.

A version of this article first appeared in Eat Stay Love Magazine, July 2018 issue. 

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Olly - AD Singh’s All Day Café at Cyber Hub

Café culture is on the rise in Delhi NCR. A mix of great food, coffee and cocktails in a comfy-plush environment is ideal for millennials who like to work out of cafes, spending hours chatting or playing board games with their friends or simply read a book over delicious cups of coffee. In all this though, food still takes centrestage.

Top: The Big Cheese.
Bottom: Sweetcorn + Shiso Butter; Sweet Pots.

When the Le Cordon Bleu trained chef, Jyotika Malik, relocated to Delhi after 16 years living across London, Switzerland, Mumbai and Dubai, she felt that there was a gap in café food that she wanted to fill. Having worked at The Dorchester Hotel in London, The Zodiac Grill in Mumbai and consulting many standalone restaurants in Dubai, as well as her enriching food-based travels across the world, Jyotika had many favourites that were missing in the existing cafes in the NCR. “Although I love food, I am also very conscious about what I put into my body; I enjoy clean eating and avoid tinned foods as far as possible,” she shares over a relaxed Sunday Brunch at her latest project: AD Singh’s All Day Café at Cyber Hub, Olly. She has thus put together an international menu with dishes that cross culinary boundaries. From breakfast to sandwiches and salads, pizzas and pastas to meals in a bowl, and tacos to Buddha bowls, there is literally something for everyone! While you may find a lot of comfort food, there are also some dishes with surprise ingredients that “encourage discovery” and allow guests to broaden their palate.

L: Bacon Blanket
R: Lamb Chops

We set Chef Jyotika to a very difficult task: asking her to pick a few must-have dishes from the extensive menu. While a chef typically loves everything that she puts on a menu, here are her top picks:
- New School Porridge: This vegan, gluten-free and dairy free porridge is made with quinoa, millet, almond milk, coconut water, berries, chia, pistachio, cacao and dates.
- Scrambled Eggs with goat’s cheese, oven roasted tomatoes, crispy kale and toasted sourdough.
- Huevos Rancheros: A hearty breakfast dish of a fried egg, crispy bacon, refried beans, chipotle sour cream, fiery avocado and pico de gallo on a soft tortilla.
- Sweet Pots: Grilled sweet potatoes topped with feta, chilli, lime, celery, parsley, cranberries, walnuts and avocado.
- Big Cheese: Ottolenghi-inspired fresh burrata, honey, coriander seeds and orange segments.
- Dip Dip: Quintessential Middle-Eastern 
za’atar pita with moutabal, muhammara, hummus and pine nuts.
- Prawns Pil Pil: Classic Spanish prawns with chilli, garlic, parsley and baguette to mop up the delish sauce.
- Lamb Chops that melt-in-the-mouth and are served with cauliflower couscous, spicy sesame cucumber and tzatziki.

Top: Huevos Rancheros
Bottom: French Toast

We really enjoyed her suggestions because these dishes are simply delicious! On our part we’d recommend that you don’t miss the French Toast. Made with brioche, it comes with contrasting textures and flavours of salted caramel, hazelnuts, dark chocolate ganache and berries.  

Pair your meal with refreshing cocktails or coffees like the Koinonia Original cold brew, Marvahulla single origin coffees or bespoke iced coffees such as salted caramel or the coconut iced latte and the toasted marshmallow iced mocha.

Pair your meal with refreshing cocktails, smoothies or some fine coffee.

Olly, Shop 101, First Floor, Cyber Hub, DLF Tower 8th Rd, DLF Cyber City Phase II, Sector 24, Gurugram, Haryana 122008.
Contact: 01246518803
Timings: 11:30 am - 12:00 am
Meal for two: Rs. 1500 ++

An edited version of this article first appeared on on July 23, 2018.