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Too many cooks?

Not really. Three Chinese chefs from the Taj group come together to create chemistry in a kitchen


WHEN ONE is good enough, to have three is too much of a good thing, isn't it? But that is the kind of sensory overload that awaits foodies at the Taj Coromandel's Master Strokes festival. It brings two master chefs, Lo Ka Yan from the Tea House of the August Moon, Taj Palace, Delhi, and David from Ming Yang, Taj Lands End, Mumbai, to join the resident one, Hardy Cheung at the Golden Dragon.

Since chefs are known to be prima donnas with egos as fragile as soufflés, the vagaries of which can drive a rookie to distraction, one felt like gauging the chemistry behind the cooking range. Getting the three of them together for a chat was interesting. The ebullient Chef Hardy took over the proceedings, naturally. The camaraderie among the three was unmistakable. Between patiently answering questions — language was a major hurdle — there was much bantering and laughing.

The chefs, originally from Hong Kong, have known one another for a long time, which explained the warmth and laughter. Though not in the same restaurant, they had worked for the same company, Food Street, that ran 36 restaurants. But Chef Hardy had an interesting thing to say about the reticent Lo Ka Yan, who was content to let the other two do the talking. "He is called Prince Lo. He never smiles while working and is serious like a prince." Then Hardy sits back ramrod straight with hand on knees and strikes the pose of a stiff royalty scowling at his minions. Amidst the laughter, Lo is told of the joke about him. He takes it easy. Hardy was quick to make amends, "But as you watch Chef Lo, you learn a lot. He is correct in his work."

All three specialise in Szechwan and Cantonese cuisines. But Lo Ka Yan is accepted as the expert by the other two. "Because I am from Shang dong and Chef David is Cantonese. But Chef Lo is from Sichuan. He grew up eating that food," Hardy laughed, back to his teasing mode. Hardy said the two most used ingredients in Szechwan cuisine were chillies and rice wine.

So, it sounds natural when the expats say that the most difficult part of their stay in India is the food. They can take only so much of Indian food and they need home food, not what the restaurant offers all the time.

The solution? Bring food from home. Chef David says he brings suitcases filled with food from home. Guess what, one priceless thing he carries is Maggi noodles! "The ones you get here have Indian flavour, curried and spicy," he clarified. So much for turning my nose up on instant stuff!

Hardy whined, "Chef David and Lo get to go home every six months. I have to wait a year."

The chefs agree that the scene is changing in India. In the late 1990s when they first came to India, it was very difficult to find ingredients. From tofu to wonton they had to make every thing by themselves. The greens were just out of the question. So they brought seeds back from home to grow gai lum, choy sum and the like. David claims to have grown choy sum in the Mumbai hotel. Hardy says the farm owner in Ooty to whom he had given gai lum seeds complained to him that the `broccoli' wasn't growing right.

Despite all the irritations that go with the territory, these guys like working in India. "Life is relaxed here. In Hong Kong, it is too fast. Time is money and if you don't move fast, somebody will push you out. Here there is time to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee," Hardy eloquently takes a sip of his coffee and sinks into his chair. The other two nod in agreement.

Try these out

DOES SOMETHING as natural as a cool breeze or a koel's song need description? It always fulfils its purpose. The feast of the master chefs belongs to this category. All you have to do is to let your senses take over. A few suggestions are: go for the Mala chicken that is meant to numb your lips and singe your tongue. But before that, try the steamed chicken with ginger scallion soya sauce. It sits lightly on the tongue. Then there is the Buddhist dish, deep fried yam with lemon sauce, which is bound to confuse you. It is very easy to mistake this one for a non-veg dish. Ah! This is a case where words are redundant.

MARIEN MATHEW

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