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Food, fun and aesthetics, the Pooja way

"Go to any small-time hotel or dhaba, their food is just yummy. They know how to cook non-vegetarian food best."


FOOD IS sensuality personified. It is a visual medium, so one must present it in the most aesthetic manner. How can you dump a bulging piece of flesh on a platter awkwardly sprinkled with spices? And the setting? It is the most important segment of food presentation, that reveals how tastefully the meal might have been prepared!

"And... .", she goes on and on! This is Pooja Bhatt, as deft in her knowledge of food, the place of its origin and the art of presenting it as her encyclopaedic understanding of films and their aesthetics. Mention food and leave the rest to her: She will enrich you with her own food tales suitably accompanied by all that you ever knew - and didn't know - existed in the food category! Adding to her facts about food and interiors are those books which she "would chew and swallow, confining herself in a corner since childhood".

And if you think she has missed those Ming paintings, huge, green-hued beautiful Chinese vases on which some Chinese tales of several dynasties are scripted, the typically simple setting of Le Meridien hotel's Chinese restaurant Golden Phoenix in New Delhi, you are grossly mistaken. One quick glance and she gauges the worth of the place, "Cool, let's sit here". Here she is, for a quick bite. She is a chef's delight, who would leave it to him to "bring what he thinks is the best and quickest in the kitchen", and thus test him too!

"If you have grown up in England, you grow up learning that chips and mashed potatoes are definitions of wonderful food. That's what happened to me too. But when I went to South of France, I lost my gastronomic virginity. And you know, in the schools there, children have courses in food also. So from childhood, they learn about food specialities. We must have such courses in our syllabus too," she suggests, while chef Danish places chicken salt and pepper before her.

Knowing that she is a food buff, Sanjay Dutt even indulged in a practical joke with her in South Africa during the shooting of "Sadak".



EYE FOR DETAIL: Pooja Bhatt looks for something to please the palate at Le Meridien's Golden Phoenix restaurant in New Delhi. Photos: S. Subramanium.

Recalls Pooja, "He took me to a restaurant and insisted that I taste a dish. It was rubbery stuff, it felt sticky, uneasy to munch. Chewing I asked, `At least tell me what is this?' `An alligator's tail,' he said and had a belly laugh, `ha ha ha'! Yeah... ." Pooja can't resist a nostalgic smile!

A food lover is usually a good cook, goes the belief. But Pooja defies it. "I am not a great cook," she drops her cards. "But yes, I can make pasta very well and Maggie. I can bet no one can cook Maggie the way I do. I make my own innovations in it," she claims. Her barbecue chicken has arrived. Here at Golden Phoenix, named after the fabled bird - the phoenix that according to Chinese legend burns itself in the sun every 500 years and rises again from its ashes - which symbolises the rejuvenating power of nature, the ambience too calls for attention towards its rejuvenating factors: Tall, thin, green plants peeping from glass frames, soothing music and the Cantonese and Szechwan cuisine. The Manager H.M.S Sokhi explains that it is a 72-cover restaurant spread across 1540 square metres, opened in 1986.

Pooja's rejuvenating factor for the moment, however, is "Paap". "I am not expecting people to come to me and say, `You have changed the face of Indian cinema through this film'. Supple of the film is undue, unnatural, forced self-denial that I wanted to highlight. I have learnt that many young people are coming to watch the film, that's a good beginning," she assumes.

Where she does not assume anything is that dhaba food is the best-cooked food in India, as she has experienced it. "Go to any small-time hotel or dhaba, their food is just yummy. They know how to cook non-vegetarian food best."

And you know what keeps her in the best mood: Good ethnic food, and some books on interiors!

RANA SIDDIQUI

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