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A man of taste

"My book answers how to change gravies to sauces, how to convert desserts to dishes and the like. I have tried to give an international appeal to traditional food."



ON THE OTHER SIDE: Chef Arvind Saraswat enjoying a quiet lunch at The Chinese located in the Middle Circle of the famous Connaught Place in New Delhi. Photo: S. Subramanium.

AS A child, he used to spoil dishes by adding things unnecessary, chillies for instance. Not that he confined himself to that. He made merry as the cooks wondered who was to blame for the sizeable portions of the semi-cooked food that went missing during the preparation. Even now, he doesn't mind experimenting, but he is more meticulous. Arvind Saraswat might still indulge in adventures of the culinary kind, but as Director Food Production, Taj Group of Hotels and the author of several cookbooks, he doesn't break the rules. He makes them.

At The Chinese in Middle Circle, Connaught Place he allows the chef, who has come from China to decide the fare but only after he has been informed of what's in store. One might be able to see a mix of English, Indian and Chinese alphabets scribbled here and there but officials at the 100-cover restaurant claim that when it comes to food, they serve only authentic stuff. The décor simply aims to recreate the historic Silk Route with various trade maps on the floor. After familiarising with the set up, Saraswat goes into the more familiar domain of his childhood, as the waiter brings in some sweet limejuice.

"As a child I used to be there in the kitchen quite often but not for professional aspirations. I had in fact applied to engineering institutes but my father advised me to apply at the Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Pusa. I got selected and even then I had no clue about the thing. I thought I would become the GM of some hotel. But then slowly I developed interest in cooking and even the teachers recognised it and finally I landed up with the Taj."

As he savours the juicy and tender beans starter, he can't help but mention that the beans have been tossed subtly with the sauce which has a character of its own. He also confirms that the food is authentic after he tastes the chicken dish with peanuts. He attributes the tingling taste at the tip of the tongue to the Sichuan peppers that have been used. "Sichuan cuisine is closer to Indian taste as it is spicier than other Chinese cuisines," he informs. He might be at ease with Chinese and enjoy European fare the most, but the mention of Indian cooking, the subject of his latest book, "The Gourmet Indian Cookbook", gets him animated.

"The 42 items that have been presented in this book are just an attempt to document Indian food. They are all known delicacies. I have just worked on their presentation and tried to make them easier on the stomach. My book answers how to change gravies to sauces, how to convert desserts to dishes and the likes. I have tried to give an international appeal to traditional food," explains Saraswat.

The steamed pomfret, which he rates the best dish of the meal and the sautéed greens ensure that he keeps going. He suggests that one should make the breads smaller and go for toppings rather than fillings to give that extra appeal. Meanwhile, the rabri can be made to look appealing by adding rose syrup. He can go on forever, but the Chinese tea probably commands his attention. "The tea helps you to wash the track. But the best part is that they keep on refilling it and yet the flavour is maintained." Having eaten and talked about Chinese he says that one shouldn't forget the regional and home cooking. "Home food is always delicious. It is good because the diner's taste is already known; besides it's healthier than the fast food that is getting popular." And for those, who want the rules for that, well they can wait for his next book, "The Magic of Masala Cooking", which would deal with making success stories of masala adventure.

S.M. YASIR

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