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On a spice route

Chef Arun Tyagi of Radisson MBD takes you on a culinary trip. SANGEETA BAROOAH PISHAROTY takes notes.

ASKING A chef about ingredients that he plays with is like scratching one's palm. One scratch and there is almost no end to it. One answer from the chef and suddenly, there is a chain of answers. A `why' leads to a `what' and a `how' and to a `where', finally circling up into a fascinating chain. What comes to life often at the end of it is an exciting culinary journey.

So, chatting with the Executive Chef Arun Tyagi of Radisson MBD too is no less an odyssey. Even if you are in session with him in the back kitchen of this sole five-star hotel in Noida, mentally, you are in different corners of the country. "I normally do not go to the local market here to procure my ingredients. I prefer to source them instead from the region that the particular dish originates from. If you want the right taste, you need the right ingredients," the chef says, his practiced confidence brimming.

"Half the war is won if you have the right ingredients in front of you. All one needs to do then is bring in a chemistry for which one is anyway trained," he pads up his argument. Interesting, so what are the "right" ingredients that he looks for? "In our Indian cuisine restaurant, Made In India, we have lot of Hyderabadi dishes. So, often I travel down to Hyderabad in search of spices. I particularly go to the `hakims' in places like Gulbarga," says Chef Tyagi. Spices like Maagi, Charoli, Khhas Ki Jad travel up to Delhi to add texture and flavour to many a dish. "Maagi is a great replacement for eggs in kababs. It helps in sticking the ingredients together. Charoli doesn't let the masala go black when we fry it. Though we mostly use it in making kababs, but it has its use in almost all the dishes which needs fried masalas," he explains. He also prefers to get masalas like Kaba Chini straight from Lucknow.

Imported stuff

For European food, Radisson, the Chef says, imports almost everything, including olive oil. "The olive oil you get here is mostly used for massage. Cooking olive oil has to be Kalamatol. It is like the best wine has to be French, the best caviar has to be beluga, the best lamb chops have to be from New Zealand, the small tomatoes used in Italian dishes have to be from Italy," he says all these in a breath. Though he uses a lot of Goan feni and vinegar to add flavour to dishes, utensils and the mode of fire, he insists, plays a major role.

"Loss of wood fire in cooking is the greatest loss for five-star chefs. The chefs now want to go back to it and so, most five-stars now have a char grill with hot lava stones. But it is no equal," he comments. The utensils used are mostly brass but he is a clear voter for iron handis. "It finally adds to the health and taste of the food that you cook," he adds. Due to the lack of any written record of recipes, the chef says, "We have a different rogan josh and a dal makhani every 200 miles."

As he continues talking, you feel as if you have just opened a huge tome that would take you years to finish.

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