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Chef’s Knowledge Exchange: A modern twist to traditional cuisine

While giving a modern appeal to a traditional dish, it is important to maintain the dish’s core purpose and authentic taste. This was the view expressed by executive chefs of leading hotels in Hyderabad at the Chef’s Knowledge Exchange on the fisrt day of Express Food & Hospitality Expo at Hitex recently
By Akshay Nayak

The second panel discussion on the first day of the 38th edition of EF&H Expo in Hyderabad saw the presence of executive chefs from leading hotels in Hyderabad coming together to speak about the need and application of giving a ‘Modern Twist to Traditional Cuisine’.

Chef Yogen Datta

The esteemed panelists were Chef Sajesh Nair, executive chef, Taj Falaknuma Palace; Chef Gaurav Malhotra, executive chef, Novotel HICC; Chef Dharmender Lamba, executive chef, Trident, Hyderabad; Chef Kumar Sambhav, regional executive chef, Lemon Tree Premier HITEC City; Chef Yogen Datta, executive chef, ITC Kohenur and Chef Sekhar Rapaka, pastry chef, Novotel Hyderabad Airport KC.
Commencing the panel discussion, Chef Datta said that when it comes to tweaking the traditional cuisine, all that the chef has to provide to the patrons are experiences. He feels that tweaking the traditional cuisine in some bits does add to the experiential element. “You have to be upfront about the tweaking that you have made. You tend to give more experience, then as long as you are explaining for yourself, you are playing a safe game,” he said.

Chef Sajesh Nair

Chef Nair reverberated Chef Datta’s views and said that the chef has to upfront about the twist that they have given to a particular dish, and why so. He said that the well-travelled guests now know what they exactly want. “Tweaking will be required for today’s generation is looking for a healthy diet and hence the ingredients need to be changed. We like to stick to our traditions. So we do something to appeal to the eyes as well as the palate.” he answered to a query about how Taj Falaknuma tickles the tastebuds while sticking to the traditions.

Chef Dharmender Lamba

According to Chef Lamba, all chefs are creative and like to try and present something new to their patrons every time. “We have to clearly understand what the guest is coming for. If the guest is coming for an experience, we make it a point to present that but if the guest is in a hurry, they may not be looking at the nitty-gritty of what is presented to them. We have to modify our ways without bypassing the core value of the dish and at the same time bring in what we are trying to deliver. If you go with the traditional Mutton Rogan Josh, I don’t know how many guests eat it now.” The whole concept is evolving because the customer demand has changed, he affirmed.

Chef Kumar Sambhav

Serving to numerous guests, Chef Malhotra of Novotel HICC expressed that the authenticity of the dish must not fade in the process of tweaking it. “A dal makhani should taste like a dal makhani, so that is what is important for us. When it comes to serving a huge number of guests in conventions and gatherings, there is not much tweaking that can be done. But at our restaurants, we do consider tweaking the traditional cuisine.”
Chef Sambhav noted that the modern-day guests, the millennials are looking at receiving their food with a modern twist to the traditional cuisine.

Chef Gaurav Malhotra

Keeping the authenticity intact
Chef Nair opined that while tweaking the dish as per the expectations of the guests, authenticity needs to be studied. He said, “We ensure that whatever we do for the visual attraction, it will not affect the authenticity of the dish until and unless you play around with the process of preparing the dish. For example, if a Tandoori chicken tikka is not cooked in the tandoor but in an oven, then you have changed it completely.”
Chef Lamba opined that food is very subjective. “What is authentic for you may not be authentic for me. As chefs, we are the custodians of the traditional cuisine legacy and must ensure that it is not lost. There was a fad for molecular gastronomy for a while. Everybody is looking for something new.”

Chef Sekhar Rapaka

Chef Gaurav too agreed on not changing the core purpose of a dish, but the dimensions, and how sauces catering to the new-age tastebuds can be a bit more contemporary, but still be a part of the authentic dish. He added, “As chefs, we know what is best and what ingredients will make it look and taste better.”
Chef Rapaka said that he too has tweaked the pastries and savouries to meet the modern guest’s expectations, but only with the portion size and presentation and not the taste.

Organic approach
The panelists, when asked about the organic approach in their kitchens, noted that it is much of a trend among the consumers, for which the hotels have also started investing in these ingredients, but again there are some loopholes associated with the organic trend.
Chef Datta strictly believes either it is all organic or non-organic produce. Every single element has to match. Chef Nair feels that wherever you go you come back to the roots. “We receive a lot of guests who ask for ingredients that are organic like the organic ragi flour, etc. We being a palace property, we do use organic products and tweak the dishes using them accordingly,” he added. Chef Sambhav said that as of now they are not doing much of organic, but on demand, they do cater to the guests who want dishes made using organic produce.
Chef Gaurav mused, “Honestly we have a big lawn and garden. Also a couple of years ago, we started Hydroponics. We have our mango orchard and also some produce harvest within the property which suffices for our a-la-carte restaurant needs. We do promote it. It doesn’t have to be all organic but in some parts of the menu, we do have organic offerings.”
“There is no certification for organic produce. There is no authenticity and it is just self-claimed by producers,” pointed out Chef Lamba. Chef Datta felt that the culture of consumption changes with the evolution of the cities. Many cities are taking this trend ahead. And, likewise, Hyderabad is seeing the demand for organic produce, he said.
Chef Sambhav also said that they are now new vendors coming up with organic produce, pointing out that the trend is gaining traction in the city.

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