The seventh edition of Chef’s Connect organised by Western India Culinary Association (WICA), marked the presence of who’s who of the chef’s fraternity who rejoiced the annual day-long knowledge-packed conference which celebrated the theme – ‘Maharashtra – Reclaiming traditions, building futures’
The event was inaugurated with the lamp lighting ceremony performed in the presence of the esteemed guests including Chef Manjit Singh Gill, president, Indian Federation of Culinary Associations (IFCA); Chef Vernon Coehlo, president, WICA and chief guest Dr Mohsina Mukadam, professor and head of department of history, Ruia College Mumbai.
Speaking about the event, Chef Coehlo in his welcome address said, “A warm welcome to all to the seventh edition of WICA’s Chef Connect. Every year, the event has grown from strength to strength. The theme of this year’s conference revolves around the food of Maharashtra; its rich culture, and festivals which will be reflected in the many knowledge sessions scheduled throughout the day. There is no Maharashtrian cuisine per se, but a series of regional cuisine from the coastal belt, Kolhapur and Mumbai having its cuisine. It needs to reach the recognition that it deserves. In the course of action as a chef, I have always told the aspiring chefs to learn their regional cuisine first, before learning any other cuisines.”
Speaking about the importance of preserving traditional cuisines, Chef Gill expressed in detail, “Culturally, you can evolve into the cuisine of your region. The rudiments of food are not much different and is deeply embedded in the people which is passed on from generation to generation. Interestingly, I read it in a book that there is a mother cuisine and a father cuisine. The mother cuisine is the one that cannot be exported from the region. The ingredients are local and cooked as per the local climate. So the cuisine which is not learnt in schools but is disseminated from generation to generation, that is mother cuisine. The same cuisine becomes a father cuisine when it is taught in a classroom, and when it is exported from one region to another. But, in this case, we always see that the food changes and doesn’t have the same richness as the original one. One must learn the mother cuisine. You should be the master of your mother cuisine. It gives you a lot of freshness when you are celebrating mother cuisine. It is a pity to see a lot of chefs coming from Garhwal, but where is the Garhwali cuisine? The two focus points should be wellness and sustainability. If the food is not for wellness, how is it food? Also, if it is not sustainable, then how is it good for your consumption and nature? If you, as patrons, choose the right food to eat, we chefs will merchandise and sell the food that is good for you. The best food is that gets you thinking about your next meal after 30 minutes of consuming it. In the chef’s shoes, we have to see the balance of profitability of the restaurant, the hotel and the wellbeing of our patrons. As chefs, our portion sizes need to be very mindful. We have to put together multiple aspects moving forward. Food is evolving, but when the innovations and evolution happen, it has some link with the traditional history of the cuisine. Once you know the importance of ingredients and their compatibility with the other ingredients, you are doing it right. Food is very critical and will play the biggest role in going ahead.”
Following the inauguration of the event, the chief guest, Dr Mukadam spoke at length about how the Maharashtrian cuisine is not one, but a culmination of diverse regional cuisines right from the Konkan coastal region to that of central and arid regions of Vidarbha and Marathwada, and how they have been passed on from generation to generation. She pointed out that throughout her 17-year long research on the food of Maharashtra, she noticed that the cuisine loses the recognition that it deserves on the global culinary canvas. “It has been seen in the historic books too wherein Maharashtra is mentioned, but the cuisine, which is vast in itself, is missed out. Being global citizens now, the traditional link to our roots is broken. But, by talking to our mothers, grandmothers, and people of the region, we can document the recipes before they lose their essence. However, if the recipe is lost really, we have other ways to revive it. For this, cookbooks are the most common one, of which one book dates back to the 11th Century written by the then King of Kalyani. The book mentions recipes in the ‘Annabhoga’ chapter, which comprises of recipes that are cooked till date and are very much authentic Maharashtrian recipes,” she added. She further spoke at length about the many recipes, their historic values and the reasons behind using the particular ingredients in the food paying heed to their features initiating wellbeing. Lastly, she suggested that moving forward, we shall reinstate our eating patterns and recipes back to our roots and authentic Maharashtrian cuisine for the greater benefit of preserving the culture of the traditional food for the future.
The second session by founder MD of Purnabramha – a chain of authentic Maharashtrian cuisine restaurants, former techie Jayanti Kathale left the audience in awe while she told her tale that how having worked for a multi-national tech firm across different locations of the globe, her only concern was the inability to find authentic Maharashtrian cuisine but an abundance of other Indian foods. “I remember how during one of the assignments in Africa, the office’s canteen served Idli, but the people didn’t have any idea of poha,” she exclaimed. She further went on to say, Maharashtrian cuisine somehow lacked the glamourous touch in its presentation, which was readily picked up as a USP by Purnabramha. They started serving an array of the remotest cuisine of Maharashtra to the patrons, which became an instant hit, Kathale reminisced. With Purnabramha already gaining popularity across the country, the brand will soon unveil an outlet in Tokyo based on a franchise model, followed by one in Australia and three in the USA in a phased manner.
Coursing the conference’s highlight towards it’s focus on health, wellness and sustainability, Dr B Dayakar Rao, principal scientist, The Indian Institute of Millets Research, in an insightful presentation showcased to the audience that Maharashtra being a leading producer and consumer of various types of millets, how it can promote the superfood through its cuisines. He explained in detail how millets can be grown in significant proportions in extreme climatic conditions, given the current scenario of drastic climatic changes and lack of water for irrigation. He also spoke about the benefits of the millets such as high nutritional value, cost-effective crop, etc. He addressed the chef’s fraternity that millets can be used to prepare over a dozen dishes if not less which predominantly uses rice and wheat, hence calling out to them to promote the superfood through their unique creations.
Chef Madhu Krishnan, executive chef – Research, Innovation, Development – Hotels Division, ITC, in her conversation-styled seminar addressing food sustainability and preserving traditions in the food, kept everyone engaged with the participating audience – chefs of many hotels – speaking about their stories of how their childhood and traditional cuisines; comfort foods; moments spent with family over lunch and dinner, etc., shaped them to pursue the culinary profession and how they are still keeping the traditional values intact in their food.
It was followed by a panel discussion on the topic – “Forgotten Flavours: Are Maharashtrian cuisines given their rightful due?”. Chef Nilesh Limaye, executive chef, Meluha The Fern was the moderator of the session with panellists – Chef Kedar Bobde, corporate executive chef, Degustibus Hospitality; Chef Varun Inamdar, chef entrepreneur, chocolatier, food author and food stylist; Dr Suhas Awchat, restaurateur and consultant, Goa Portuguesa; Mugdha Khare, senior lecturer, IHMCT. The session highlighted the take of each of the esteemed panellists and their efforts to glamourise and present the tastes of Maharashtra to the global palate, and at the same, keeping it existent within the people for generations to come.
The last session presented a high-spirited session by international motivational speaker Dr Pawan Agrawal who had the chefs delve deeply to understand the real-time supply chain mechanism of Mumbai’s dabbawallas with their legacy existent for over a century.
The event concluded with an annual awards ceremony for both the student and professional chefs for their out-of-the-box culinary creations, followed by gala dinner.