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Chef Milan Gupta shows how a PanNaan is made

Chef Milan Gupta gives us a demo on making Café Haqq Se's new invention, the PanNaan

The 500-square-foot kitchen at Café Haqq Se in Kamala Mills, Lower Parel, is suffused with the warm smell of bread.

We’ve walked in at noon, and an army of 20 staffers is busy with the lunch service.

Chef Milan tosses the PanNaan at Café Haqq Se, Lower Parel. PICS/SAMEER MARKANDE
Chef Milan tosses the PanNaan at Café Haqq Se, Lower Parel. Pics/Sameer Markande

For the past six months, this place has served as a laboratory for Chef Milan Gupta’s baking trials when he set out to invent a type of bread that would bring together the goodness of Italian pane’s sour dough and the Indian naan.

"The only thing I was certain of, was the name, PanNaan. Breads have always been an integral part of many cuisines. Most restaurants serve it as they are, but my idea was to offer bread that would draw patrons to the restaurant," says the 42-year-old, who comes with a robust 20 years’ experience at prominent hotel groups like Marriott, Orchid and the Taj Group.

PAN NAAN

Dressed in a navy blue chef’s uniform, his tweeny curls held back with a hairband, Chef Milan could well be a pioneer, for his new yeast-free creation, combining two of the most popular breads of the world.

Swedish made
From a cabinet, he lifts an old-fashioned glass jar where he stores the sour dough starter, the soul of the bread.
"During my home experiments, I created a sort of culture that takes yeast from the air and starts fermenting on its own, which is then used in dough. There’s a lot of waiting, about 15 days, so you need patience," he says, adding, "It contains starter (mother dough) that I created in June last year."

In a corner, stands a tall five-foot Swedish oven. "This is the incubator that has helped give form to my creation. I found it online. It can replicate the heat of the tandoor and cook the bread under a minute. It costs a whopping R4 lakh and we had a tough time importing it, but it works like magic. It can bake the bread in a matter of seconds. You’ll see," he says, visibly thrilled.

Freshly baked
He pulls out a ball of dough made of refined flour and other "secret" ingredients. After kneading it for a couple of minutes, he flattens it to give it a roti-like appearance and places it in the oven.

While the maximum temperature can go up to 500F, he keeps it at 300F. Within 30 seconds, the dough inflates to the size of a roti without bursting, which means it has enough elasticity for a baguette or rustic loaf.

Chef Milan offers us a piece, dripping in butter. Thanks to the lactic and acetic acids that ferment the dough and provide a
characteristic tang, the PanNaan is crusty, soft and light, and has a slightly sour taste that lingers on, but in a good way.

For now, he has created three types of PanNaan, with refined flour, whole wheat with ancient grains and corn. "While the first has been introduced, the other two will go on floor by the end of the month once we launch the café section," he says.

Before we leave the place, the chef has a request. "Please don’t call the bread a fusion. The word has been overused and misused. I have a history with that word," he jokes. We comply.

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