In conversation with chef Vineet Bhatia

The Spring Fling menu at Ziya, at The Oberoi, includes a lot of preserved lemon, spinach and channa…
Yes, these basics are available year-round in Mumbai, but they are the ones that best represent Spring, especially the citrusy elements. The weather changes dramatically in the north, and this is the time when these veggies come into the picture there. We try and ensure all our ingredients are locally produced and source from across the country. For instance, we get our baby artichokes from Bangalore. Green houses abroad may cultivate these all year round, but the best crop comes in this season.

You’re serving up a Coconut-cheese Artichoke Bake. How do you suggest we use these baby veggies at home?
Baby artichokes are much more tender and less fibrous on the palette than the larger variety, which is very woody. These will melt in the mouth and are extremely easy to cook. All you have to do is take the leaves off, blanche them in hot water with some salt. Make a simple masala cheese filling and bake them in the oven. I’m serving the¬†artichokes as a canopy, but you could also serve them as bite-sized cheesy pakodas.

Beetroots and channa dal are interesting Spring eats too. Just serve up boiled beet with a tadka of saunf and garlic and a portion of channa dal. Add some imli ka paani and you’ve got a gorgeous looking chaat.

Your marigold menu at Ziya last year was very interesting and extremely popular. Any exciting ingredient we could look forward to this year?
Yes, the feedback was phenomenal. We often get requests for the genda phool menu, but we don’t serve it anymore. Currently we’re working on the Spring menu but we do have a lot of ideas for what will come next.

You’re constantly pushing the boundaries with ingredients – your Facebook page even boasts of an Aam papad Ravioli with Barfi. Were you as experimentative with your food even as a child?
(Laughs) Not at all, I just wanted to be a pilot! But I certainly never followed the path everyone was taking. Even as a child I didn’t think like everyone else. I was small built and bullied in school, which sort of pushed me to become independent. I’ve certainly been through a lot of rough patches; you’re up against a wall when you want to change things. But you have to remember that people will only accept change if it is for the better.

Mumbai’s restaurants are seeing a little more experimentation these days. But the change is slow. Do you think it is because patrons here are more conservative?
Yes, I admit it is a bit more frustrating here as compared to the West. In fact, even Bangalore and Delhi are far more adventurous and open to change than Mumbai. But Ziya is always busy, so that’s most important. In the meantime, television shows seem to be playing a
significant role in creating awareness and encouraging a more adventurous palate.

Talking of TV shows, what is the latest on Twist of Taste? Is there going to be a season 3?
There are lots of plans for season 3. We want to set up our own kitchen, where I can cook and conduct training sessions too. I also want to take the show overseas to places like Mauritius, the Maldives, and the Middle East, to showcase how Indian cooking has influenced
their food. 

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