What brings you to India?
We are shooting a 13-episode series on my culinary adventures in India for Fox Traveller. I am not sure, but we could call the show Dolce India. Let’s see. In the shows, I travel across the country during the next fortnight, learning about different regional food, pick up stuff and give back in my own way to Indian cuisine by creating new infusion dishes that combine the best of India and Italy.
Is there a particular cuisine that has caught your attention?
Indian food has so much variety! There’s enough here to call it a food continent. I have really enjoyed some of the contrasts with how we cook in the West and how the two styles can come together. I love Maharashtrian food, Punjabi cuisine, the dosas from the south, Bengali food…everything. And I loved the kebabs here at ITC Grand Central. But it’s the sheer dominance of spices that you use in your food that amazes me. For instance, yesterday at the ITC Grand Central in Mumbai I watched the chef prepare Lamb Galouti Kebabs. He used 18 ingredients to make it. Then I made some lamb meatballs which is an Italian delicacy whish is not unlike a kebab. And all I could use were three ingredients!
Yes, most regional cuisines use a lot of spices…
It’s been a revelation. I love spices and spicy food, unlike most people from the West. So maybe I raise a few eyebrows when I ask for more chillies in my food. A few days back I ordered a vada pav at a shop and they gave me only two chillies inside the bun. When I asked for four more, the guys at the shop gaped. I love the kebabs, of course. And in Chennai, I had some amazing dosas. It’s nothing like the stuff I get in Canada. The sambar, the varied chutneys…divine!
So you have been having fun?
Oh yes, I have had fun with food. We went to the Fratelli Vineyards in Nashik for one episode and we made some Maharashtrian dishes with wine. And then we made some Italian cuisine with Indian spices too. The vineyard itself was fascinating. I was pleasantly surprised to know India made such fine wine. And yes, then we made some risotto garam masala with rose shiraz. It was awesome. Everyone loved it. If that’s not a fusion food, tell me what is.
In another episode, I took a focaccia from Tuscanny that traditionally uses rosemary, olive oil and sugar for the item and added cinnamon to it. I think we overdid the cinnamon a bit but the taste was very different from the traditional variety and yet, quite lovely. Those who tasted it, all asked for seconds.
What are some of the dishes here that surprised even a season campaigner like you?
There is a surprise in store every time I order food here, whether it’s in Jaipur or Chennai or right here in Mumbai. Last week, in a restaurant I saw Bombay Duck on the menu. I ordered it, curious to see why a duck in Bombay was so special? Was it different from a Roman duck? And then the waiter comes with a buttery, spicy fish! A fish? My hosts had a good laugh seeing my face. This is a story I will take back to people in other parts of the world. Another day I ordered pumpkin curry at a restaurant. It was superb. I’d never tasted pumpkin curry. So you see, I learn every time I land up somewhere, just as I pass on my skills and knowledge to those who view my shows across the world.
You must have some interesting stories to tell, having travelled the world to taste different cuisines…
Yes, traversing the world for Dolce Vita or some of my other popular shows for different channels, has always been full of interesting and sometimes, bizarre experiences.
In Jordan for example, I was served lamb’s eyeballs as the guest of honour. Apparently this is a delicacy reserved only for special people. Well, you don’t refuse an honour and antagonise your hosts! How I managed to eat it all up, well that’s another story. Then in Italy, I once ordered and loved a dish called Lamprodetto. It was only later that I learnt that it was made with a cow’s intestines, dipped in tomato sauce. Unless you are given the details, you will never guess it though.
You have visited quite a few places in India…any favourites so far?
I have hardly managed to see India in that sense. I mean in a country as vast and diverse as yours, visiting Chennai, Jaipur, Mumbai and Delhi is just scraping the surface. I would love to go to Kashmir and to Kerala, but maybe next year when I come again. Meanwhile I am looking forward to some great experiences. I will be cooking at a Gurdwara for instance. I will also be tasting and cooking a lot of European food with Indian spices. I am sure you will have fun when you watch the episodes.