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Mixologist Viju Raj Verbena lets out secret of dunking jams, vinegars into cocktails

Chef Viju Raj. Pic/shadab khan
Chef Viju Raj. Pic/shadab khan

We are at Kamala Mill's plush skygarden restaurant Verbena to sample the marmalade that chef Viju Raj has whipped up exclusively for this place. But, first things first, for the chef, who greets us in a Hawaiian printed shirt paired with a golf hat. "First, let's get the term mixology straight," he says, and continues, "Back in the day, bartenders would take two to three ingredients and mix them into a drink. But, today, perfect mixology involves using an ingredient each from the five families — vegetables, spices, fruits, syrups/marmalades and herbs."

Peppermint Deloitte
Peppermint Deloitte

Of marmalade and jams
While conceptualising the dishes for this menu, Raj decided to use the herbs growing in the al fresco area of this restaurant. "And, since the theme is that of a garden, I decided to create homemade syrups and marmalades which is done on our cooking table in the bar. For instance, we make a saffron tamarind jam and orange marmalade with cinnamon dust. We also do botanical infused Long Island Iced Teas, where we infuse peppermint into gin for 15-20 days. For our drink, Breakfast Botanical, we use the orange marmalade, which works well with whiskey. To this, we add red wine laced sea salt.

Vinegars too
In Dark Fantasy Sorbet, Viju uses balsamic vinegar and vanilla-infused sugar. "For the sugar, buy some vanilla pods and mix them in sugar and keep the mixture for 20 days. The pods are so powerful that they embrace the sugar. We take a bottle of balsamic and reduce it to half and add 100 grams of vanilla sugar and 50 grams of peppermint. We blend this mixture with crushed ice and make moulds. Then 60 ml tequila is poured over the sorbet.

Raj shares more tips on homemade cocktails. "Did you know, the best way to reduce pungency of any alcohol is to chill it? Another trick is to add more ice to your drink as it holds better unlike water which dilutes the drink," Raj says, adding that he can make a drink out of anything edible. "Yes, the jams and marmalades in your fridge can be great ingredients, but one must understand how they react to hot and cold water. The trick is to keep tasting the ingredients and adding them according to taste into your drink."

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