Chef Harsh Sodhan's Gourmet Kitchen and Studio at Lower Parel offers workshops and catering service. Phorum Dalal attends a cookery session and comes away feeling high on food
The taxi drives at a slow pace due to the bustling traffic and dodges pedestrians, who overflow onto the street on a warm Wednesday morning. The industrial area in Gandhi Nagar, behind Palladium mall, is a chaotic scene.
Chef and founder of Gourmet Kitchen and Studio at Lower Parel, Harsh Sodhan, launched his workshops this January. Pics/Bipin Kokate
But once I step into the 500-square feet Gourmet Kitchen and Studio, which launched in December last year, the yellow and golden walls and beaded curtains greet me. Comprising a long kitchen on the ground floor and the workshop space on the mezzanine, the studio is 41-year-old Harsh Sodhan's dream come true.
An IT professional, Sodhan bid goodbye to the corporate life to embrace his passion – food. Having seen his mother run a successful Gujarati food catering service for 30 years, the food business happened spontaneously.
Trio of Hummus comes in crispy, edible spoons
"Around 2010, I had started experimenting with fusion foods and friends and family often asked me to rustle up a dish or two when they were hosting a party. Two years ago, I started taking orders and in January, I introduced the workshops here," he says, while checking if preparations for the food tasting are on track.
And they are, as the first dish, Trio of Hummus piped on edible lavash spoons, is placed on the table. While the classic chickpea hummus is smooth, tangy and topped with olive, the Harissa hummus is a spicy contemporary version. The pesto hummus is comforting, nutty and we reach out for one more.
Paan-flavoured mousse is served in a Calcutta paan
Sodhan's menu specialises in bite-size foods, and Caramelised Onions and Herbed Cream Cheese in Filo Cups are proof that they are a hot seller. Crispy flour-based cups filled with sweet and sautéed chopped onions turn into a savoury mouthful with the topping.
To break the monotony, his team presents a White Chocolate Pina Colada Mousse. Being a dessert lover, I'm happy to be interrupted with a sweet dish during any course of a meal. Fancy-looking, served on a black ceramic spoon and garnished with a piece of pineapple, the cream-based mousse is light, fluffy and I wonder why no one has married the two distinct forms before.
But the next one is the innovative best. In a Calcutta Sada Paan, Sodhan has filled a creamy paan-flavoured vanilla mousse — there's the crunchy feenugreek seeds and roasted coriander seeds.
Caramelised onions and herbed cream cheese in filo cups taste scrumptious
Back to starters, Pav Bhaji Cones stare at me, allure me and I oblige. The savoury pastry cone crumbles in the mouth, flakes settle on clothes and the pav bhaji oozes onto the palate. It reminds me of the roadside pav bhaji, as all pav bhajis must taste — rustic, spicy and buttery.
To taste the main course — Paneer Makhani Lasagna and Roasted Baby Potatoes in Asparagus Mousse — I must cook it, under Sodhan's guidance. I don a blue apron and look around the shelves — bottles of all shapes and sizes stand in a file and pots and pans sit neatly in their cabinets. Cooking in a chef's kitchen is different from your home kitchen. Everything here is larger than life, but I am comforted when he hands me a small pan to get started with.
His team has prepared the tomato puree, spices and Kashmiri chilli paste. Under his guidance, I take a pan and add the chilli paste and sauté it on a medium flame. "You must let the chillies roast well. Uncooked chillies leave a dry pungent aftertaste," explains the chef, as he hands me a bowl of blended spices (see recipe) to add to the pan. "When you see oily formation on the mixture, you know it's cooked," he adds, as the fragrance of cumin seeds fills the kitchen.
Next, I add the puree and cream and salt to taste; stirring the mixture continuously. Throughout, Sodhan shares nuggets on cooking. With the gravy in place, he recommends adding a spoon of oil while boiling pasta sheets to ensure they don't stick together.
Meanwhile, I mash a bar of paneer in a bowl and add mixed herbs, chilli flakes, salt and pepper for the filling. "I prefer rolling lasagna as it is easier to serve and eat," adds the foodie as he cuts a boiled lasagna sheet into two. He puts a layer of the crumbled paneer and rolls each of them. I ape his move. We layer the baking dish with the puree and place the rolls. Voila, it's ready for the oven.
While it cooks, we wash the potatoes on an aluminum tray, mix it with oregano and drizzle olive oil on it. It is put in the oven for roasting. We take two large spoons of cream cheese and beat it. To this, we mix pureed asparagus and blend it in. The smell of the makhani lasagna is overpowering and my stomach growls in delight.
"I want my food to embrace the eaters with all the five senses. It should look pretty, people should like the texture when they touch it, it should smell tempting, taste delicious, as they hear the food crunch in their mouth," says Sodhan, who conducts workshops, including baking bread, for 10-12 participants on cooking stations.
When we sit down to eat, the food is like he promised – captivating on all fronts. The lasagna has the spicy Indian tadka of Kashmiri chillies, though sobered by the cream. The potatoes are earthy, rustic and the green asparagus mousse is fresh, salty and leaves us scraping our plates.
Where: The Gourmet Kitchen and Studio, 21 Municipal Industrial Estate, Lower Parel
Paneer Makhani Lasagna
For the puree
> 3 tbsp coriander seeds
> 2 tbsp cumin seeds
> 3 cloves
> 1-inch cinnamon stick
> 1 onion, large
> 1 capsicum, large
> 1 kg tomato puree
> 60 gm cashewnut paste
> 2 tbsp kashmiri chilli paste
> 100 gm fresh cream
> Sugar to taste
> Salt to taste for the filling
> ½ kg paneer
> Crushed pepper
> Lasagna sheets
> Sauté the spices and grind to a paste
> Boil the onion and capsicum and puree
> Fry the Kashmiri chilli paste and add two tbsp of tomato puree and the dry paste
> Roast till oil is formed on top
> Add the onion-capsicum puree and boil for two minutes
> Add the cream, salt and sugar to taste
> For the filling, smash the paneer and mix pepper and paprika to taste
> Bring water to a boil and add a pinch of salt and few drops of olive oil
> Add the lasagna noodles in boiling water and cook as per instructions on the box
> Remove and dip in cold water
> Brush the bottom of a baking tray with butter and ladle in the makhani sauce
> Slice a lasagna sheet into two and fill the paneer filling and roll the lasagna sheets and place vertically in the tray
> Drizzle more sauce on top. Garnish with grated cheese
> Bake for over 20 minutes at 180°C
> Serve hot with garlic naan or garlic bread