A film executive who moonlights as home chef will whip up delightful, oft-forgotten dishes from the Anglo-Indian community at a Sunday pop-up
Railway Cauliflower Cutlets
From the corner of our eye, we spot a poster of Le Chat Noir, the legendary 19th-century French cabaret, framed on a wall in a candle-lit Andheri apartment. A Jazz melody plays in the background. Yet, our attention is focused on the medley of flavours that resident Ryan Stephen has orchestrated in a bowl comprising Mamma's Pepper Water, Buff Fry And Dry Doll. Each grain of steamed rice, layered with dry lentils (doll; from dal), comforts us with zesty flavours soaked from the rasam-like concoction it's swimming in. The moist, slow-cooked and richly spiced buff completes the symphony.
(Clockwise from top) Brinjal Pickle, Chilli Pickle, Dry Bombay Duck Chutney and Apple Chutney. Pics/Milind Saurkar
"When my mother (Maria Stephen) was carrying me, she would crave this dish. So, it's my favourite too. Sundays meant filling a plate with a mound of rice, adding pepper water, buff fry on the side and eating it with hands. My friends would call me Bakasur," laughs the 46-year-old Anglo-Indian home chef, who works as creative developer for Dharma Productions. His day job requires him to greenlight scripts for the producer.
Shrimp Pepper Fry with Lavash
After hosting a pop-up for friends, including Kajol (where she courted a controversy by mistakenly calling buff, beef) and Maria Goretti, Stephen readies for his first public pop-up this Sunday. It's presented by Food Stories, a venture he launched with Priyanka Bangia, a film producer and Stephen's colleague from his MTV days. Titled, A Slice Of The Raj, the six-course menu offers Anglo-Indian dishes from Stephen's childhood, as a tribute to his mother.
Mamma's Pepper Water, Buff Fry, And Dry Doll
Reviving the cuisine
"When the khansamas would cook for British officers, they would adapt the Indian cuisine by toning down the spice levels with a roux (a sauce of flour, butter and milk), coconut milk or curd. That's how our cuisine emerged. Anglo Indians are a disintegrating community, so the idea is to revive and take forward a cuisine that's long forgotten," says the Mumbai-born chef, who has been researching the community's cuisine since the time he dreamt of foraying into the F&B industry. When things didn't work out, he opted for a writing and programming career in magazines and TV channels.
Ryan with his mother, Maria Stephen and sister, Ramola
However, Stephen had begun learning the cuisine's nuances while growing up with his mother's side of the family. He would watch her cook Shrimp Pepper Fry, a sumptuous rendition of which he will serve with Lavash, along with Mulligatawny Soup and Railway Cauliflower Cutlets. Here, the vegetable is given character with rich seasoning and char-grilled texture. His nanny's recipe of Chicken Liver Paté, and a vegetarian version of the main dish where jackfruit replaces the buff are also part of the spread.
"My mother has handwritten the recipes in scrapbooks that she guards with her life," reveals Stephen. The guests can also savour and pick up bottled versions of his mother's signature Dry Bombay Duck Chutney, Apple Chutney and Brinjal Pickle.
"In later editions, I wish to recreate my grandfather's recipe of Rum Pork, where the masala was cooked in Old Monk, and Hotchpotch, a dish my mother would serve us for breakfast, cooking together leftover dal, roti, sabzi and rice. Another favourite was Mutton Meatball Curry that we would call Bad Word Curry because 'balls' were a taboo word," he smiles. Bangia adds, "Our aim is to host fortnightly pop-ups that will also showcase other cuisines that Ryan loves to cook, like the Onam Sadhya. Our dream is to open a restaurant in Goa."
On: May 21, 1 pm
At: Raasta Bombay, Khar (W).
Cost: '2,600 (inclusive two glasses of wine or beer or soft drinks)
Ryan Stephen with Priyanka Bangia
Trace the origins
Mulligatawny Soup: The Anglicised version is derived from Mulugu Tanni or Molahatanni where 'molaha' means pepper and 'tanni' means water, a rasam had by natives of Madras. The English thickened it with roux.
Railway Cauliflower Cutlets: Traditionally, leftovers from roast dinners were minced into cutlets and served as 'tiffins', an Anglo-Indian term for a snack. "My mother would use florets, stalks and stems since she didn't want to waste anything."
Country Captain Chicken: It originated in Bengal where the skipper on small, coastal vessels called country ships was called the 'country captain'. "Country was used derogatorily for an Indian native. Somehow, it turned into a popular Raj dish."