Odette Mascarenhas and Manu Chandra deconstruct delicious foods from an era gone by

Sep 24, 2017, 14:41 IST | Benita Fernando

Food historian Odette Mascarenhas and chef Manu Chandra want you to challenge what the culinary arts can be at the Serendipity Arts Festival

Chef Manu Chandra (left) and food historian and critic Odette Mascarenhas have joined forces to showcase food as art.  Pic/Bipin Kokate
Chef Manu Chandra (left) and food historian and critic Odette Mascarenhas have joined forces to showcase food as art. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Where we see a serving of bharlele bhangde, Odette Mascarenhas and Manu Chandra see art at its most ephemeral. Mascarenhas says that the dish, which was historically made in the homes of Goa's Goud Saraswat Brahmins, has all the drama, texture, and sensory appeal as any work of art.

"The stuffed mackerel is wrapped in banana leaf and fried. You have to cut the twine made from the spine of a coconut leaf that holds the parcel together; then unwrap the banana leaf and see the juices of the mackerel. It's a feast for the eyes, and all your other senses. Whoever could have thought of these combinations?" says this Goa-based food historian and critic.

It is this philosophy that has paved the way for the culinary arts at Serendipity Arts Festival, which will be held in Goa from December 15 to 22. Mascarenhas and Chandra, chef partner behind some of the grooviest gastropubs and bars in India, helmed the curation of the culinary arts section when Serendipity debuted last year, and are now ready for an encore. "Art and art festivals sometimes have the tendency to be perceived as out of reach. Serendipity is precisely an antithesis to that perception. Food, at the end of the day, is an art form that is most accessible to us," says Chandra.

Not just for your eyes
For the festival, which will take place across 10 locations in Panaji, Mascarenhas and Chandra are blending their individual passions. In an attempt to revive and showcase Goa's authentic cuisine, Mascarenhas will bring together four categories of food culture based on Goa's communities — the Goud Saraswat Brahmins, Muslims, the Hindu-centric Pernem taluka, and the Goan Portuguese. For this Goan revivalist food showcase, Mascarenhas, who has authored several books, including The Culinary Heritage of Goa, has narrowed down on the most homegrown enterprises and recipes. Take shagoti, for instance, a spicy curry made of rooster meat or game such as wild boar. Its spiciness is ascribed to a local variety of chilies grown in Pernem, the taluka that non-Goans know better by its beaches Arambol and Morjim.

Manu Chandra
Manu Chandra

Over in Chandra's quarters, the chef will team up with The Centre for Genomic Gastronomy, an artist-led think tank that collaborates with chefs, scientists and farmers to examine the biodiversities of human food systems. "We intend to show how food can change your body at a fundamental level," says Chandra. If you ever want to sign up for a tasting of smog and tears, here is an opportunity. "The same thing can taste different in three different cities; the very nature of taste can change because of environmental factors," he says.

He also wishes that visitors watch out for an immersive theatre experience that he is conceptualising and producing along with Aruna Ganesh Ram, a theatre practitioner from Bengaluru. They have earlier collaborated on a workshop that exploited the associations between aroma and memory.

Away from expectations
For a public that consumes food-porn, the culinary arts curation at this fest should come as a surprise. Mascarenhas is keen to whisk visitors away from touristy Goa, and serve them a real dash of history. Which is not to say that she has overlooked the adventurous among us, for she will also bring a bistro and a modern twist to Goan cuisine and desserts.

The concept of the plate as the chef's palette, says Chandra, is passé and reductive. To stress on just presentation and gimmick, he believes, will be defeatist. "It is not progressive and we wouldn't be pushing boundaries. That's not what food and the culinary arts stand for. We want to challenge the senses with which we perceive food," he says.

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