The world in my kitchen

Sep 25, 2013, 06:05 IST | Kanika Sharma

Speaking to TV show hosts, cookery class conductors, kitchen revampers and secret ingredient scouters, Kanika Sharma attempts to understand how the new-found delights of gourmet cooking are transforming aspiring cooks across Mumbai

It is enviable when cooks, who with sleight of hand, demonstrate whipping up the most delectable-looking Amuse Bouche, Coq au Vin, Galettes, Hash Browns, Meat Loafs, Moussakas, Guacamoles…the list is endless. Be it Masterchef Australia, America or India complemented with a jet lag from Istanbul / Nice (France) / Indonesia, the city has globetrotters who are picking up a bouquet of cooking techniques, equipment and ingredients to incorporate the world on their plates. Thanks to television, fixtures across Indian and international channels, one is more of a kitchen knife ninja than a couch potato. 

Chef Pooja Dhingra conducting a cookery class at Studio Fifteen

Hosting the food craze
Gaia Home Chef caters an array of cuisines to all kinds of clientele backed by two chefs who romp up food in your very own kitchen. Serving all kinds of cuisines, Shilarna Vaze -- a product from the Le Cordon Bleu institution, with her husband Christophe Perrin, concocts various dishes from Swiss Cheese to Japanese Sushi Rice across Mumbai homes. Being a food show host on Firangi Tadka and Style Chef, she offers a view from both sides of the table, “People have gotten aware of exotic ingredients and different cuisines besides the usual Continental-Indian-Chinese triangle. I was already cooking this kind of food before I did a food show, and it’s interesting to see people keen on experimentation.” She adds that being a spice-loving nation Asian food is a hit. “We make authentic Mexican food that people seem to love.” Vaze believes that Mumbaiites are also warming up to good cuts of meat and learning about new products.

Binge rewind
Pooja Dhingra, the brain behind Le 15 Patisserie and the just-opened Studio Fifteen, agrees with Vaze about the change in the city’s culinary habits in the past few years. Another Le Cordon Bleu alumnus, she shares, “There is a big change in the culinary scene from when I went to culinary school in 2008. For starters, not as many people wanted to be chefs or work in kitchens. Even at my school in Paris I was the lone Indian then. Today, each class at Le Cordon Bleu has at least four to five Indian students.”  She admits that the idea of introducing the French favourite was daunting, yet looking at the range of experimentation one is game for, she comments, “With people travelling more and the palate being exposed to diverse food, they are now open to trying new things and also re-creating what they might have tasted abroad. Shows like Masterchef and Top Chef encourage people to think and open their minds to food.” When Dhingra started Le 15, she recalls being the only one who worked with flavours like lavender, sea salt and others: “People tried these flavours and loved them. We even introduced a Made in India collection with chai, paan and green chili flavoured desserts, which did well; the Paan Macaroon remains one of our bestsellers now.”


Filling the basket from all around
Innovation with Indian elements and Western techniques is always heartening, but sourcing of exotic ingredients could have been a pain until the transformation. Sreejith Mohan, Category Head at Godrej Nature's Basket emphasises on how the brand has been endeavouring to source produce from Europe, America, South Africa, Latin America, Middle-East, Singapore and Australia. The import includes hand-picked brands, ingredients, spices, sauces and ready-to-eat food. Growing at an approximate 50% rate in the last four years, he feels the cookery shows could be one of the motivations. From Epicure Stuffed Octopus in Garlic (Rs 325) to Barnier Black Olives Paste (Rs 395), the franchise is a haven for chefs as well as aspirants. The buck does not stop at the ingredients only, as Chenab Impex in the city remarks that they stock the Textura range of molecular gastronomy kits (they claim to be the only place to stock it, across India). Aarti Chandhok Kapoor, Marketing Head, and daughter of the owner, claims that it was solely their brand that introduced olive oil to the Indian market. It’s not just big brands from across the globe that are now available, but also ingredients like cous cous are recently being favoured due to health reasons; besides, they are an ideal substitute to rice especially for the gluten intolerant. 

No more flash in the pan
The transition in the market has been so immense where Dhingra tips that vanilla beans and silpats have marked their presence in the local market too. The fact that equipment is as essential as the technique becomes evident when she announces that the studio has plans to tie up with the international brand of cookery ware Le Creuset for her cooking studio. The cookery ware’s brand commercial manager, Ankur Damani, cites how their iron products practically come with a lifetime guarantee and because of the precision it is designed with, it completely understands the need of cooking.

Sanvari Alagh Nair, director of, an e-commerce site that retails in high quality cookery, bakery and serve ware shares, “After the widespread increase in the cookery shows, urban centres have seen a lot of growth and interest, especially among women from upper and middle classes. One also saw an upsurge in kids’ bake ware as baking is picking up as a happy family activity.” Nair asserts that clients actually want international products that are of good quality posing informed questions.

As pasta making and quick party snacks catch on Studio Fifteen with people from 13 to 65, roll up their sleeves to churn out cooking wonders, Food Stylist, Michael Swamy cautions, “People are hesitant to play around with different cuisines in a big way. After all, it is about cultures which is huge and can take at least a decade to turn around things entirely.” 

The big fat kitchen makeover
It’s not just about cooking, sourcing and stocking up the kitchen but now, increasingly, enthusiasts have revamped the kitchens entirely. Rajesh Ahuja of Sleek International shares, “Today, the consumer is more of a globe-trotter and hence has exposure to the best in the kitchen industry. He, thus, demands the best in functionality, colours, innovation, material and technology. Medium-dark wood flooring paired with slightly lighter cabinets remain a hot kitchen remodelling.” Continuing, he deliberates on hardware, “It has undergone a technological upheaval, like the soft-closing channels from Grass (Austria) which work on the Airmatic technology, that ensure your drawers glide with a smooth finish, instead of clanging and banging to a close. Granite or Quartz is mostly preferred as the appropriate material for countertops as it is easier to clean and maintain. Granite is commonly used in India as a worktop (countertop), which is hygienic and also gives a natural hard stone look. Ceramic induction cooking is another significant feature.”


Michael Swamy, food stylist and professional who worked on the Indian version of Masterchef, shares a few observations:
> Even smaller towns are being introduced to ingredients such as coloured capsicums.
> Different garnishes such as microherbs and wildflowers play a pivotal role in perking a dish up.
> Serve ware needs to be a realm monitored and groomed as well as he decided to the extent of which cutlery will the judges hold on the show. Looks can make or break a dish.  

Did you know?
Ceramic-coated cookware has also buoyed up as Teflon starts peeling after six to eight months of use.

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