Yummy! Mumbai chefs experiment with exotic wedding dishes

Updated: Dec 07, 2016, 15:31 IST | Anju Maskeri and Kusumita Das |

Forget the pasta and chaat counter. If you are heading out for a wedding, pray you run into some bibimbap dolsot, kumphir and humita. For chefs in the city, it’s all about keeping the shaadi spread as bespoke as it comes

Dolsot Bibimbap counter
Dolsot Bibimbap counter

It is not just at signature restaurants where chefs like to experiment. Weddings, which otherwise seem like a space where most would go by the book, have been witness to a fair amount of toggling around with ideas as well.

The Korean rice bowl
The Korean rice bowl

Designing a wedding spread is one of the trickiest aspects of a chef’s job, as clients tend to be way more demanding. The chefs’ mastery in exotic flavours and techniques find expression in the spreads they offer. Ideation begins months in advance, non-disclosure agreements are signed, often bound by a pact never to recreate the said dish for commercial purpose again. Yet, it is still an opportunity that they welcome, because the scope of adventure is immense and therefore, the satisfaction, double.

Bespoke is the word
Celebrity chef Farrokh Khambata, known for his fusion fare, is one of the most sought after names in the business. It’s all about exclusivity and originality for Khambata, who likes to get playful with Indian, European and Asian flavours and techniques.

Applewood smoked barbecued chicken is drama on a plate (insert) Farrokh Khambata
Applewood smoked barbecued chicken is drama on a plate (insert) Farrokh Khambata

Speaking of some of his bespoke dishes, he says, “We have done the Hokkaido mushroom and truffle kofta, which was Japanese mushroom, cooked Indian style, with truffle. Then recently, we did the dolsot bibimbap counter, again a Korean rice bowl, treated the Indian way using shitake mushrooms and asparagus. We made a Chilean sea bass, Kerala Mylapore style. At a wedding in Mauritius, we put up a Caribbean counter, where everything was served in fresh coconut shells. Indian flavours are of course, much appreciated, but the treatment needs to be original and progressive.”

Each wedding is designed according to client preference, however, the ideas are pitched by the chef and his team. “In this demographic, people have a passion for food and look for innovation and great taste. Also, the presentation needs to be top-notch,” adds the 44-year-old fine-dining stalwart. Khambata, who has been in the business for over 15 years, says the culinary scene has seen several changes of tastes. “There was a time when broccoli was exotic. Availability of ingredients has become easier now. Most of our ingredients are imported, such as fresh black truffle, wagyu, burrata, Hokkaido scallops or the rock lobster. Exclusivity comes with the territory, so Khambata doesn’t mind the non-disclosure agreements they have to sign. “The idea of a bespoke dish is that it has to be a limited edition. So exclusivity is key,” he says.

The South American Humita
The South American Humita (Insert) Ashay Desai

Peru platter
Chef Ashay Desai of Worli’s Blue Sea Banquets and Outdoor Catering company, has loved serving “all happy stomachs who’re hungry for creative food.” But the creativity, he says, was usually restricted to more intimate settings where patrons would be open to experimentation. That is now a thing of the past. Quite recently, he was approached to prepare the South American Humita, a fresh corn cake from pre-Hispanic times.

A lavish wedding spread by Desai
A lavish wedding spread by Desai

“It is the staple food in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador and Peru. Here, the corn is ground with other ingredients and the material is stuffed in a husk of fresh corn, then steamed or baked,” he explains. The native American dish has made it to Indian weddings thanks to the steady interest of Indian patrons who wish to go beyond traditional Indian fare.

“We always nudge our clients to be experimental,” says Desai. It’s not just world cuisine that patrons are asking for. “For instance, I’ve also prepared the Kathal ka Haleem with Chilgoza (Jackfruit Haleem with pine nuts). Fortunately, no dish has backfired till date.”

The nutella waffle-wich (Insert) Shrey Aggarwal
The nutella waffle-wich (Insert) Shrey Aggarwal

The taste of Belgium
When Shrey Aggarwal was asked to set up a Belgian waffle counter at a lavish wedding in Worli, he was fairly confident about the reception. “Considering our outlets in Mumbai are faring well, I felt people would enjoy it. But, the demand exceeded my expectations. Not just kids, even their grannies had queued up. It’s difficult to resist the wafting aroma of fresh waffles, you see,” he laughs. Aggarwal, who was the first to introduce Mumbai to the concept with The Belgian Waffle Co, received the first wedding order in June this year. “I realised that people are travelling a lot and exposed to a variety of cuisines. And waffles are something that people of all ages enjoy.”

Khan in his kitchen making the kumphir. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar
Khan in his kitchen making the kumphir. Pic/Pradeep Dhivar

Since then, it’s been a steady flow of orders. “We get a wedding or party catering request every two weeks,” says the 32-year-old, who has an engineering degree from Carnegie Mellon University, US. Aggarwal decided to give the waffles a twist by offering the waff-wich, a combination of waffle and sandwich.

“We stuff it with a filling of honey butter, nutella, blueberry, maple syrup or cream cheese depending on the client’s demand.” The tasting is held months in advance. “We sometimes tweak the recipe based on feedback. For instance, for the oreo and white chocolate flavour, we use the dark chocolate to dilute the sweet quotient,” he says, adding that all waffles are eggless. At times, they also offer the ice cream waff-wich, a more decadent option. The most popular flavour, however, is nutella, imported from Italy. “There’s also the peanut butter waffle, which although tasty, is something that clients rarely opt for, unless they love it themselves.”

Turkey on my plate
Chef Anees Khan, who ventured into weddings around five years ago, likes to choose one particular cuisine for the year and develop six to seven dishes around it. This year, the theme is Turkey, and Khan has already begun prepping. We caught him in his kitchen where he was preparing the kumphir. “No one has done the kumphir in India so far, from what I know. It’s a Turkish street food delicacy, made of jacket potato, cheese, butter and vegetable topping served with kisir salad, topped with sour cream. We serve the kumphir as a starter but it can work as an entrée too,” says the 40-year-old chef, who served this at a politico’s son’s wedding at Parsi Gymkhana last week. Also on offer is the souvalaki, a pita bread made with semolina, mohumra (a Turkish dip), roasted red pepper and chilli paste.

Khan specialises in vegetarian spreads, most of his clients being Gujaratis and Marwaris. “They are a well-travelled lot and always want new and exciting things. However, no matter what cuisine you are working with, the key is to keep it chatpata — it must be Indianised in varying degrees.”

Khan, who worked with Nordic cuisine last year, says guests really warmed up to the flavours. “Nordic food is known for its simplicity, aimed at reducing carbon footprint, keeping things as fresh as possible. You see a lot of smoking and salting. Everyone loves drama on the plate. Among the many things I made, was the smoked watermelon with feta cheese and melon caviar. As you lift the cloche, the smoke fills the plate and looks sensational. I also did a beetroot carrot fritter with dill dip and a feta cheese crostini topped with edamame. The chilled spinach tortilla wrap was a major draw — it completely turned around the concept of the tortilla, which is usually fried or baked,” he says.

Khan, who has been running his restaurant, Star Anise Cafe and Patisserie on Linking Road, Bandra, for over a year, says he prefers working with local ingredients. “Sometimes, the actual ingredients are difficult to source. I try and see what I have and then work backwards. The idea is to use locally produced stuff and apply the same techniques. Of course, some stuff we have to import — the tahini comes from the Middle East, for instance. But we make most of the spices ourselves,” he says. At weddings, he feels, guests are more open to experimenting with food. “That’s always an advantage. The world cuisine counter is usually placed at the centre; people are naturally drawn towards it,” says Khan who has also done Canadian, Moroccan and Caribbean spreads.

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