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Seven fine dining secrets  – brunch feature

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“Fine dining is not about what you eat at a posh restaurant. It isn’t even highly sophisticated cooking. Instead, it’s all about getting the finest ingredients, employing fine cooking techniques, enhancing the cooking with natural ingredients, and presenting them in an international way,” says chef Bobby Geetha, 37, over a call from Dubai.

As we exchange pleasantries, I search the Oxford English Dictionary, only to discover that fine dining, in fact, refers to the ‘practice of eating well.’ That was the original idea in the early use of the phrase, as opposed to the current meaning! 

Geetha, a London-based chef – one of the favourite semi-finalists on MasterChef UK Season 8 – has trained and worked at Michelin-star establishments like Noma, Raymond Blanc and Heston Blumenthal.  

“In all these restaurants, the cuisine is very light. In India, for instance, we had light cuisine in the olden days. But various influences made it heavy. I’d like to bring back those elements – keep it light and simple in a way that what we eat at the restaurant can be cooked at home. That’s the whole idea,” explains the Kerala-born chef who moved to the UK in 2004 and has just written a cookbook, Fine Dining Indian.

“In Noma, they make food to international standards but the concept is based on their roots. That’s what I want to do.”

Bobby believes he doesn’t need to copy the West, but he likes inspiration. “In Noma, they make food to international standards but the concept is based on their roots. That’s what I want to do.”

Here are Bobby’s seven secrets to recreating a restaurant-like Indian fine dining experience at home:

1. Simplicity 

Choose one ingredient for a dish and cook it in its simplest form by enhancing it. When we cook biryani, for instance, the process is already a complicated one. To make it simple, don’t over-spice it and steer clear of chemical flavouring like attar. 

2. Techniques

Understand which ingredient needs to be cooked with what technique, and for how long. Overcooking causes vegetables to lose nutrients, whereas pressure-cooking meats can leave them bereft of juices and flavouring. So, don’t cook spinach in advance when making palak paneer. And, slow-cook like lamb shanks overnight.

3. Flavours

This is the core originality of Indian cuisine. Don’t mix flavours that don’t complement each other. If you put garam masala in veggies, its strong flavours will not allow you to enjoy the taste of the vegetable. Just use one or two spices. In zeera-aloo, the cumin enhances the taste of the potatoes. Similarly, sweet spices like fennel, cardamom and cinnamon, release a refreshing sweetness and are therefore used in desserts.

4. Emotions

Food has a big part to play in our emotions and the right food eaten the right way helps control emotions. In the old days, food was classified as rajasik or spicy and sattvik or light vegetarian food. The former was given to warriors to keep them active. So, eating sugary and spicy food keeps you awake at night. Sattvik is light food eaten by Brahmins. We need to achieve a balance of both. 

Among chef Bobby Geetha’s signature dishes is the vegetable cutlet

5. Texture 

When we add a crunch to something fried, the taste buds enhance all the flavours, which is why high-selling dishes are fried and crispy ones. So, fish is often fried with a coating of semolina because the crunchy texture outside goes well with the juicy fish inside. So, play with textures. 

Among chef Bobby Geetha’s signature dishes is the vegetable cutlet

6. Inspiration

Learn from everyone – techniques like adding spices at a certain stage of cooking make a huge difference. Garam masala must be added at the end as also lemon juice, because it turns bitter if added while cooking. These things you learn every day by observing people as they cook. 

7. Presentation 

Look at plating as a painting and the plate as your canvas! First, you need to love it. Only then will others enjoy your food. For example, when making a simple dal, before making the tadka, keep a little aside and make pakoras. When serving, pour dal on the base of the bowl, place the pakoras on top and garnish with fried spinach. Voila!

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From HT Brunch, August 2, 2020

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