Saturday, December 2, 2023

Of satays, grills and ‘samudrika lakshan’

By Venkatachari Jagannathan
Chennai, July 26 (IANS)
It would be great if there is something like samudrika lakshan/shastra (knowledge of body features) for chefs to assess a taster’s preferences just by seeing him, said a top chef of a star hotel here.

Unfortunately, there is nothing like that to help chefs to wow their guests, he rued.

“One can fairly arrive at a person’s taste preferences after knowing about the place he comes from and also the community. But by seeing a person’s body features, it is not possible to conclude anything about the taste bud preferences,” Jaffar Ali, executive chef at Vivanta by Taj-Connemara, where he is hosting a pan-Asian satays and grills festival, told IANS here.

As to the important qualities of a chef he said: “A truly professional chef should have no vices like smoking or chewing of tobacco and also be in a good health. Smoking and chewing of tobacco products will affect a person’s taste buds – one of the basic professional tools of a chef.”

More than good salaries and opportunities to see the world, good chefs have a couple of more fundamental qualifications to be a suitable boy for marriage, he laughed, serving a tom kha chicken soup.

He is hosting the festival at the hotel’s 74-cover Hip Asia restaurant, where gentle music was wafting across.

Forty-seven-year-old Ali is from Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district and has spent several years in tourist havens like the Maldives and the Seychelles. He has recently joined the Vivanta Connemara.

The Thai soup, made with coconut milk as the base with birds eye chilli and other spices, had a good amount of soft chicken pieces and was mild and tasty.

It was followed by a plate of prawn satay. The grilled jumbo prawns, marinated with spring onion paste, chili and lemon leaf, were gentle with medium spiciness and would tempt you for another round.

Hailing from a family that is interested in food and flavours, Ali joined a catering technology course after his brother-in-law, who was working with the Taj group here, explained in detail about the profession and prospects.

It was time for Yakitori, a Japanese non-spicy teppanayaki/iron plate grilled chicken cooked in Japanese soya sauce. According to Ali, the first five years of work at a restaurant for a fresher is a really hard grind by which time one would have learnt not only the kitchen work but also managing inventory and people and be ready to go out on one’s own.

At this point guest attendant S. Vijaymohan brought a full white pomfret cooked and immersed in garlic gravy.

The meaty fish and the garlic gravy tasted divine and vanished from the plate in no time.

“This is a very competitive field where a person is not judged once a year as in any other profession or daily (like journalists) but by every plate he sends out to the dining table in a shift. A good chef has to satisfy at least 95 percent of the guests,” Ali said.

He said chefs are like chess players – who can visualise the board position 15 moves ahead.

Likewise, a good chef will be able to mentally process the recipe and gauge how the dish would look at the end and can also say whether the recipe is correct or wrong.

Speaking about his plans for the restaurants at the hotel, Ali said the menu at Hip Asia will be changed as the current one is around two years old.

Meanwhile it was time for colourful lobster oyster garlic, Japanese sticky rice, Thai chicken green curry, egg rice and noodles.

The lobster was mild on the tongue and tasted good. It was interesting to see the thorny sensors and chefs have to handle lobsters carefully.

The green curry with sticky rice was a good combo while the egg rice and noodles were mild.

For dessert, Thai tub tim grob, a coconut milk based dish with pink-coloured water chestnuts, is recommended.


Where: Vivanta By Taj-Connemara is on the Binny Road off Anna Salai. Hip Asia is open for lunch and dinner.

The satays and grills are on a la carte basis.

The festival started on July 24 and is on till August 2.

A meal for two would cost around Rs.4,000 (without alcohol)

(Venkatachari Jagannathan can be contacted at v.jagannathan)

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