Blog: Mark Poynton in India

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd April 2015
This is the final instalment of three blogs by Michelin starred chef Mark Poynton while he is in India for the Taste of Britain Curry Festival 2015. I first arrived in Chennai the day before the Queen’s birthday banquet which I headed up, in addition to a live cooking station doing a ballotine of chicken leg, with fermented mushroom purée and truffle jus, whilst the other British chefs Partha Mittra, Abul Monsur, Mohammed Awal Miah and Sayem Uddin cooked the English take on Indian curry: tikka, korma, balti etc. chopping boardHaving not been too impressed by the restaurant’s ability to get the products I needed as and when I needed them, it was to my disbelief when the correct produce arrived. Happy, my team and I started the prep, working until 2:30am and creating 450 portions ready for service. Everything seemed like it was going to plan; we had the mise en place done, the equipment was ready, the staff were well briefed and we set off on the short journey to the Deputy High Commissioners house. On arrival the Indian chefs gave me a reality check, informing me how banquets work in India: 2,000 invites had been sent out and people don’t RSVP. So you can just imagine my panic! “What would happen if 2,000 people showed up?” I knew I didn’t have enough food for that, so what would the organisers think if I ran out? At this point I remembered a conversation I had previously had with Dominic Chapman about the event – “Just do what you can, relax and enjoy it, people will just want to see you and have their photograph taken.” And true to his word Dominic was right. The guests just kept on arriving, the drinks continued to flow and the people just wanted to talk to me and ask me about my experience in India and Chennai.oven It ended up being a great night and we catered for about 700 people in the end and everyone was very happy. After the banquet, we still had two services to go at the hotel, which went like a dream. The team was on a high after the banquet, and nothing was too much trouble for the hotel. In the end, we had fed in the region of 500 customers in my restaurant and nearly 2,000 in the Indian restaurant plus the 700 for the banquet; it really ended up being a job well done. As the restaurants started to wind down in the last few days of the festival, it allowed me some free time to visit the local area. I headed to the local fish markets and found that they really are different to local markets in the UK. You can just imagine the smell of fresh fish at 6am in the morning in the 35 degree heat; it really wasn't pleasant. However, I was impressed by just how fresh the fish was. It was interesting watching the scope of people in attendance from locals to restaurants and hotels all wanting to buy the day’s catch. Mark PoyntonThe transportation, however, was not well thought out: people were putting food on the back of motorbikes, in tuktuk taxis or carried on the women’s heads with juices dripping everywhere! One of the highlights was seeing the sunrise at Marina beach, and what an experience that was. At 5:15am, locals could be found doing their yoga, as it’s the only time cool enough to do so. The whole sky could be seen developing from dark grey to bright orange to red before reaching daylight in just 15 minutes. At this stunning natural occurrence, I realised how obsessed people were in India with selfies as they all had their backs to the action and were taking pictures of themselves instead. If I was to summarise my time, I would say it was a really testing thing to do, with all the issues of produce or lack of it and a lack of information on how things work in India. But the big question is would I do it again?FullSizeRender Yes, in an instant. The people are so nice and will try their hardest to please you, and once you have seen past the gulf between the rich and the poor, India truly is a wonderful, beautiful place with a very diverse culture. I would like to thank Curry Life Magazine for inviting me along and also look forward to next year’s event.   Mark Poynton is the chef patron of Michelin starred restaurant Alimentum in Cambridge. Mark started his career at the age of 15 at the Queen Hotel in Chester, before moving on to work at Juniper in Altrincham. After seven years with Daniel Clifford at Midsummer House in Cambridge, Mark became head chef at Restaurant Alimentum and took over the Michelin starred restaurant in early 2010.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd April 2015

Blog: Mark Poynton in India