New Delhi 2016: A blog by Dominic Chapman

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th April 2016
After the welcome lunch, press interviews and introduction to the kitchens, it was time for a party. Delhi’s top brass received invitations to drinks, a buffet style dinner and the chance to talk to us about the festival. The gardens in the front of the hotel were dressed for a special occasion, a huge stage with British high commission banners celebrating Great Britain and our relationship with India. A bar and individual kitchens were set up, ready for us to display and offer a selection of our menus. My kitchen offered Coronation chicken, Fish and Chips and Apple Crumble. Fish and chips proving to be a revelation and hugely popular with expats and locals alike. Taj1“Where are the mushy peas” was one question, “the best chips ever” another comment, “wonderful fish n chips!”  Great comments all round and actually really fun to cook such a British favourite in India. The following day we began to cook for the hotel guests, these were a mix of locals and tourists, guests from, America, Australia, Iran, Japan and the UK, businessmen and women, local bloggers, food journalists, and the Sri Lankan and South African 20/20 Crickets teams. The kitchen team at the ITC Maurya were all incredibly helpful, the West View was on the eighteenth floor, right at the very top of the hotel, Chef Suresh Kumar ran the kitchen, he has worked for the ITC for 35 years, hard working, knowledgeable and a great sense of humour. Brilliant chef and I very much enjoyed working with him. The pastry section was on the ground floor. It’s very interesting, and also very different from my world. In a 5-star hotel, each department has their own role and it is important that each department delivers their role. The pastry department was to deliver my desserts and any pastry work required for my dishes. The pastry team were a highly efficient department that operated 24hrs a day. All croissants, pastries and a huge selection of bread were baked daily, a chocolate room produced delicate chocolates of all flavours, cakes for the hotel shop and colourful Easter eggs. (The festival was on during Easter) The desserts were all beautiful, intricate, colourful and delicious. I’d email my recipes to the pastry chef on a daily basis and with a little direction on presentation, my desserts would appear. Classic British puddings, like Rhubarb Crumble, Strawberry Trifle, Steamed Puddings and Apple Tarts. Puff pastry, shortcrust pastry and finished pithiviers. This was all considered the role of the pastry department, and as I was instructed, the pastry would be more than capable of producing these recipes. groundstaff1Word soon spread and the festival began to bring some interesting guests to the hotel: Neha Sudan a local food writer whose blog is called Digitizing Food; Rocky Mohan, ambassador for Old Monk rum and the man behind Rocky’s Chicken Korma, a recipe in Rick Steins cookbook and famous search for the perfect curry. Rocky was a lovely man, knowledgeable about food and had visited my restaurants in the UK, he was genuinely interested in our visit to Delhi. We talked easily about recipes and food, he’s a passionate man that knows our industry very well. Sourish Bhattacharya, one of India’s oldest and most respected journalists also visited the West View. His booking brought fear to the chefs at the ITC Maurya. Executive chef Manisha Bhasin even arrived in the West View kitchen to announce Sourishs arrival. We were on red alert for his visit, menus ready, top team on the stoves and all looking forward to the excitement of cooking for this respected food critic. Sourish arrived alone, notepad in one hand, camera and a book by Pat Chapman, Taste of the Raj in the other. He quickly discovered that I was no relation to Pat Chapman and that the cooking of the raj was now well out of date in the UK. The Curry Life chefs were producing authentic curries, curries that you would find in the subcontinent, particularly Bangladesh or the Bengal region of India. Sourish tasted everything, starting with a selection of dishes from my menu at the West View, and then dishes from the Pavilion restaurant downstairs, specifically brought up to the West View for him to taste. Sourish was very happy, Shepherds Pie and a Lamb burger with minted yogurt were particularly well received, and the authenticity of our British curries went down extremely well. Sourish wrote a lovely article about his visit to the festival, it appeared in various papers and magazines in India and even made it into the UK’S Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-3517902/FORTUNE-COOKIE-Understated-British-chef-help-curry-win-Michelin-recognition.html The festivals are becoming more and more popular in India, I have visited 3 different cities and three different 5 star hotels, the Curry Life team have many different opportunities in the pipeline, one of those opportunities is to work with a hospitality college. One morning at 5am, Syed Belal Ahmed, editor of Curry Life and I, flew to Chandigarh in the Punjab and visited the Chitkara School of Hospitality. This was an incredible experience, the welcome we received from Dr Madhu Chitkara, Vice Chancellor and her team was amazing. We were presented with two beautiful Indian silk scarfs, breakfast and an introduction to the college. We met many of the professors, they were all hugely enthusiastic about the possibilities of working together. Our aim was to inspire the students to drive standards within the hospitality industry. chitkara1After meeting the professors, we headed for a large meeting and function room. Unknown to me, we were to be introduced to 150 students, future restaurateurs, hotel managers, chefs and hospitality graduates. It was a brilliant experience. Once again we were welcomed and introduced to the students, they even played a short clip from my appearance on Great British Menu. I was then invited to give a talk on my experience of being a chef and running restaurants. It was actually a huge honour to have been asked to visit the university. The students were massively interested, enthusiastic and extremely respectful. After my talk we were taken to the campus kitchens with all the student chefs where I was to demo three dishes. India is a diverse country. Education is the most important topic to any parent and the Chitkara university is passionate about the education of its students. I had previously sent full instructions of ingredients required for my demo, on arrival at the kitchens my ingredients were ready for me to cook. Ingredients are sometimes challenging in India and this was going to be a challenging demonstration, the Punjab is famous for its farms and the crops that are produced here. However, the ingredients for my demonstration were a little tired and my equipment limited. The demonstration went well, I had a great lad helping me clear pots away and make sure everything I required was on hand, we produced three dishes, stuffed artichokes, Piedmontese peppers and coronation chicken. The students asked lots of questions, after the questions, a stream of selfies were requested, I knew selfies were a worldwide craze, but this rubber stamped it as a worldwide obsession. The students were brilliant and in a similar way to cooking with the Academy of Culinary Arts, Adopt a school programme. It was an inspired day. The festivals are inspiring in so many ways, my one goal on this trip to India was to visit the Taj Mahal. This was another early start, we decided to take a taxi and visit the iconic building. Three hours south of Delhi is Agra, a tourist hotspot, and home to the Taj Mahal and another Red Fort. On arrival at the Taj Mahal, you are immediately bombarded with touts selling postcards, daggers, t-shirts and lots of other souvenirs. A guide approached us advising us not to take food or drink anywhere near the Taj, he also offered us a good price on a guided tour. This bombardment can by totally overwhelming, however the guides are registered and actually very helpful, we agreed a good price for a guide and headed for the Taj Mahal. Mughal1Petrol cars are not allowed to venture to the entrance of the Taj Mahal, tourists need an electric tuk tuk, camel or horse driven cart. We decided on a tuk tuk, a quick journey up the hill and we were soon outside the famous mausoleum, its more than a building, its majestic and like nothing I have ever seen before. We paid our entrance fee and entered the grounds of the Taj Mahal. The intense surroundings of the exterior of these grounds and the experience of our arrival had gone. We were now entering a peaceful paradise of Mughal architecture, immaculate grounds, manicured lawns, fountains and tombs, a short walk through these grounds and we were faced with the entrance to the most famous structure itself. The marble gleams in the sunlight, the bluest of skies behind this shinning structure, it is quite simply majestic and without doubt the finest man made structure I have ever seen. It took 20000 people and 20 years to complete the Taj Mahal. There were plans for an identical black structure to be built on the opposite riverbank. You can still see the foundations to this Black Taj Mahal today. The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the world, I have visited the Grand Canyon and Ayers Rock, these are both magnificent natural phenomena. The Taj Mahal is a man made phenomenon, its honestly a place everyone should have an opportunity to see.  Quite simply an awesome piece of architecture from Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and a true masterpiece of world heritage. ICTAfter a day at the Taj Mahal it was back to the ITC Mayura and more VIP guests. During my stay at the West View, the world cup 20/20 was beginning to get serious. It was semi finals time, Sri Lanka were staying in the hotel and then South Africa arrived. On three consecutive nights, members of the South African cricket team decided to eat in the West View restaurant. On the third of these nights it was the whole team, coaching staff, physios and doctors. The team were playing Sri Lanka the following day, neither team were through to the semi finals and I guess it was a good chance for the whole team to enjoy some down time after a busy world cup tournament. 20/20 cricket is a fast and furious game and hugely popular in India, given an opportunity to live with these players for a week, you really get an understanding of how hard a professional sportsman’s life is. You are constantly living from a suitcase, moving from one hotel to another. Certainly not the glamorous life we all think a sportsman lives. India is no easy country to live, work or visit. I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to cook in such an incredibly diverse country. I love everything about India, but sometimes it is important to escape the madness. I escape the real India when I drive through the gates of my armed and guarded five-star hotel.

>>> Read: Dominic Chapman at The Curry Life festival, Delhi

Security is everywhere in India, shopping malls, hotels, parks and all tourist attractions. The real India is extreme in many ways and the security of a safe hotel is a reassuring retreat. One of my favourite pastimes is visiting the many markets you find throughout India’s towns, villages and cities. These markets are packed with people. The food markets in particular interest me: fruit stalls selling a bounty of colourful exotic fruits, butchers shops selling mainly goat and chicken. Live chickens sit on the counters literally next to already butchered meat, goat tripe, whole carcass, legs and an array of offal are displayed in the warm midday sun. Flies are everywhere and for an Englishman this is particularly hard to understand. The meat is fresh, very fresh. Goats are slaughtered to order, chickens as well, a little walk to the back of these markets and you find truckloads of live animals ready to meet their unfortunate end. This is India and it is a fascinating insight into life in Asia, the demand for this meat is massive, local traders enjoy good business and the consumer is happy with the product. Health and safety would have a field day in these markets, the meat is not for me, but then I am lucky to have a choice and that is a very humbling experience. In the fish market, you’ll find a huge array of fish displayed and filleted to order, live fish are for sale, river sole, huge prawns and crabs. I was casually walking through a market enjoying the sights and smells when a catfish jumped out of a bucket and onto my feet, I can honestly say I screamed like a girl! A classic moment in a local Delhi market. delhi1India is an emerging economy, the traditional markets and street venders are everywhere, but more and more smart shops and restaurants are beginning to open in the cities. There is huge wealth in India and a lot of this wealth can be found in New Delhi. Connaught Place is one of the largest commercial and business centres in the capital. It is a huge shopping area; world brands, popular restaurants and designer labels are all here. Local tailors work alongside these fashion houses, they offer tailored suits, hand stitched with beautiful fabrics, but negotiation on price is not available in any of these shops. Compare Connaught Place with Chandni Chowk and you could be in a different world, this is the rich tapestry of India, a brilliant tapestry that I would not want to change. Connaught Place is the Oxford Street of Delhi, full of tourists wanting to shop. its also the place to avoid professional beggars, shoe shining street kids, transvestites and many other interesting characters. I bought presents in Connaught Place for my family and these presents represented the true culture of India. I wanted to buy presents in Chandni Chowk and I found it offered a wonderful experience. But the quality of merchandise was second rate and compared to the shops of Connaught Place, the quality and choice simply didn’t compare. chandni1The markets of Chandni Chowk are fascinating to visit, the smells, colours, people, animals and intense action are all a wonderful experience. The markets are at the heart of Indian culture; locals go about their business, ox pull carts loaded with goods along the busy streets, traffic is horrendous with horns sounding everywhere, rickshaws, tuk tuks and bicycles transport anything and everything. Chaos reigns yet everything works beautifully. Delhi boasts India’s best restaurant. Food journalist Andy Hayler recommended I visited Indian Accent.  http://www.andyhayler.com/restaurant/indian-accent The restaurant was fully booked and I tried most tricks in the book to gain a table. No joy at all. In the end Sourish Bhattacharya called the restaurant and miraculously a table became available, we arrived on Easter day at 11.30am, the restaurant had actually contacted the ITC Maurya to say that our reservation had not been possible. A little mention of Sourish’s phone call from the previous evening and our table was confirmed! Indian Accent is a restaurant in the top 50 in the world. Chef Manish Mehrotra has just opened a second Indian Accent in New York and there is talk of opening in London. The service was excellent and the wine list varied and interesting. This was a proper restaurant; a restaurant you could find in any capital city in Europe. We began the day with a glass of Sula, sparking wine from India, actually delicious, the menu was brilliant. Modern Indian food that keeps hold of its roots, flavours that were true to Indian cooking yet given that modern delicate touch, my favourite starters were Chicken khurchan phulka taco & the duck khurchan cornetto and breads of chilli hoisin duck kulcha and wild mushroom kulcha. We had a brilliant lunch and finished with the lightest pudding of Daulat ki Chaat, Fresh Tandoori Figs. This was easily the best food I’ve eaten in this country. Indian Accent would make a great addition to the British food scene, Chef Manish is a man on a mission and he has a brilliant restaurant that I hope he may bring to London. daulat1Delhi was truly an incredible trip; it is amazing how much can be achieved in 10 days. These festivals take a huge amount of planning. Syed Belal Ahmed and Syed Nahas Pasha of Curry Life have created an amazing adventure for all of us chefs in the UK to experience and enjoy. These trips are a journey of exploration, we share Ideas, experience cooking in a completely different environment, we share our passion for hospitality with so many wonderful people. The festivals build friendships across the world and open our eyes to the possibilities within our industry. Food, cooking and hospitality build bridges and create interest from all corners of the world- our world is now so small, we are connected through email, social media, networking, cheap flights and the internet. Good cooking is the heartbeat of every nation, there is so much culture in this world to discover, cooks never stop learning and that is the most exciting thing of all. I love my job as a chef and I love the people that work within the hospitality industry. Food and cooking has taken me all over the world, I have met some brilliant cooks and some brilliant people. India is a country that offers some world class hospitality, as well as some of the very best hotels in the world. Thank you team for this wonderful experience, you are all amazing. Big love. Dominic Chapman - April 2016 dom1Dominic Chapman is Chef-Patron at the Beehive. During the early stages of his career, Dominic worked at the 3 Michelin starred Fat Duck under Heston Blumenthal, as chef de partie. After four years working with Heston, Dom moved on to work at Kensington Place bistro under Rowley Leigh for a short time before being offered a head chef position at The Hinds Head by Heston. In 2007, Dominic took up the position of head chef at The Royal Oak. During his time there, Dominic helped the restaurant to earn a Michelin star. Seeking something new, Dominic took on the Beehive where he was able to serve a combination of traditional comfort food with refined twists. Dominic travels to India every year to experience cooking in different kitchens, using local produce and learning new techniques.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 11th April 2016

New Delhi 2016: A blog by Dominic Chapman