With the American Presidential Race hotting up, all eyes are focused on the White House. Especially, now that there is a woman in the race. I look scathingly at my better half sprawled on the easy chair reading the newspaper. What has happened to the New Year’s resolution? I wonder. ‘It will be nice to have a woman at the White House…in charge,’ I comment. ‘Which House?’ says he absent mindedly. I know now that he is not paying attention. How does one compete with a newspaper, I wonder? I am sure many women must be facing this problem. I remember my mother’s favorite maxim…the best way to a man’s ear is through his stomach….was it heart or ear…I have no idea, but it did the trick. ‘The Beach House,’ I mutter in a sotto voice. He put the paper down.
So here we were at the Taj Holiday Village talking to Chef Urbano Rego, the Corporate Chef (Goan Cuisine) of the Taj. This shy unassuming man has catered for nobility (Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinborough), Presidents (Gerald Ford, George Bush Sr.), Middle east Royalty (King Hussein, Shah of Iran), has been invited by the Good Food and Wine Show at Cape Town to display his culinary skill, and at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore promoted Goan food catering to 250 covers for lunch and dinner. What was so different about the Goan food he dished out compared to all the varieties of Goan food I had eaten, I wondered.
‘I will prepare food which was dished out at the Good Food and Wine show,’ he says, ‘world renowned chefs were invited there and I had to prepare seven different dishes a day.’ I looked at him askance, sure that we would be given the old favorites like Sorpotel, Vindaloo, Xacutti etc. After all those dishes are world famous. I air my views aloud. Joe silently kicks me under the table. Being the son of a world famous chef, he knows how temperamental chefs are. I glare at him…he seems to be worried about his food, while I was on the lookout for something different. Just imagine dishing out to my readers the same Caldin, Balchao and Amotik. But Chef Rego smiles. I guess when you are used to handling the demands of the Page 3 crowd over the New Year celebrations, this bickering seems a trifle. ‘Don’t worry,’ he assures me, ‘this is Goan food with a difference.’
The starters arrive. A Portuguese Goan fusion dish…Camarao Picuante and the Beach House Crab. The Camarao looked different…no cubes or rings…they were cut into mini florets. They looked like small sea anemones, orange in colour, with small specks of dotted red. I take a tentative bite…uum delicious. This simple preparation with onions, olive oil and chilly flakes (that accounts for the red dots) was mind -blowing, especially when it is accompanied with the piping hot mini Balchao Naan. Aha! Got you, did’nt I. The spicy Goan masala in a crisp Naan. What a combo. And the Crab! The Caranguajos! Rego’s special. No white sauce or a Raechado masala. ‘I use all Goan ingredients in the preparation,’ he confesses. Did I get a whiff of toddy vinegar? I look at Joe for verification, but he is blissfully unaware of my look. This time it was not the newspaper, it was the food. Does this happen with other married couples too? I wonder. Just you wait Mr Mascarenhas…just you wait. Damn, I was sounding more like Eliza Doolittle in My fair Lady.
Luckily for him, the main course had arrived. Fashion designers stand aside, this was a feast for the senses…all the olfactory senses. The simple white plates were elegantly decorated with cucumber skin ribbons, showcasing the Prawns in coriander, Fish Cornettes and the spinach and methi accompaniment. This dish, I am given to understand is the favorite of Vijay Mallya….spinach, methi, corn, coconut and fried cashewnuts, I take a bite. The King of Good times knows the good things in life.
But coming back to the main course . The delicately orange tinted Prawns in coriander, its flavor of cashew paste and coconut, the coriander flavor adding subtle nuances to my palate. This is a dish to die for. But don’t think of following my advice….the fish. Ahhhh! The Fish Cornettes, thin slices of red snapper stuffed with prawn mince in a spicy Reichade sauce. UUmmm! Surreal. I have had Fish Reichade on numerous occasions, but this designer chef has experimented with combinations, to give us a dish which blends the prawns, fish and the spicy sauce…what a lethal combo.
Believe me’ this time I had no place for the dessert. No it was not my New Year Resolution. I can see eyebrows raised. Joe’s eyebrows had gone up a few centimeters. If you know the difference between a tailor and a fashion designer, you will get my drift. What each individual does with a piece of fabric, Chef Urbano Rego does with food ingredients. The menu of course displays the usual Goan favorites, but for the ones who would like to have the unique flavors of Goa displayed in a designer way…do not even bother to ask ‘whose house?’ The old traditional fare is re- invented…like old wine in a new bottle….the flavors of Goa are reborn…at the Beach House.