Friday, April 30, 2010

It’s a Studio of Spice

Well one has heard of a ‘film’ studio, a ‘photography’ studio but has one heard of a ‘spice’ studio? Here is a new concept in town….a studio filled with spices where Chef Amit Bhardwaraj works on his storyboard, casts, edits, mixes and then shoots it hot. I am talking about food…and food with a difference and its all happening at Spice Studio at the Alila Diwa Goa.

Let’s talk about the storyboard. This season he has worked on his storyline along the coastal belt of India… his casting couch along the coast of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerela and even Tamil Nadu. Says he ‘we went on an in-depth culinary search studying the different ingredients used in the preparations of meals in these regions.’ Fine so what’s new?

I am coming to the editing. Let’s take his preparation of Kombdi Masala. Everyone has tasted this Malvani delicacy which is a superb curry to have with wadas. Says Amit, ‘we went to Sindhudurg in Maharashtra and studied the different ingredients that went into the Kombdi Masala and decided to do it with a difference. There is a modification in the ingredients used. The percentage of coconut and chilies used has been changed, no star anise is used and we have used a combination of bedgi and sankreshti chilies. Moreover we suggest that instead of having a Wada, the bakhri (roti) would accompany it beautifully.’ Wow! So what other editing has he and his team worked on? Take the mutton sukha. For me it states Malvani cuisine..In fact better still Kolhapuri. But chef has done a lot of editing in this recipe too. The ingredients are a mix of Malvani with Kundapuri style (Mangalore) nuances.

So we come to the mixing. Says Amit ‘artisans create their best magic – it is a canvas on which our team paints.’ His chefs create their magic. And so we sat on the verandah with overhead fans purring away waiting for the magicians to display their skill. The waiter brings in the pickle tray…3 varieties. Raw mango with a mustard tadka, Tendli with Goan nuances and thinly sliced carrot with a spicy red masala..Kerela flavor.

We sampled a little of every pickle licking our fingers as the mustard played havoc with the salivary juices. Perhaps that was the ‘tickler’ like the magician saying ‘gilly-gilly’. Ours senses were perked as the ‘pepper boti’ reached the table. Did we need to have the mint chutney to accompany this dish? No way. The Kerela style marination on the succulent boneless pieces was superb….I had eaten many ‘kebabs’, but normally in the North Indian style of preparations… did the South Indians make kebabs? ‘We like to paint the preparation to give our diners a different experience,’ says he. A fish preparation with a deep red masala comes onto the table. It is a Chinese Pomfret with (no not a Raechado, but more Maharastrian in its flavor) the fish is fresh, the masala something which adds credence to the fact that before the boundaries of states were created, preparations were tried and tested in kitchens. The naans that accompanied the starters were stuffed with ‘gorgonzola’ and coriander. Now there seemed some method in this madness…an Italian cheese and Indian spice? It worked. Absolutely novel.

But these ‘magicians’ were still aiming to removing some more tricks from their bag. A mackerel salad. Now before you think about our Bangras tossed in onion and tomatoes…here is something different. Thin fillets of mackerel cooked o perfection and tossed in rocket leaves, pomegranate, sliced onion…’I believe that the oil that comes out from the mackerel works wonders with the rocket leaves,’ says Amit. He is right. A little bit of that fish with the crunchy rocket leaves and I take off to the moon. Chef Amit believes that this combination is much better than serving the fish separately and then some veggies with it. ‘We believe in balancing the meal so that one dish is fully wholesome and complimentary in nutrition,’ he says.

The chicken Chettinadu with its thick gravy was reminiscent of ‘spice’ at its best…but I must let you in on something ‘awesome’. Now we all know about the black gram ‘usal’ which the Maharastrians normally prepare, Amit and his team had combined it with bay scallops. Those lightly grilled delicately spiced mouth sized pieces of seafood with the spiced black lentils…… ‘it combines beautifully,’ Amit remarks looking at my expression.’ And he is right.

We still had to sample the home cooked favorites of vanghi bhat and moong dal. He had added a little gravy to the dal instead of the normal dry variety that I normally was used to. ‘The gravy is to complement the bhat,’ he states, although the bhat by itself could be eaten alone. ‘Bhat’ lovers…it’s there for the picking.

And every studio ‘shoots’ the clip. Now I am not talking about the ‘chefs’ screaming ‘shoot’ with Amit watching on the sidelines. The restaurant is open for dinner only…but this Director has got his ‘act’ together. Just outside the kitchen is a long cooking school table. He teaches his guests how to cook specific dishes. ‘If we do get an advance reservation we could set up the school around 4.00pm..and the wind up with the group having dinner with a few of the dishes they have learned to make,’ he says. A Novel idea indeed. Not only does he create his script but involves his diners in the ‘shoot’ too.

So after a ‘bountiful nutritious’ meal of coastal delights, we left the artisans in their ‘spice studio’ vowing to return to try out some different coastal fare. They have spices stocked for it all, so spice up your life and have a blast.

Address: Alila Diwa Goa
48/10 Village Marjorda
Adao Waddo, Salsette

Tel no 0832 2746800

Recommendation: Pepper boti, Bay scallops with black lentils, Mackerel salad

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