Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Rasas Of Cooking

Chef Ranveer Brar talks about the charms of Kerala cuisine and the recipe for success

By Shevlin Sebastian

At a convention centre in Willingdon Island, Kochi, Chef Ranveer Brar puts chocolate cream, butter, sugar, and caramelised orange juice into risotto rice mixed with milk. Then he stirs the mixture, heats it up, adds leaves of mint, and then offers it to the people present. The resulting taste is simple and delicious.

Risotto is an Italian dish, but they don’t make it sweet,” says Ranveer. “It is more a savoury, like mushroom risotto. But I decided to make something new.”

Ranveer had been specially invited by Mercedes Benz for their customer engagement initiative called Luxe Drive.

But this is not the first time that Ranveer has come to Kerala. Eleven years ago, he had come for a friend’s wedding and became enamoured of Kerala cuisine. “I loved the avial I ate at the function,” he says.  

Thereafter, he started studying Mappila food, Syrian Christian recipes and the menu of the Nampoothiri Brahmins. “The fascinating part about Kerala cuisine is the way it changes across regions,” he says.  

And he lists his favourites. “The biriyani that the Mappilas make is awesome,” says Ranveer. “It is not refined and sophisticated. Instead, it is rustic but tasty. Similarly, the practice of sadhya was started by the Nampoothiris as a way to feed the Brahmins. I also enjoy the Syrian Christian fish curry but this is something I would like to have the next day, because it tastes good only after a day of fermentation.”

Asked to compare Kerala cuisine with other parts of India, Ranveer says, “It cannot be compared, because for 2000 years there have been so many influences: the Romans, Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, and British. It is a unique cuisine.”

And thanks to his Global Menu television show, on the Foodz channel, Ranveer is always coming across unique cuisines. “The show goes off the beaten track and has focused on places like North and South Korea, Sri Lanka, Romania and Mongolia,” he says.

The Mongolians have a dish called Khorkhog. Chicken or lamb is cooked with vegetables and stones in a closed container. “When you eat it, you can detect a slight earthiness from the stones, which makes it very tasty,” says Ranveer.

Apart from his TV show, Ranveer runs restaurants in the USA, Canada and India. Last year, he brought out a cookbook called ‘Come into my kitchen’. His Mumbai-based premium patisserie, ‘English Vinglish’ serves fusion desserts, breads and bakes. Ranveer has done a mini-video series on Twitter titled ‘Ranveer On The Road’, which featured his culinary sojourn through Australia, apart from being a judge on Season 4 of Masterchef India.

And this passion for food began in the unlikeliest of places. When he was a child, growing up in Lucknow, his grandfather Jagir Singh would take him to the gurudwara. A restless Ranveer would run around and end up at the langar. “That was when I saw cooking for the first time,” he says. Soon, Ranveer began helping around.   

At age 16, he did the unthinkable for a son of an aeronautical engineer. He ran away from home and worked at a roadside kebab shop run by a man called Munir Ahmed for eight months. However, later, he graduated from the Indian Institute of Hotel Management at Lucknow.  

Asked the secret to a good dish, Ranveer says, “Our five fingers have five rasas: sweet, sour, salty, savoury and spicy. So, when we cook with the hand, the rasas go into the food. And when we eat with our hand, the rasas go inside us. It is important to cook honestly and sincerely because food transfers emotions. So, you are always giving a part of yourself in every dish.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram)

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