Monday, March 18, 2019

When the chef connects with his guests

The Make Your Own Meal programme for guests of the Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty is an unqualified success

Photos: Executive Chef Hermann Grossbichler; Air India Captain BS Parmar with his wife, Wing Commander Navdeep and daughter Risham 

By Shevlin Sebastian

At 8.30 a.m., on a recent Thursday, Hermann Grossbichler strides into the fish market at the Vypeen Harbour, Kochi. A muscular, broad-shouldered man, the executive chef of the Grand Hyatt Kochi Bolgatty, inspects a wide variety of seafood: kingfish, tiger prawns, lobsters, squid, mackerel, sardine, and tuna.

Accompanying him is Air India Captain BS Parmar who is taking part in the ‘Make Your Own Meal’ (MYOM) programme. Earlier, when Hermann asked Parmar what he wanted to eat, the latter said, “Whatever you would like to make.” And that is how they ended up at the fish market.

Hermann looks intently at a red snapper and says, “This looks ideal.” Two snappers are selected. And the skin is scraped off by a stall assistant.

Back at the hotel, Hermann goes to the open kitchen where assistant chefs are already waiting. He gives instruction quickly. Soon, tomatoes and onions are sliced, at high speed, into small pieces, using gleaming steel knives, while coriander, chillies, garlic, basil leaves, and salt are also added. Then Hermann pours olive oil and cooking wine into the pan.

Hermann presses the skin of the fish and says, “The quality of this fish is outstanding. You cannot get it any fresher than this. When the raw material is so good anybody can cook a good fish. Of course, the right ingredients are also important.” Soon, the fish is put into the oven, and baked at 250 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, Hermann quickly makes a Spaghetti Al Pesto because it goes well with the fish. Black Rice Risotto and a grilled vegetable salad with coconut oil and lemon dressing are made, too.

After a few minutes, Parmar’s wife, Wing Commander Navdeep and daughter Risham join in. They watch keenly as Hermann goes about his work. Finally at about 12.30 p.m. it is time to have lunch. The meal is served and the family eat attentively, but with evident enjoyment.  

Says Parmar:  “What I found amazing was the way Chef Hermann retained the natural taste of the fish. He did not overpower it with spices. Hence, the dish was unique.”

Parmar also enjoyed the morning visit to the fish market. “The chef carefully checked the different types of fishes before he decided that the red sapper would be the best,” he says.  

MYOM is part of the global philosophy of Grand Hyatt: food thoughtfully sourced, and carefully served. “Through this programme, we want to serve the community,” says Hermann. “In other words we want the local farmers and fishermen to become stakeholders in our business.”

The international hotel chain strives to be environmentally conscious. That means, it will not import fish from another part of the country or from another part of the world when they can get it locally, even though it may not be of the same variety. “Why waste fossil fuel?” says Hermann. “So, we don’t import butter from Denmark, which is very good, when we have very good butter in India too.”

Anyway, foreign guests do not appreciate imported food. “If I am a tourist to Kerala, I don't want to eat Danish butter,” says Hermann. “Once, a guest told me, ‘Don’t give me Norwegian sausages because I can get it in the airport at Dubai’.”  

But Kerala’s overdependence on states like Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh for food items is clear even to Hermann. “Yes, I would like to see a lot more of local produce,” he says. “The number of farmers who grow vegetables is far lower than what is needed.”  

Meanwhile, the hotel plans to continue with its popular programme. “There is no better way to connect with our guests,” says Hermann with a smile. 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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