Aashiyana Shroff loves lavender. The proprietor of Dragonfly, a Mumbai restaurant-lounge, says it grows in the backyard of her house in London; in Mumbai, she has pouches of dried lavender in her bedroom and stocks a range of lavender products by L’Occitane in her bathroom cabinet. So, when she was planning her restaurant’s menu with executive chef Martin Nel, she wondered if her favourite shrub could feature somewhere. Nel obliged with a Lavender Yoghurt Mousse served in chocolate cups. “I knew it could be used in food, but hadn’t eaten anything with lavender before. It worked great in a cold mousse,” Shroff says.
The pale violet mousse is made using organic lavender imported from London; it has a subtle flavour and it does not taste like soap, we can vouch for it.
Brinjal in my cake: It’s hard to identify the candied vegetable as eggplant Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
As restaurants create new menus to keep regular patrons from getting bored, pastry chefs are making sure that the back of the book isn’t ignored. Traditional definitions of what goes into a dessert are no longer valid. Many chefs now pick garlic, coriander, mushrooms, eggplant, tomato, olive oil, zucchini and avocado from the main course mis en place. InterContinental The Grand, Mumbai, is hosting a spiced chocolate promotion (on till 30 September) that has Raspberry Chilli Truffle, Schezuan Pepper Gainduja Chocolate, Rosemary Lemon Chocolate and other such concoctions on offer.
Pastry chef Savio Fernandes’ Mediterranean Apple Tart is a Granny Smith apple sliced and piled around a prune, coriander, pine nut and olive oil filling on a puff pastry base. It is spotted with pepper and extra virgin olive oil, baked and served warm with a fruit salsa. The chef from JW Marriott wanted to give the traditional dessert a twist; by chance, he tasted the above filling on a puff pastry base prepared for another dish and decided it would be perfect for this dessert. It took almost three months of tweaking before he put it on the menu. “It’s not too sweet, and that’s what guests love about it,” says Fernandes.
So, would you be adventurous enough to order a Cold Eggplant Soufflé with Lemon Candy, Custard Cream and Flavoured Tea? Chef Giuliano Tassinari of Olive Beach, New Delhi, who dreamt this one up, needn’t worry. Topped with small pieces of candied eggplant, the soufflé is served in a chocolate-ringed cup that sits on a thin slice of cake. It is accompanied by a small cup of black tea brewed with the skin of eggplant and cinnamon. The combination works well. “A dish should not be put on a menu simply because it is different, but only if it truly tastes great,” Tassinari says.
The button mushrooms blend well with chocolate. Jagadeesh NV /Mint
Chef Suresh Kumar of Indigo, Mumbai, picked zucchini for its neutral flavours and came up with the Zucchini and Chocolate Chip Torte with Peanut Butter and Black Currant Mousse. “This is on the lines of a carrot cake or a pumpkin pie, but still different,” says Kumar.
We were unconvinced when we heard about the Soft Centre Button Mushroom Chocolate Pudding at Taj West End, Bangalore. Chef Sandeep Kachroo’s team created a pudding with finely sautéed mushroom puree and chocolate; again, the combination works.
Pastry chefs are trying their hand at fusion too. Charlotte of gulab jamun, gajrela cheesecake, balsamic, fig and maple syrup kulfi, kalakand with banana mousse, chocolate sponge with strawberry cream, carrot halwa with goat cheese mousse served with Kolkata paan sauce are just some of the desserts that we came across while scouting menus. Of course, too much of a good thing doesn’t always work. When the chefs at Varq, Taj Mahal, New Delhi decided to Indianize the Baked Alaska (ice cream with sponge cake, topped with meringue and baked), making place for gulab jamun and rabdi within its layers, the taste of the original desserts got lost in the mish-mash. It takes some guesswork to figure out that it is good old gulab jamun in the middle of all that cream.
It’s not just the pastry chefs at fine-dining restaurants who are experimenting. Amoré, a gourmet gelato chain, won an award for the most innovative flavour at an international gelato competition held in Italy in 2007 for their Passagio de India (with flavours of ginger, cumin, clove, cinnamon and star anise). This year, too, they won—for the Masala Latte, a gelato based on masala milk. Yasser Ali, director, Amoré, says they aim to have a new flavour on their menu every week. Previous creations have used avocado, tomato, Guinness beer, kokum and basil.
The updated apple tart is inspired by the Eiffel Tower.
While herbs and spices in their milder versions work well in desserts, a sweet dish with garlic may seem to be taking things too far. Executive chef Joy Bhattacharya, Trident, Mumbai, never dreamt that garlic would be listed on his new dessert menu at the hotel’s pan-Asian restaurant, India Jones. “I had a piece of chocolate in my mouth when a chef asked me to taste some roasted garlic. I thought both blended well,” says Bhattacharya. So he invented the Oriental Spiced Trio of Chocolate, Maple Granola Raspberry Sorbet with Roasted Garlic Sesame Dust.
Next time, don’t be surprised if the chocolate chips in your cheesecake turn out to be fried and candied okra.
Seema Chowdhry in Delhi and Pavitra Jayaraman in Bangalore contributed to this story