To author a cookbook of “Indian food” and list only half a dozen ways to cook chicken and nearly four times as many recipes for seafood—and resolutely leave out butter chicken and chicken tikka—isn’t the feat of an ordinary chef. But Hemant Oberoi, whose first book The Masala Art is just out, knows a thing or two about risks. The corporate chef, luxury division, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, says he has always trusted his instincts. He launched the first contemporary Japanese restaurant in India, refused to tone down the spice quotient of Indian food while taking it from hot to haute or dilute the authenticity of regional cuisines despite fancy makeovers.
“It’s a dream for chefs to leave a legacy. This book is about our signature recipes—dishes you’ll find only in our restaurants,” says Oberoi. He adds that he has held nothing back and that enthusiastic home cooks can replicate his dishes if they follow his instructions.
The lushly produced coffee-table book includes Oberoi originals such as Crab Varqui and its vegetarian version, Khumb Varqui. He lists a selected mix of dishes that are contemporary interpretations of popular northern and southern cuisines, such as a Lemon Grass Rasam, a Bombay Gotala or a Delhi ki Challi.
Chef’s special: Hemant Oberoi at the Masala Art restaurant. Ramesh Pathania/Mint
The last few years have been significant for the Taj brand of restaurants. Besides rebuilding the kitchens of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower hotel in Mumbai following the 2008 terrorist attacks on the city and the hotel, Oberoi set up the Masala chain of innovative Indian restaurants in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. He launched Varq at Taj Mahal Hotel, New Delhi, with its emphasis on contemporary versions of traditional north Indian cuisine, brought Wasabi by Morimoto to Delhi (the first Wasabi in Mumbai recently made it to the S Pellegrino list of top 100 restaurants in the world for the fourth consecutive year), took the West Asian restaurant Souk to Kolkata and the London-based Bombay Brasserie to Cape Town, South Africa.
In the midst of all this, Oberoi travelled across the country looking for forgotten recipes and refined them—coming up with interesting dishes such as Alleppey Meen Curry and Paperwali Macchi, lightly spiced fish fillets wrapped in parchment paper and cooked on smouldering charcoal, a traditional peasant recipe from Punjab. “There’s much to be discovered. In Punjab I came across a recipe for atta chicken. After the day’s meals were over, the women of the house would wrap the leftover chicken in a thick layer of dough, leave it in the tandoor and go to bed. Next morning, the dough would be baked and the chicken inside cooked to perfection. Since it is a dry dish, the men would take it along while going to work in the fields,” he says, adding that the dish may soon appear on a Masala menu.
The Masala Art—Haute Indian Cuisine; Roli Books; Rs 795.