That Alex Davis is currently deeply influenced by all things African is evident—the new doorstopper for his kitchen is a small wooden giraffe, and on one wall of his living room hangs a large red feather hat, the kind worn by a tribal chieftain in Cameroon. He owns a three-legged cast iron pot called poyke used by South Africans to make stew and, on top of this, the 44-year-old product designer’s wishlist for his kitchen includes “a family of tagine pots used in north African and Moroccan cooking”.
Davis is not a flamboyant cook but he is methodical. An hour before our scheduled meeting, he calls to say that the Pollo and Patata Bake with Pork Sausages, a staple on his annual Christmas lunch menu, will take at least an hour and a half to cook. So he proposes to ready one dish completely and keep aside ingredients for the second which he will use to demonstrate his recipe.
An hour later, with the smell of rosemary and meat wafting in from the kitchen, he tells us that he started cooking about 12 years ago when he was studying product designing at Domus Academy in Milan, Italy. “Until 1995, I could just make tea. Once in Milan, I had to cook for myself or starve. It was actually my Italian landlady who taught me the basics of cooking and that’s why I am more comfortable with the European style of cooking rather than Indian. It is much simpler,” says Davis. Perhaps this is one of the reasons (the other being that duck meat is hard to find in Delhi) why he does not try to replicate his favourite Christmas dish—duck roast as his mother makes it. “My mother comes from the backwaters in Kerala and duck roast during Christmas is a popular dish there.” Another dish his mother always makes at Christmas time, and one he now replicates is banana fritters. “However, I do not batter-fry the bananas like most people do in Kerala. I flambé them using brandy or grappa,” says Davis
The Davises’ annual Christmas bash usually starts at noon and goes on until evening and is always held on the terrace of their CR Park, New Delhi, home which doubles up as a studio. Davis calls the terrace “my thinking lab”. It is a charming spot—a perfect place to host an afternoon party with about 20 couples and children walking in and out all day long. On one side is a large glass-walled room with comfy sofas and in the open area of the terrace lies a worn-out wooden table and two benches. Along the walls are plants such as ferns, mandarin oranges, cacti, small lemon shrubs and aloe vera. “We love eating salads and so I grow rocket leaves, tomatoes, lettuce and basilico on our terrace,” explains Davis.
The primary dish at the bash, says Davis, is usually honey glazed ham which he picks up from Steakhouse in Jor Bagh, chicken roast, the Pollo and Patata bake which is popular with kids and adults, salads and a barbecue. “This bake is a dish I’ve eaten in many European households though I have modified it a bit to suit our tastes. It is a good filler between large courses and can be eaten even if a guest walks in at 5pm.” Friends usually bring the desserts and wine. Davis says he is partial to the rum-soaked raisin cake at Steakhouse and Christmas cakes made at Chocolate Wheel, Jor Bagh, New Delhi.
“The great thing about being known as a foodie among friends is that you get food gifts, especially during the Christmas season,” he says, pointing to the gaily wrapped package of salmon that friends from Canada have sent.
Davis, who also runs the Indi Store at Shahpur Jat, New Delhi, and recently held an exhibition of his works, The Moonlit Safari, claims to be a hands-on cook and prefers to work on his own. Currently, he and wife Sangeeta Sen, a textile designer who has a label of children’s garments called Pappu, are avoiding carbohydrates. Which explains why almost half of the 100-odd cookbooks that line the bookshelf outside the kitchen are about low-fat food. “We like to cook with minimum oil and eat no rice or bread, which is why bakes, grills and salads work well for us these days.”
Easy does it: (top to bottom) Davis says that grappa or red wine go well with this baked dish; a hands-on chef; and Pollo and Patata Bake with Pork Sausages. Photographs by Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Pollo and Patata Bake with Pork Sausages
(Chicken and potato bake with pork sausages)
1kg chicken (equal size pieces)
½kg pork sausages
2 cubes of chicken stock
10 cloves of garlic, peeled
Rosemary, chives, sage seasoning to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Take about 250g of pork sausages (Davis buys these at Pig Po or Green Chick Chop or Steakhouse in Delhi) and chop them to make a mince. Marinate the chicken pieces (use drumsticks or chicken breast), pork sausages, garlic cloves and the pork mince in olive oil, salt, pepper and the seasonings. Keep aside for an hour at least (“Marinating overnight works best. Keep the marinated mix in the fridge,” says Davis).
Cut the potatoes into wedges and fry till golden. Set aside. Make the chicken stock as per directions. Now layer the pre-heated baking dish with a little olive oil. Place the marinated chicken and sausages mix and drizzle half the chicken stock over it. Bake for about 30 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius in a pre-heated oven. After half an hour, take the dish out and stir its contents. Spread the potato wedges on top and add the remaining chicken stock. Bake again for 30-45 minutes.
TIP: You can use a pint of beer instead of chicken stock. “It gives the dish a totally different flavour but it’s not a good idea if children are going to be eating this,” says Davis.