Every fortnight for an afternoon, Daniell’s Tavern at The Imperial hotel in New Delhi resembles the set of a television cookery show. No, the eatery has not been let out to a channel, the purpose behind the transformation is to host the Imperial Culinary Club’s sessions for in-house guests and regular patrons.
Live kitchen: (left) Vijay Wanchoo will be conducting the next session at the Imperial Culinary Club, New Delhi; Fettuccini Napolitaine with Tomato Concasse. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
At each session, guests get a demonstration of how four or five dishes are prepared (a mix of salads, starters, main course and dessert), get printed copies of the recipes complete with a nutritional value chart, and then enjoy a buffet lunch—the menu includes the dishes prepared in front of them, plus some more from the same cuisine, all washed down with The Imperial house wine.
The club has already organized two sessions this month— on German and Lebanese cuisines—and scheduled a third one, “Back to Basics” for Italian cuisine. A chocolate and dessert special session has been planned for mid-October, just before Diwali.
For members, the biggest takeaway is the chance to learn about a different cuisine from chefs who specialize in them. These are not sessions where one has to mill around the chef’s table or elbow others to get a closer look at what is happening. All attendees are seated and get to watch the chef on two large projection screens set up on either side of his table. Overhead cameras allow close-ups of how the chef kneads, chops or mixes the ingredients. “At another hotel, I had organized cooking classes, but I found people had to crowd around the chef’s table to see what was happening. Here I wanted no repeat of that experience, which is why we have an elaborate multi-cameras set-up. Guests can remain seated yet view the smallest step,” says Vijay Wanchoo, senior vice-president and general manager at The Imperial and the brain behind the club.
A former chef, Wanchoo plans the menu for every class with his executive chef Jan Seibold, who is present at all the sessions. Seibold is always at hand because the chef conducting the class often skips a step or two or cannot answer all the questions. That’s when he takes over. At the Lebanese session, it was Seibold who told us where to buy the best tahina in Delhi; reminded the chef to use extra virgin olive oil while garnishing the Hummus bi Tahina; and explained why no two recipes of Moutabel Bademjan are the same.
There are no distracting tasting sessions while the chef is demonstrating the recipes. The sessions are fairly freewheeling and all questions from participants are answered. However, because two chefs take turns to address the audience, sometimes they end up spending too much time elaborating on one recipe.
The recipes chosen for demonstration at the Lebanese session were fairly basic (hummus, moutabel, tabouleh, cheese and meat sambousek), which is great for novices, but the club will have to do a rethink on menus for those who want to build on their cooking skills. As it happened, the participants at the Lebanese class were largely expatriate women and most seemed keener to know where to source ingredients than learn how to duplicate the recipes at home.
In the near future, Wanchoo says, the club plans to hold classes on Indian cuisine, too, but these will be only for expats. “I don’t think Indian women or men want to learn how to make shahi paneer or dal. We will plan more evolved sessions on Indian cooking to include all kinds of people later.”
Each session costs Rs1,500 and includes demonstration classes, lunch and a privilege card (to avail of discounts at restaurants). Four participants can win a dinner voucher for two at any restaurant. A Feng Shui expert is available at the end of the sessions for consultations (charges extra).
To book a spot for yourself, call Bhavna Kakkar at 011-41116233.